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Dwight Howard
Do the numbers justify Dwight Howard's bid for another Defensive Player award?
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Defensive Player of Year award a hard case to crack

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Mar 31 2011 11:50AM

In this StatsCube study, StatsCube takes a look at candidates for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Of all the awards the NBA hands out at the end of the season, Defensive Player of the Year is probably the hardest to quantify.

The boxscore is limited when it comes to defensive stats. A bunch of blocks or steals isn't always a good thing. And players do not defend in a vacuum. If a great defender is surrounded by four awful defenders, neither he nor his defensive numbers are going to look very good. In the same manner, good defensive teammates can make a bad defender look better than he actually is.

Lowest team defensive efficiency, player on floor
Player Team GP MIN Def. Eff.
Ronnie Brewer CHI 74 1652 92.6
Kevin Garnett BOS 64 2015 95.5
Taj Gibson CHI 72 1566 96.2
Kurt Thomas CHI 46 1079 96.4
Paul Pierce BOS 73 2528 96.5
Brandon Bass ORL 69 1761 97.1
Luol Deng CHI 74 2904 97.2
Keyon Dooling MIL 72 1609 97.5
Kyle Korver CHI 74 1492 98.3
Glen Davis BOS 69 2021 98.3
Minimum 1,000 minutes
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

We see evidence of the strength-in-numbers aspect to defense when we look at the league's top 10 defenders, according to team defensive efficiency with them on the floor.

There are five Bulls and three Celtics in the top 10. And if you lowered the minutes minimum to 900, Chicago's Omer Asik (90.7 in 908 minutes) and C.J. Watson (92.0 in 983 minutes) would be the top two.

Chicago (97.1 points allowed per 100 possessions overall) and Boston (97.5) are the two best defensive teams in the league. And while there are guys on the list above that deserve DPOY consideration, their defensive success is more about team principles and mentality than one player's influence.

Still, when you compare his team's defensive efficiency when he's on the floor with it when he's on the bench, Brewer stays at the top of the list.

Biggest difference, team defensive efficiency, player on floor vs. off floor
Player Team MIN On Off Diff
Ronnie Brewer CHI 1652 92.6 101.0 -8.4
Tim Duncan SAS 1955 99.0 106.6 -7.6
S.Livingston CHA 1260 100.0 106.6 -6.7
Josh Smith ATL 2546 102.0 108.6 -6.6
CJ Miles UTA 1806 104.1 110.6 -6.6
Eric Maynor OKC 1089 99.2 105.7 -6.5
Kyle Lowry HOU 2398 104.5 110.9 -6.4
Ronny Turiaf NYK 1047 102.6 109.0 -6.4
Darrell Arthur MEM 1485 99.3 105.5 -6.2
Nick Collison OKC 1374 100.1 106.0 -5.9
Minimum 1,000 minutes

Biggest difference, team defensive efficiency, player on floor vs. off floor

Gregg Popovich has been lamenting his team's defensive inconsistency for most of the season, but the Spurs still have been an excellent defensive team with their anchor on the floor. That bodes well for the playoffs, when Duncan will presumably play a lot more than 28.3 minutes per game. And it also brings Duncan into the picture when we're looking at Defensive Player of the Year candidates.

The Bulls' second unit, with Brewer, Asik (-8.6), Watson (-7.0) and Taj Gibson (-1.6) has been much stronger defensively than its starting lineup. Of the starters, Luol Deng has the best on-off court defensive differential at +0.9.

Derrick Rose has the worst (and second worst in the league among those who've played 1,000 minutes) at +8.1, meaning the Bulls allow 8.1 points per 100 possessions more when Rose is on the floor than they do when he's off. But that's only because they're ridiculously good (90.9) when he's not on the floor. They're still excellent (99.0) when he is.

Interestingly, the Magic have allowed slightly more points per 100 possessions with Dwight Howard on the floor (99.6) than they have with him on the bench (99.3). The same was true when Howard won his first DPOY award two seasons ago (his differential was +1.2), but not last season (-2.9).

One reason for Chicago's and Orlando's better defensive numbers with Rose and Howard on the bench is the quality of the lineups that they're facing. For the most part, when Howard's on the bench, so are the opponent's starters. So Orlando's second unit is defending against weaker offenses.

The Magic are still a very good defensive team, allowing less than a point per possession, with Howard on the floor. And there are other ways to quantify his defense.

Lowest true shooting percentage allowed vs. top post players
Orlando 31 197 450 43.8% 502 48.5%
L.A. Lakers 31 206 460 44.8% 533 50.6%
Atlanta 31 204 454 44.9% 571 51.9%
Miami 28 209 430 48.6% 526 52.6%
Memphis 29 175 361 48.5% 447 53.6%
TS% = Points / (2*(FGA+(.44*FTA)))
Players included in calculations: LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez, Kevin Love, Zach Randolph, Amare Stoudemire, David West

According to StatsCube, no team has been better than the Magic at defending the league's top post players.

Howard is obviously the most impactful interior defender in the league, but the list above also helps the case of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Jason Collins and even Chris Bosh.

If we go back to the first two tables, Bynum ranks 13th, with the Lakers allowing just 98.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 21st with an on-off court differential of -4.4 Gasol ranks 48th (101.3) and 84th (-0.9) and Bosh ranks 26th (99.6) and 14th (-5.0). Collins has played just 582 minutes, but as we saw against Howard and the Magic on Wednesday, the Hawks have been excellent defensively with him on the floor, allowing just 94.2 points per 100 possessions, which is 11.6 fewer than they allow with him on the bench.

When it comes to defending high-scoring wings, we have five different teams in the top five, with the Spurs are at the top.

Lowest true shooting percentage allowed vs. top wing players
San Antonio 23 196 458 42.8% 516 50.8%
Boston 19 157 383 41.0% 458 51.0%
Chicago 27 213 504 42.3% 609 51.7%
Philadelphia 28 205 484 42.4% 585 52.3%
Oklahoma City 22 202 451 44.8% 536 52.7%
Players included in calculations: Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Monta Ellis, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Stephen Jackson, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Kevin Martin, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade

Manu Ginobili's on-court numbers aren't as strong as Duncan's, but he ranks 39th with an on-court mark of 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions and 13th with an on-off court differential of -5.3. As noted above, the Celtics' defense goes well beyond one player, but they've also been best with their starting unit on the floor. So Pierce definitely deserves some credit.

The Sixers are 10th defensively, and have been much better with Andre Iguodala on the floor (100.8) than with him on the bench (105.2). And if there's a Wing Defensive Player of the Year, Iguodala just might be it.

The Thunder rank 13th defensively and have actually been better with Thabo Sefolosha on the bench (101.3) than with him on the floor (106.0). But Sefolosha (+4.6) spends most of his time on the floor with Russell Westbrook (+6.5) and Kevin Durant (+6.0), who have worse differentials than he does. As a whole (at least until Kendrick Perkins arrived), Oklahoma City's second unit has been much better defensively than their starting lineup, but those starters would probably be much worse off without Sefolosha.

When we look at which teams defend the best point guards, we get some inconclusive results.

Lowest true shooting percentage allowed vs. top point guards
Miami 29 148 364 40.7% 424 50.1%
New Jersey 28 152 381 39.9% 449 50.7%
Milwaukee 29 141 354 39.8% 415 50.8%
Dallas 31 189 439 43.1% 505 52.2%
Phoenix 33 187 443 42.2% 536 52.7%
Players included in calculations: Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Raymond Felton, Devin Harris, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams

The top three teams above haven't received consistent minutes from one point guard. Dallas and Phoenix have, but Jason Kidd's All-Defensive Team years are behind him and nobody is going to give Steve Nash much credit for slowing down opposing point guards.

That's just more evidence that there's no easy way to quantify who the league's best defenders are. But by using different methods, we can confirm some of what we see.

Dwight Howard will probably win his third straight Defensive Player of the Year award. And the numbers don't provide much of an argument against him. But they do give us a better idea of what other players deserve consideration.

All-Defensive Team Picks
(On-court def. eff., On-off court differential)

First Team

G: Ronnie Brewer (92.6, -8.4), Tony Allen (100.2, -4.4)

F: Andre Iguodala (100.8, -4.4), Kevin Garnett (95.5, -4.9)

C: Dwight Howard (99.6, +0.3)

Second Team

G: Manu Ginobili (100.5, -5.3), Chris Paul (101.7, -0.1)

F: Tim Duncan (99.0, -7.6), LeBron James (100.0, -4.6)

C: Tyson Chandler (100.9, -3.2)

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for 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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