This article is adapted from one I wrote last year at this same time. The league’s All-Defensive Teams are an annual joke that awards popular players for having played good defense at some point in their careers (note: not league-best, just good), so I foresee this being a recurring piece each May.
The NBA All-Defensive teams were announced on Monday; as expected, we saw some big names who have no business being named at all, and there was the annual exclusion of some obvious selections any half-knowledgeable fan would make.
The First Team was comprised of Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Rajon Rondo. The Second Team was made up of Tony Allen, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Joakim Noah, and Tyson Chandler. The coaches, who vote for the All-Defensive Teams, never disappoint when it comes to picking stars they’re supposed to pick, basically All Stars who get grandfathered in just like MLB’s Gold Glove winners.
In fact, much like the NCAA’s college polls, many of the ballots are filled out by people other than the head coach (assistants, PR men, etc.), people who will almost always make the most conservative picks possible. The result is a team of offensive superstars who keep appearing on the All-Defensive Team even though their clubs often hire defensive specialists so the star can conserve energy through easy assignments.
The most obvious ??? of the ten listed players above is Kobe Bryant, who the LA Times said “even the most vocal Bryant supporters admit that he's mostly avoided playing defense this season.” The newspaper also points out that the award is “an honor that NBA coaches must mostly determine by reputation,” and Kobe’s “responsibility playing the centerfield position hardly warrants him having stronger consideration than even some of his teammates,” going on to explain that Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum are certainly more important to the Lakers defensively, but even they don’t deserve to be on the first- or second-team.
So if it’s that obvious how bogus one of the selections on the first-team is, it seems that a revised list of All-Defensive players should be constructed from the ground up and not simply be the official list with a few tweaks. Before getting to who should have been named to the teams, here are a few thoughts:
1) The top five defenders in any year are (almost always) five centers or power forwards who are responsible for marking the opponents’ top interior scorer and covering up their teammates’ mistakes. Big men who can protect the rim against back-to-the-basket scorers and driving guards can alter an entire team’s defense for the better in a way a small forward or guard simply can’t, especially if they’re a smart backline talker. There’s a reason we never hear Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen, Walt Frazier, or any other all-time wing defender mentioned in the same breath as center Bill Russell, who pretty much single-handedly was the reason the Celtics of the 1960’s had the greatest defense in NBA history. That being said, the five most impactful defenders (and should-be First-Teamers) in 2010-11 were Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bogut, and Tim Duncan. Duncan’s ability to direct the Spurs’ defense gets him in over injured big men Joakim Noah (played 48 games) and Andrew Bynum (54).
2) Any star whose club has someone else who plays a similar position and is clearly there for their stopper status has no business making the All-Defensive Team. I don’t want to hear about the four minutes of ravenous defending Bryant does at the end of the game if Ron Artest is taking the hard assignments for the vast majority of the contest.
3) Anyone who is often a) playing defensive centerfield (which includes playing 10 feet off Rajon Rondo, something you or I could do) or b) marking the other team’s old/slow shooter doesn’t deserve to make the All-Defensive team. Denying Peja Stojakovic the ball in the corner while not helping as the speedy guys drive the lane isn’t doing anything that impressive.
4) Stars who routinely get easier match-ups so they can conserve their energy for offense—no matter how good their defense really is—aren’t worthy of earning All-Defensive status. These teams are for players who are playing tough defense, not who could be playing tough defense.
5) Versatility on the defensive end should be rewarded, although a point guard who can disrupt virtually any opposing point guard is the one exception because they really are making a major impact with their play.
My NBA All-Defensive Team
OK, OK, enough complaining about what’s wrong with the current process and my philosophy on what should be happening with the award. Here are my selections for the teams; I’m not intentionally sticking to the 1 center, 2 forwards, 2 guards format, but I'm picking units of five great defenders who could all play together as a legitimate squad. Regretfully, that does mean only one center per team.
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic
Kevin Garnett, F, Boston Celtics
Not only are all of his defensive advanced impact stats amazing, but he is the emotional and tactical quarterback for the Celtics’ awesome defense. He makes his teammates play better on D, a very rare skill.
Josh Smith, F, Atlanta Hawks
Smith has averaged at least 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per for five consecutive seasons. The only other players to do that in the last 30 years (while playing in at least 65 games each season) are Ben Wallace, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kevin Garnett.
Tony Allen, G, Memphis Grizzlies
Has the size, speed, and ferocity to pester any type of perimeter player.
Chris Paul, G, New Orleans Hornets
Fearless, incredibly fast, and smart as hell, not to mention he isn’t protected or hidden by anyone in the Hornets’ backcourt.
Andrew Bogut, C, Milwaukie Bucks
Tim Duncan, F, San Antonio Spurs
Luol Deng, F, Chicago Bulls
Andre Iguodala, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers
Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat
Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks
Serge Ibaka, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
LeBron James, F, Miami Heat
Ronnie Brewer, G, Chicago Bulls
Rajon Rondo, G, Boston Celtics