The Every Play Counts 2005-06 All-Defensive Teams
by Kevin Pelton, 4/17/06
I kicked off the Every Play Counts series for 82games.com at the start of the series with the noble intention of paying a lot more attention to defense than is usually done, whether by statistical analysts or by the traditional media. Somewhere along the way, alas, that kind of fell by the wayside -- the Every Play Counts columns I did do (the full list follows this column) tended to be as much about offense as defense, and I put them on the back burner during the second half of the season in favor of doing more work for SI.com. A small part of the issue was finding good games to TiVo, since I don't have League Pass and TiVo together. With almost every playoff game on national TV, I hope for an EPC postseason comeback.
In the meantime, I want to focus in on the defensive end of the court by casting my imaginary ballot for the NBA's All-Defensive Teams.
In winnowing many deserving candidates down to the final teams, I've relied on a combination of statistics and scouting, both of the first-hand and second-hand (televised) variety. I created a spreadsheet that rated candidates in several statistical categories: My Defensive Rating, which includes blocks, steals, fouls, defensive rebounds and a 'team defense factor' which takes into account a player's team's defensive effort; their team's Defensive Rating; their net defensive plus-minus ratings; their Opponent PER ratings; and their ranking in Dan Rosenbaum's ratings for the last three seasons, published on this site last summer.
Lastly, let me note that with a couple of exceptions, I've ranked players where they actually play. As it's silly in baseball that the Gold Glove outfield is usually made up of three centerfielders, so too is it wrong in my opinion to pick power forwards and small forwards together when power forwards in general have more defensive responsibilities. The exceptions I did make are considering swingmen Bruce Bowen and Quinton Ross at shooting guard instead of small forward because, while listed as small forwards, they tend to defend the better player at either position (or even point guard or power forward, from time to time).
First Team: Jason Kidd, New Jersey
One of the problems with considering a wide variety of defensive data is that it one piece of information often tends to contradict another. That's the case for Kidd. New Jersey is actually worse defensively by 2.8 points per 100 possessions when Kidd is on the floor, and in terms of PER, the Nets defend point guard worse than any other possession. But Kidd was rated fourth by Rosenbaum and has far and away the best individual defensive statistics of any point guards. His recent stretch when he held Chauncey Billups to nine points on 2-for-10 shooting and Steve Nash to zero points in 26 minutes seals this spot for Kidd. And the moral of the story? Defensive stats remain much more of an art than a science.
Second Team: Earl Watson, Seattle
Watson ranked second in Rosenbaum's ratings and has been called the best defensive point guard in the league by John Hollinger. After watching him day in and day out for the last month and a half, I can't disagree. Watson has had an immense impact on the Sonics defense since the trade deadline; his net defensive plus-minus in Seattle is +11.9, the best of any player I looked at. Watson did not quite have that impact in Denver, but was a positive influence nonetheless. A big ballhawk at UCLA and during his early NBA career, Watson no longer gets many steals but remains a disruptive defensive presence.
Honorable Mention: Chris Duhon, Chicago - Rosenbaum's top point guard, Duhon has a negative net defensive plus-minus rating this season, but still is an elite defensive point guard. Chauncey Billups, Detroit - The Pistons defend point guards as well or better than any team in the league, by PER, but how much of that is because of their interior defense? Billups is very good, but not quite great. Eric Snow, Cleveland - Has lost a step since his heyday in Philadelphia, but remains one of the best.
First Team: Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
I'm of the opinion that Bowen is overrated defensively and doesn't really belong in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion because his role defensively is much smaller than that of big men who help on many more possessions. But that shouldn't take away from what Bowen does defensively. San Antonio shuts down both shooting guards and small forwards defensively (opponents have a total PER of 12.5 at both positions), and while that's partially scheme and partially the Spurs big men, it's largely Bowen.
Second Team: Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia
Iguodala got fewer votes than backcourt-mate Allen Iverson for last year's All-Defensive Team, but that should change this year. Iguodala plays the passing lanes and is a fine one-on-one defender. Igoudala's Opponent PER isn't very good, in no small part because the Sixers are so bad defensively as a team, but they're 6.2 points better per 100 possessions when Iguodala is on the court.
Honorable Mention: Quinton Ross, L.A. Clippers - The poor man's Bowen, Ross was going to be an EPC subject before the game I TiVoed got taped over. I'm hoping to take a look at him at some time in the postseason. Dwyane Wade, Miami - Wade was an All-Defensive Second Teamer a year ago, but his net plus-minus and Opponent PER numbers aren't good enough to put him in the top three. Raja Bell, Phoenix - A notch below Bowen and Ross as a perimeter stopper, though still very good. The charges he draws help the team and he frustrates opposing high scorers, but ranking in the bottom ten amongst two guards in Rosenbaum's rankings is hard to ignore.
First Team: Shane Battier, Memphis
Battier netted just four Second-Team votes a year ago, but I'm drinking the Kool-Aid. Battier is the kind of intelligent, position defender whose contributions often go unnoticed until we look at plus-minus ratings. Lo and behold, Rosenbaum rated him the top defensive small forward. His 8.1 net defensive plus-minus rating is the third best amongst all players I looked at, while his Defensive PER (13.8) is also strong. Battier was in the league's top 10 when this site looked at offensive fouls drawn, and he's a good one-on-one defender who plays on the league's second-best defense. And it's not as if Battier doesn't put up numbers in the traditional defensive categories; he's one of a handful of players league-wide averaging at least a block (a surprising 1.4 bpg) and a steal (1.1 spg) per game. It's a shame Battier doesn't get more credit for his defense.
Second Team: Andrei Kirilenko, Utah
Kirilenko is more 1A than he is number two at small forward. There just happen to be a number of terrific defensive small forwards in the league right now. Kirilenko's net defensive plus-minus (+3.5) isn't outstanding this season, but he's been good in the past in this regard. And nobody outside the center position puts up better traditional defensive statistics than Kirilenko. He's certainly very worthy of a First Team selection; it just happens that Battier is a little better in my book.
Honorable Mention: Tayshaun Prince, Detroit - If we take out Bowen, Prince has the best Defensive PER in the group and a very strong net rating (+4.9). Again, he's deserving, just not quite as much so as the other candidates. Shawn Marion, Phoenix - Marion's got a good shot at making the actual First Team because of his traditional defensive stats. I tend to think he's a little overrated, because he's not exceptional in one-on-one situations and his team impact was apparently limited in the past (he did not show up in Rosenbaum's top 10). His net rating (+3.9) is solid this year, but I think Marion is more very good than great defensively. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte - Had he stayed healthy, Wallace - who leads the NBA with 2.5 steals per game and also blocks more than two shots per - would have pushed the leaders at this position. However, the 25 games he missed doom him to also-ran status.
First Team: Tim Duncan, San Antonio
It's an open secret that Duncan has lost a step this season because of the plantar fasciitis he's battled all season, making him less effective at both ends. He's struggling a bit coming out to defend pick-and-rolls. Still, Duncan is arguably the greatest defensive power forward in the history of the NBA, so he had room to come down a bit and still be the best player at his position. The Spurs defense as a whole has not suffered at all, even with Nazr Mohammed -- a poor team defender -- starting at center down the stretch.
Second Team: Rasheed Wallace, Detroit
"Wallace is one of the league's most underrated defenders, a versatile defensive player capable of containing on the perimeter or battling in the post," I wrote in my look at the Detroit-San Antonio matchup. Nothing I've seen since then or in the statistics has changed that opinion. A long 6-10 and quick for his size, Wallace plays the help defense necessarily in the Pistons scheme and can shut down his man as needed. Wallace rated fifth in Rosenbaum's rankings and has a solid +3.7 net defensive plus-minus.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota - In terms of traditional defensive stats, Garnett actually is a little ahead of Duncan because he's played more minutes. And he ranked #2 in Rosenbaum's ratings. But I've never been hugely impressed by Garnett's work 1-on-1 and his 82games numbers aren't superior this season. Jason Collins, New Jersey - Apparently the Nets are quietly campaigning for Collins to get more All-D recognition. While I applaud that effort, they picked the wrong year. Had Collins not been limited by a leg nerve injury early in the year, I'd have definitely picked him. Without putting up traditional defensive statistics, Collins makes the Nets' D better. However, he's played only about 1,800 minutes, 900 or so fewer than Wallace and more than 1,100 fewer than Garnett. It's hard to overlook that difference. Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers - Brand will get some votes because he's sixth in the league in blocks, but he has a negative net defensive rating and hasn't had a huge team impact in the past, so he doesn't measure up to the high standard of the top four players at this position.
First Team: Ben Wallace, Detroit
The unanimous Every Play Counts Defensive Player of the Year, Wallace scores well by most every possible measure. He was the top overall player in Rosenbaum's ratings. He's the top overall player in terms of traditional defensive statistics. And, at least amongst the players I considered, he ranks second only to Watson (and thus, first amongst players who have spent all season with the same team) in net defensive plus-minus rating. Wallace's Opponent PER rating (17.6) is in fact pretty weak, but if opposing centers pick up a few extra points because Wallace is helping out his teammates so much, that's assuredly a trade-off the Pistons are willing to make. If his numbers hold, Wallace will finish in the league's top 10 in blocks, steals and defensive rebounds per game -- all while fouling only twice a night on average. He is truly the best defensive player of his generation.
Second Team: Marcus Camby, Denver
If not for (as usual) injuries that cost him 25 games, Camby would have pushed Wallace. The league's leading shot-blocker and second-leading defensive rebounder, Camby has become a much more effective defender since George Karl took over the Nuggets. His net defensive rating (+3.9) is good, if not in Wallace's league.
Honorable Mention: Boris Diaw, Phoenix - Don't laugh. Despite giving up several inches to most opponents, the 6-8 ex-point guard has a +6.2 net defensive rating, one of the best in the league. In a system that forced its big men to play more help defense, Diaw would probably struggle, but he's very good at containing his opponent, which is what the Suns ask him to do. Brendan Haywood, Washington - Traditionally one of the league's most underrated defensive centers, Haywood hasn't had a great season but has held opposing centers to a 13.8 PER and has a +3.9 net defensive rating. Samuel Dalembert, Philadelphia - There are surprisingly few dominating defensive centers around right now, so I'll hesitantly take Dalembert as the fifth player at this position on the strength of a ton of blocks and a solid +3.4 net defensive rating.
Before I finish, I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to thank my humble host, Roland Beech. Without this Web site, a column like this would be nearly impossible because of the lack of data. 82games.com remains a remarkable resource that should not be taken for granted.
Back in the old Hoopsworld days, I had a mailing list that notified readers when my columns were posted. Now that I'm writing several different places, it seems appropriate to bring it back. If you'd like to join, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin Pelton formerly wrote the "Page 23" column for Hoopsworld.com. He provides original content for both SUPERSONICS.COM and storm.wnba.com, where you can find more of his analysis of both the NBA and the WNBA. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Also see Kevin's previous columns for 82games.com:
The Year in Stats
Why I'm an APBRmetrician
Wanted: Open Minds
Investigating Dwyane Wade's Injury Risk
The Similarity of Eddy Curry and Mike Sweetney
Rating the Rookies: Projected Fantasy Stats
Valuing the Preseason
Every Play Counts: Kobe Bryant
Comparing the 50 Greatest
Every Play Counts: The Phoenix Pick-and-Roll
Every Play Counts: Antonio Daniels
Every Play Counts: Detroit-San Antonio
The Value of Kobe Bryant
Every Play Counts: The Phoenix Suns D
The Value of Steve Nash
The Curious Case of Darko Milicic