Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies just won his first Defensive Player of the Year award. It's an honor that San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan has never captured in his 16 years in the NBA. This is stunning when you consider that Duncan has anchored some of the best defenses of the past decade-and-a-half and never finished higher than third in the voting.
Manu Ginobili offered a solution: Let the players vote for an award that is nearly impossible to quantify.
“It is the toughest award they give away because players don't vote,” Ginobili said. “It's the player that (goes) against other players who know. Sometimes the best rebounder is not the best defender; or the best in steals is not a great defender. He just gambles a lot.
“It could be (an award for players to choose), but it's been going on for so many years. It's not that I'm complaining, but probably we do know better than the media.”
The coaches fill out a ballot and vote for the All-Defense teams, so it's not a terrible idea to take the defensive vote away from the media. Defense is the hardest thing there is to analyze in the NBA. We feel like we know which players are good and which players are bad, but it's assuming a lot of things about the matchup and scheme that are often secretive strategies for teams. It's a lot of guesswork to determine which players can defend man-to-man and in a five-man unit.
There is no one statistical measurement available to the media or fans that shows which players are good at defense. Guys who block a lot of shots might not actually be good defenders (see: Milcic, Darko). Guys who get a lot of steals might not actually have a positive effect on his team's defense (see: Ellis have it all, Monta). Through the great work being done in the early stages of SportsVu (the camera system set up in half of the league's arenas), we might start getting an idea of measuring defense for each individual player. But it's not something we're going to have at our fingertips anytime soon.
Nobody knows the defensive effort and effectiveness for NBA players like the players and coaches do. If you avoided letting guys vote for players on their own teams, then maybe you could devise a working system to let players vote on Defensive Player of the Year. Or maybe letting coaches take that vote, too, might be the way to go.
Regardless of what ends up happening with the process for the award, Duncan has reached Jerry Sloan territory. Sloan is one of the greatest coaches of all time but never won Coach of the Year. Duncan's defense will probably never be appreciated with the accolade that many think he has deserved.