Who should win Defensive Player of the Year?

Milwaukee Bucks’ Andrew Bogut (R) defends against the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (L) in the first half during their NBA basketball game in Milwaukee, Wisconsin March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

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Dwight Howard certainly seems to be the consensus pick, but let’s think about this for a moment. What’s really the best way to judge which player has had the best year on the defensive end of the court?

I’m sure there are all sorts of advanced metrics that the teams/stat companies use that the general public are not privy to. There are only four player-by-player basic stats that are defensive in nature: steals, blocks, defensive rebounds and fouls. The first three are positive, and the last one is obviously negative. Whether a player steals or rebounds the ball, he’s ending the opponent’s possession. Not all blocks will end a possession — just look at Howard, who still insists on swatting balls into the stands instead of trying to direct them to his teammates — but there is the difficult-to-quantify “changing of shots” that goes unaccounted for, so blocks are still vitally important. Fouls give the opponent another possession or worse yet a pair of free throws. (Note: I would like to also use charges drawn, but for some reason Hoopdata hasn’t tracked that number this season.)

When I saw HoopsHype’s list of DPOY finalists, I noticed two names was missing — Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala. I thought Bogut deserved the DPOY last year, but he was instead rewarded with an All-NBA Third Team bid. Iguodala is one of the best perimeter defensive players in the game, but unfortunately for us that’s more based on reputation than (basic) statistics.

Let’s take a look at the league leaders in DTOT, which is my abbreviation for Defensive Total, which is simply the sum of steals, blocks and defensive rebounds, minus fouls. I’ve also included each team’s defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) while the player is on the court along with each player’s Opponent Player Efficiency Rating. These last two stats were found at 82games.com.

# Player DRPG SPG BPG FPG DTOT DEF EFF Opp PER
1 Dwight Howard 10.12 1.34 2.40 3.3 10.56 103.2 11.8
2 Kevin Love 10.71 0.62 0.37 2.0 9.67 112.7 16.1
3 Andrew Bogut 8.02 0.72 2.58 3.3 7.98 102.1 13.5
4 Kevin Garnett 7.72 1.35 0.77 2.1 7.76 98.8 14.3
5 Tim Duncan 6.65 0.67 1.92 1.6 7.67 102.8 15.9
6 Blake Griffin 8.79 0.77 0.54 3.0 7.05 110.8 14.5
7 Marcus Camby 7.19 0.69 1.53 2.4 7.02 108.1 14.5
8 Josh Smith 6.87 1.29 1.58 2.9 6.88 105.9 16.9
9 Zach Randolph 7.84 0.84 0.33 2.3 6.68 106.9 14.5
10 Kris Humphries 7.38 0.46 1.09 2.3 6.66 110.9 15.2

First, notice that all 10 players on the list are big men. This is due to the way that defensive rebounding drives the DTOT stat. Perimeter defense is tougher to quantify for this reason.

Howard certainly has a strong case. He leads the league in DTOT by a fairly wide margin, and the guy in second place (Love) doesn’t do much in the way of blocks or steals. But look who’s sitting at #3 — Andrew Bogut. Of everyone on the list, Bogut has the second lowest defensive efficiency (next to KG) when on the court. He also holds his opponent to the second-lowest PER. Second to Howard, of course.

Wondering about Iguodala? He is #22 in DTOT, the fourth highest non-PF/C on the list after LeBron James (#11), Gerald Wallace (#14, but more of a PF) and Kevin Durant (#16). Iggy’s team defensive efficiency is a respectable 104.1 and his Opponent PER is an eye-popping 9.9, which is better than LeBron (11.4), Wallace (14.3 while in Charlotte) and Durant (12.2). He is also tied with Tim Duncan for the fewest fouls per game in the Top 30. Iggy has truly embraced his inner Scottie Pippen this season.

Interestingly, Landry Fields (#32), Dwyane Wade (#33) and Jason Kidd (#40) are the first three guards on the list, which is clearly dominated by big men due to the aforementioned defensive rebounding issue.

So does Dwight Howard deserve another DPOY? Probably. But there are other players like Bogut and Iguodala that deserve a few votes as well. This will likely be a landslide, but it shouldn’t be.

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