The Devil is in the D-Tails
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If Duncan and Asik played 1-on-1, you can bank on it being a low-scoring game.
Defensive Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus is the best stat we have in evaluating NBA players on defense, and nobody has better numbers than Jeremias Engelmann at Stats For The NBA.
By multiplying these numbers by possessions-per-game and determining a value for replacement players, I have ranked the NBA's best by determining Plus Minus Above Replacement (PMAR).
According to these advanced stats, here are 20 candidates for 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the All-Defense teams.
ANDRE IGUODALA, NUGGETS SHOOTING GUARD, +341.43: Matt Moore wrote an insightful piece into the mind of a defensive genius and couldn't have picked a better subject than Iguodala. The new Nugget leader is not only the best defending wing in the game--holding shooting guards and small forwards to 12.5 and 11.9 Player Efficiency Ratings--but he also may be the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year, posting a +4.2 defensive RAPM in 35 minutes per game every game.
OMER ASIK, ROCKETS CENTER, +310.64: Asik, who has the NBA's second-best defensive RAPM (+4.9), is showing the world that he is worth every penny of that 3-year, $25 million contract he signed with the Rockets last summer. Asik may be able to win both the DPOY and Most Improved awards after seeing his minutes double to 30 minutes per game this year.
TIM DUNCAN, SPURS CENTER, +294.03: Duncan, who had an NBA-best +5.6 defensive RAPM last season, is in his 16th straight season of defensive domination with a +4.8 defensive RAPM, which ranks third in 2012-13. He blocks shots (2.7 per game), defends pick-and-rolls and anchors the Spurs' D, which now ranks fourth in the NBA.
DWIGHT HOWARD, LAKERS CENTER, +293.31: Even though his back and his shoulder and his new team have messed with his defensive numbers, Howard's +4.4 defensive RAPM and 1494 minutes played have been enough to make the three-time Defensive Player of the Year a DPOY candidate again.
MARC GASOL, GRIZZLIES CENTER, +286.72: Little brother Gasol has been a 7-1, 265-pound space invader on the defensive end and has used his body-up ways to anchor Memphis' second-rated D. He holds opposing centers to a 13.4 PER and defends the pick-and-roll to keep floor balance--everything you want in a 21st Century center.
KEVIN GARNETT, CELTICS CENTER, +286.50: Nobody has a better defensive RAPM (+5.5) than the man who personifies all-around team defense. He defends the pick-and-roll and patrols the paint as well as anyone, even at age 36.
JOAKIM NOAH, BULLS CENTER, +280.31: Noah's continuous all-around improvement on all aspects of defense has been big for Chicago, especially with the team losing key reserve Omer Asik to Houston. The fleet-afoot center blocks 2.1 shots per game (up from 1.4) and posts a great +3.8 defensive RAPM (up from +2.5).
JOSH SMITH, BULLS POWER FORWARD, +266.40: His attitude sometimes get him in trouble, but nobody would ever question his defensive dominance (+4.0 defensive RAPM). What other power forward is versatile enough to play the small forward position and still get 2.2 blocks per game?
PAUL GEORGE, PACERS SHOOTING GUARD, +246.33: Technically, George has logged more minutes at small forward than shooting guard, but with Danny Granger returning to the lineup soon, George will finish the season as the second-best defensive shooting guard in the game, next to Iguodala.
PAUL MILLSAP, JAZZ POWER FORWARD, +221.00: He is an underrated rebounder, offensive performer and most definitely an unsung defensive star, posting a +3.0 defensive RAPM, like he seemingly does every season. His nimbleness could be used to even greater effect as a small forward in Utah's potential go-big lineups.
SERGE IBAKA, THUNDER POWER FORWARD, +215.75: Ibaka's play on defense served notice in 2011-12 because of his mind-blowing 3.7 blocks per game last year. But the 2011-12 first-team All-Defensive big is so crucial to Oklahoma City's versatility because he allows the team to go big, playing alongside Kendrick Perkins, or go small, playing center while Kevin Durant slides to power forward. Ibaka holds centers to an 11.0 PER.
TYSON CHANDLER, KNICKS CENTER, +298.02: Chandler doesn't block a lot of shots (1.0 per game), but his quarterback skills on D (defensive RAPM is +2.7) is the one thing that keeps New York's D honest,
LUOL DENG, BULLS SMALL FORWARD, +208.24: Deng's D has dropped a bit--he's been a consistent Top 5 DPOY candidate in the past. Still, no one would argue there is a better defensive small forward in the game than the tireless Bull.
LARRY SANDERS, BUCKS CENTER, +198.90: Sanders has become a defensive force in the 2012-13 season--posting a +4.2 defensive RAPM--and is establishing himself as one of the toughest centers to face at the age of 24.
THABO SEFOLOSA, THUNDER SHOOTING GUARD, +179.24: David West, Roy Hibbert, Metta World Peace, LaMarcus Aldridge and a dozen other bigs have PMAR scores better than Sefolosha and the guards below, but I wanted to put some Gs on this list since they're legit All-Defense candidates. And the stats here show Thabo is the third best defensive wing in the game (+2.5 defensive RAPM).
TONY ALLEN, GRIZZLIES SHOOTING GUARD, +171.93: The 31-year-old Grizzly has shaped Memphis' second-rated defense into his grind-and-grit image, a style of play that becomes more pronounced with the acquisition of new small forward Tayshaun Prince.
STEPHEN CURRY, WARRIORS POINT GUARD, +168.17: Golden State head coach Mark Jackson called Curry an “elite defender” earlier this season for the way he has defended shooters over the pick-and-roll and the numbers wholeheartedly agree.
JRUE HOLIDAY, 76ERS POINT GUARD, +150.47: The 6-4, 205-pound Sixer has the body to harass smaller PGs and the 22-year-old energy to do so consistently and continually (+1.1 defensive RAPM, second only to Curry, among the major-minutes players).
JEREMY LIN, ROCKETS POINT GUARD, +137.05: With James Harden taking the bigger offensive load, Lin's D has been key in giving Houston a PG who provides high-pressure defense at all times, ranking second in steals. His court IQ and quickness are some of the most underrated aspects of Lin's overall game.
TONY PARKER, SPURS POINT GUARD, +132.39: Unlike Lin, Parker doesn't gamble, posting a +0.9 defensive RAPM while holding foes to a 13.7 PER. Parker not only provides the offensive blueprint to younger point guards on how to run pick-and-rolls, he also displays the defensive blueprint as well.