Feb 27 2014 10:50AM

Defensive Players Of The Year

With the onslaught of advanced metrics upon us in the new millennium, we now actually have a good idea of who the Defensive Player of the Year may be, even before the voting takes place in mid-April.

Observe 2012-13 for instance.

Marc Gasol, to the surprise of basketball traditionalists, won the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year award, despite only having 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals in 35.0 minutes per game.

The old-school way of thinking would have been to look up any player who averaged more in both categories--Dwight Howard (2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals), Joakim Noah (2.1 and 1.2), Anthony Davis (1.8 and 1.2) and Josh Smith (1.8 and 1.2)--and made them one of their 2012-13 DPOY choices.

Never mind the fact that Noah and Davis missed 16 and 18 games, respectively, or that Smith and Howard played on the 10th- and 19th-best defenses last season.

Now, with a variety of methods to gauge defenses, voters picked Marc Gasol, who only missed two games in 2012-13, as their DPOY, in part, because he had the best defensive rating for any big man who played 30-plus minutes per game (95.4, just edging out Roy Hibbert at 95.6) while playing on the second best defensive team in the Memphis Grizzlies (97.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), whose rating slipped dramatically when Gasol was off the floor (102.2).

For what it's worth, Hibbert's off-court defensive rating on the No. 1 defensive team in 2012-13 was not as drastic at 98.0.

Gasol also had a +5.6 defensive Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus, as computed by Jeremias Engelmann, and had more playing time than the other three majority-minutes bigs who had higher RAPMs (Dwight Howard, +6.3; Tim Duncan, +6.3; Kevin Garnett, +6.1).

This is nothing new.

Tyson Chandler won the 2011-12 DPOY award despite averaging only 1.4 blocks and 0.9 steals in 33.2 minutes per game.

His defensive RAPM that season was +4.8, and like Gasol, he had the other advanced metrics to back that up.

Both Gasol and Chandler missed 23 and 24 games in 2013-14 due to injuries, but the methodology for the Defensive Player of the Year award winner remains the same.

Gone are the days when big men had to average 3-plus blocks per game to win the DPOY.

Voters this decade consider so many other metrics, visual aides (with SportVU, Synergy and video technology) and subjective material that you can kind of figure out who they may vote for when All-D ballots are cast in April.

Here's one man's take at the top candidates, as we head into March.


Gary Dineen; Andrew D, Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

BIG MEN

Without a doubt, Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut are the top four centers in consideration for the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year Award, with Hibbert emerging as the clear favorite. Not only do voters feel bad for leaving Hibbert off their first- and second-team ballots in 2012-13 (Hibbert showed he was clearly the best defender in the 2013 NBA Playoffs), but the 27-year-old Pacers center is playing his best brand of D yet. His RAPM numbers are just now on the upswing (+2.3), as the in-the-paint leader of the NBA's fourth-best defense since the three-point shot went into existence in 1979-80. Indiana's 94.0 defensive efficiency in 2013-14 is not only an improvement on the Pacers' 2012-13 NBA-best mark of 96.6, but it is 4.0 better than the second-best D in 2013-14 (Chicago). Hibbert's 4.1 defensive win shares ranks second only to teammate Paul George, while his 2.5 blocks per game lead the NBA. His 93.3/95.3 defensive on/off ratings only enhance Hibbert's candidacy. Duncan, the greatest defensive player in the three-point era with 10 of his Spurs teams ranking amongst the Top 50 defenses since 1980, may not quarterback a history-making D this year like Hibbert, but the Spurs do rank fifth (100.6) and a lot of that is due to their leading minuteman and resident 37-going-on-38-year-old center, who doubles as a power forward. That multi-position function will probably allow Duncan to make his NBA-record 15th All-Defense team (nobody else has more than 12). Duncan's metrics have fallen some, as he maintains a 102.6/98.1 defensive on/off rating, along with a +3.1 defensive pure RAPM. But even then, Duncan's dRAPM is only topped by Howard (+3.2) among the majority bigs in 2013-14. So with the exception of Hibbert and his dominating rim-protection ways--Hibbert has an NBA bigs-leading .413 opponents field goal percentage at rim (Duncan, .485; Howard, .470; Bogut, .448) and Howard (.470)--the fight for second-best defensive center may very well go down to the wire (Bogut has a +2.7 defensive RAPM, 98.8/99.2 defensive on/off ratings; Howard has a +3.2 dRAPM, 101.2/104.2 defensive on/off ratings). Joakim Noah and DeAndre Jordan are two other centers who also have good enough metrics in certain areas to garner consideration from a certain segment of the voter audience, while David West is the leading pure power forward candidate if voters decide not to put a hybrid center in one of the two forward slots.


Dan Lippit; Ron Hoskins (2)/NBAE/Getty Images

WING PLAYERS

The We-Love-LeBron Community wants to get LeBron James his first DPOY award, but unlike last season, the numbers don't come close to supporting LeBron's candidacy here. Without a doubt, Andre Iguodala and Paul George are the kings of the defensive wings today, with George and Hibbert leading the best 1-2 perimeter-big defensive combo in 10 years, when both Bruce Bowen and Duncan, or Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal ruled the halfcourts, when both led history-making defenses back in 2003-04. In 2013-14, George leads the NBA in defensive win shares (4.8), ranks eighth in steals per game (1.8), has 93.9/94.5 defensive on/off ratings and a +2.6 defensive RAPM. But is he doing better than unsung DPOY candidate Iguodala? The new Warriors leader has a league-leading +5.2 defensive RAPM, a staggering 95.9/102.9 defensive on/off rating and a wondrous 10.6 defensive Player Efficiency Rating. A wing has not won the award since Artest a.k.a. Metta World Peace in 2003-04, but if ever Hibbert had a challenge for the award--other than teammate George--it is 'Dala, 'Dala bill, y'all! Also keep an eye out for Lance Stephenson (sixth in defensive win shares for the NBA's No. 1 D), Kevin Durant (eighth in defensive win shares, along with 11.0 opponents PER) and Jimmy Butler (9.9 opponets PER on the NBA's No. 2 D).


Andy Lyons; Mike Young; Christian Petersen/Getty Images Sport

POINT GUARDS

Point guards almost never get considered for the DPOY, and by "almost never" I mean you have to go back to the 1995-96 season to see Gary "The Glove" Payton winning the big award. That said, they will name one or two PGs to the All-Defensive team and you can be pretty sure they'll name the winners out of the following five names: Mike Conley (+1.9 defensive RAPM), Tony Parker +2.0 dRAPM), Mario Chalmers (+2.1 dRAPM), Ricky Rubio (+1.9 dRAPM) or possibly Patrick Beverley (+2.5 dRAPM), if the young Rocket stays injury-free down the stretch, after already missing 18 games this season. However, none of these five have the credentials this season to make a run at the big DPOY award.

SOURCES: Stats.NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, Stats For The NBA, 82Games.