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NBA All-Defensive Guard Selections are a Sham
- Updated: April 10, 2017
You’ve been lied to. We’ve all been lied to. The NBA All-Defensive honors are a giant lie (at least for the guards) and we have the data to prove it.
Last Year’s All-Defensive Team Recipients
Here are last year‘s recipients for the All-Defensive 1st and 2nd teams among guards:
The percentages listed are their percentile versus the rest of the league in defensive points per possession for each area. Avery Bradley being in the 81st percentile in isolation means he was better than 81% of NBA players in that area.
Some major defensive areas are shown: Pick & Roll Ball Handler, Spot Up, Isolation, Off Screen, and Hand Off defense. In addition other peripheral data is shown that sheds more light on their defensive abilities. Note: “C&S” is Catch and Shoot.
These players chosen are supposed to be top 10 defenders in the league. This graph speaks for itself. It’s pretty evident that none of the four guards chosen to All-NBA defensive teams were among the best defenders in the league.
Avery Bradley, who received the 3rd most votes of any NBA players and the most among guards, was dead average overall defensively. Allen and Butler had defensive performances that didn’t even grade out to the top 60% of the league.
Bradley’s case is especially amusing, because he grades out 8th best among the 11 Celtics who played at least 100 possessions last season. The Celtics had the 5th best defense in the League by PPP, and it doesn’t appear as though Bradley was a driving force in that.
Why Were These Players Chosen?
This leaves us with the question: How the hell did these players get selected?
I see one category that Bradley, Paul, and Butler have in common: Isolation defense. All three were proficient in that area.
If you think isolation is the only true defensive mark of a defender, you’d be wrong. From the research I compiled, approximately 90% of defensive possessions for NBA point guards and shooting guards were not spent defending in isolation. It’d be much more valuable to be a great defender chasing around screens, contesting and containing spot up shooters, and defending on pick and rolls.
It’s important to note that the media selects these players. The media may not have the data shown above that gives a true indicator of defensive performance. They likely rely on small samples of 10-15 games they’ve seen each of these players play.
I believe CP3, Butler, and Bradley were chosen because 1) they’re sexy names and have reputations for being good defenders, and 2) those isolation possessions are the ones that we remember most when watching a game. When Bradley is going mano a mano against Steph Curry, we remember those possessions.
“What About Who They Faced? That Should Count.”
When the Celtics play any team, Avery Bradley will defend the other team’s best guard. Right? And the same with the other three players (CP3 to a lesser extent)? That seemed consistent with what I’d heard. And if it’s true, shouldn’t that count for something?
I think it should, but it’s uncertain how much it should. To find out the extent to which it was true, I was able to find data on the top 14 players each of these guys defended last season.
I marked matchups in yellow that were not with a same-position player (ex: PG on PG) and were against great scorers.
Note: Allen played SG and SF almost as frequently last season, so I gave some leeway there.
I also want to note that Butler played SG 81% of his possessions on offense, but consistently defended the SF position last season. He was matched up against Anthony, George, and James, among others, but just played defense normally as a SF, as evidenced by him also having matchups against Morris, Covington, and Johnson.
It appears as though Bradley was the only player that was deployed with some frequency on the best players from other teams. Paul, Allen, and Butler essentially played the same “strength of schedule” as any other player at their position. For this reason we can’t give their data any excuses. Even Bradley’s data shouldn’t be explained away too much, considering 11 of his top 14 matchups were exactly the same as any other SG would have.
In conclusion, it doesn’t appear as though any of these players were the NBA equivalent of an NFL “shadow corner,” meaning that we shouldn’t adjust any of their data. They had the same matchups as other players their position around the league. This is an excuse that should be thrown out.
Who the Real Selections Should Have Been
If those four players shouldn’t have been given those top four spots, who should? From the data I have, these are who I’d pick. Notice the stark contrast between their numbers and the actual picks.
These players played just as tough of matchups as the four actually chosen, and were substantially more efficient defensively. Who are they? Jeff Teague, Evan Turner, JJ Redick, and Matthew Dellavedova. Those players are Player A, B, C, and D, respectively.
Why didn’t they win? I believe it’s because of them not being big names. They didn’t have the reputations of the other players defensively. They’d be less sexy picks for the media.
Ironically, two of these four actually play alongside two of the actual award recipients, Bradley and Paul.
My four suggestions deserved to be on the NBA All-Defensive teams more than the actual award recipients.
I firmly believe if Teague, Turner, Redick, and Dellavedova’s had different names, the result would’ve changed. They would have won the awards if their names were names of more popular players. That’s inexcusable. The NBA needs to better inform voters so they can properly award the correct players.
Up Next: Who should this year’s All-NBA defensive teams be?