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John Schuhmann

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The Celtics' Rajon Rondo leads the league in steals.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

All-Defense team: You gotta see it to believe it


Posted Apr 1 2010 12:04PM

Defense is not easy to quantify.

Yes, we can keep track of steals, blocks and personal fouls (though they could also be offensive). But, in a traditional boxscore, that's about it. Looking at the opponents' side of the boxscore is a better way to determine how well a team or an individual plays defense.

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Advanced statistics can help. Still, when evaluating defense, it always helps to see things with your own eyes.

So in an attempt to determine The Numbers Game's selections for this season's All-Defense teams, a combination of team numbers, individual numbers and video were used.

It starts with team defensive efficiency. No matter how good an individual defender is, it's hard to give him league-wide recognition when his team ranks near the bottom of the league. So you will see no Grizzlies, Suns, Knicks or Warriors on the list below.

Next, even good defensive teams may be better when a particular guy is sitting on the bench. So guys like J.J. Redick and Nenad Krstic don't qualify, either.

The third statistical factor is the offensive numbers of the league's best players against particular teams. Some of the best scorers in the league were divided into four groups (point guards, wings, perimeter fours and low-post bigs) of five or six players to determine which teams defend certain types of player best.

For example, the wings group consists of the top five scorers in the league: Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

From there, Synergy Sports was used to watch video and determine which individuals were most responsible for shutting down the stars.

Here are the Numbers Game's first and second team All-Defensive selections, with their team's defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) while they're on the floor.

Warning: This list is short on the stars you're used to seeing on All-Defensive Team selections.

First Team

GUARDS

Rajon Rondo -- Boston Celtics (99.4)

Rondo still isn't the most disciplined defender, but with some encouragement from Doc Rivers, he's done a better job of staying in front of his man. With long arms, strong hands, quick feet and great anticipation, he's always been a disruptive force in the backcourt.

The opposing point guards on our list shoot slightly below average against Boston, but the Celtics' biggest strength defensively is forcing turnovers. And the league leader in steals is responsible for a good amount of those.

Arron Afflalo -- Denver Nuggets (104.3)

The Nuggets are a slightly below-average defensive team. Their best defender is Kenyon Martin. But they've done a good job of keeping Bryant, James and Wade in check this season. And it's been Afflalo who's had the assignment of slowing down the opposing stars most of the time.

In what was perhaps the most underrated acquisition of last summer (and another knock on Joe Dumars), the Nuggets got Afflalo from Detroit for a second round pick. He was in and out of the Pistons' rotation last season, but he's been a starter in Denver since early November.

FORWARDS

Kevin Garnett -- Boston Celtics (97.2)

The one defensive play by Garnett that stands out from this season is probably not one he'd like to be remembered for. Rashard Lewis drove baseline around Garnett for the game-winning bucket in the final seconds of the Magic's 96-94 win over the Celtics on Jan. 28 in Orlando, in front of a national TNT audience. For some observers, that play summarized how the Celtics have fallen off since they won the championship two years ago.

But Boston's problems are more about the other end of the floor. They're still an elite defensive team, and though his mobility has been limited, Garnett is still the biggest reason why. The Celtics have allowed just 97.2 points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor. That's the second lowest on-court efficiency in the league among players who have logged at least 1,200 minutes.

Shawn Marion -- Dallas Mavericks (101.8)

The Mavs are just the 12th ranked defense in the league, but that's up from 17th last season, with the big difference on the roster being Marion. More telling is that no team in the league defends the league's top five scorers better than the Mavs. In fact, Dallas (.452 true shooting percentage against) has a huge edge over Charlotte (.523), the second best team in defending the big five.

Anthony, Bryant, Durant, James and Wade all have sub-par numbers against Dallas. And while Jason Kidd, Josh Howard and Caron Butler have defended them at times, it's been mostly Marion doing the work. Further, the Mavs are 9-5 against the Nuggets, Lakers, Thunder, Cavs and Heat. So defending the stars well has paid dividends in the standings.

CENTER

Andrea Bargnani -- Toronto Raptors (112.5)

Ha! It is April 1st, after all. But seriously ...

Dwight Howard -- Orlando Magic (99.3)

For the second straight season, Howard is the anchor of the No. 1 defense in the NBA. The Magic lead the league by allowing just 99.7 points per 100 possessions. They're also the best team at defending low-post bigs, allowing just a .492 true shooting percentage from the other five big men on the list.

With Howard patrolling the middle, the Magic allow the fewest points in the paint in the league. They also rank sixth in keeping their opponents off the free-throw line. Howard is a center who has learned how best to apply his size and athleticism, making it much easier for the rest of the team to defend the perimeter. Simply, Howard is the most important defensive presence in the league.

Second Team

GUARDS

Kobe Bryant -- Los Angeles Lakers (99.5)

Like Afflalo, Bryant isn't the best defender on his team. That would be Ron Artest. But there are far more good defenders at forward than there are at guard. With Artest around, Bryant doesn't have to take on tough defensive assignments as much as he used to, and his defensive intensity still varies from game to game and possession to possession. But Bryant is also still one of the league's best lock-down defenders when he wants to be.

Thabo Sefolosha -- Oklahoma City Thunder (101.1)

By now the secret is out that the Thunder are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Nick Collison has the best on-court defensive efficiency in the league and Kevin Durant's defense has improved dramatically from last season, but Sefolosha is their designated stopper. He's done a particularly good job on Wade this season, holding him to 40 percent shooting in the Thunder's two wins over the Heat.

FORWARDS

Gerald Wallace -- Charlotte Bobcats (100.0)

The Bobcats rank third in defensive efficiency, second in defending the top wing players in the league, and first in defending perimeter fours. That's all you need to know about Wallace, his team's best defender.

Anderson Varejao -- Cleveland Cavaliers (98.5)

Varejao ranks third in the league in raw plus-minus. The other players in the top five are James, Howard, Bryant and Deron Williams, all of whom have the ball in their hands a lot more than Varejao does. He ranks sixth in the league in on-court defensive efficiency and the Cavs rank third in defending low-post bigs.

CENTER

Andrew Bogut -- Milwaukee Bucks (98.3)

Bogut ranks fourth in the league in on-court defensive efficiency. The Bucks have stormed up the standings with a lock-down defense, and there's no doubt who their most important defender is. They're a full six points per 100 possessions better defensively when Bogut is on the floor.

No room at the inn

The following forwards deserve recognition more than a couple of the guards listed above, but they'll have to settle for honorable mention: Ron Artest, Tim Duncan, Nick Collison, Kenyon Martin and Luc Mbah a Moute.

At center, two more players deserve recognition: Miami's Jermaine O'Neal and Boston's Kendrick Perkins. The Heat rank second behind the Magic in defending low-post big men and only the Nuggets have defended Howard better than Miami. Perkins ranks fifth in the league in on-court defensive efficiency (98.4).

All stats are through Tuesday, March 30 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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