Defensive Player of the Year by the numbers

By John Schuhmann,

Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have been key cogs in the Warriors' defense. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have been key cogs in the Warriors’ defense. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Defense is difficult to quantify.

In the boxscore, we have steals and blocks, which don’t really tell us much. Two of the league’s top five in total steals plus blocks – Josh Smith and Andre Drummond – are Pistons. The Pistons are awful defensively and worse when Smith and Drummond are on the floor together than they are when one or both is off the floor. tells us how many points per 100 possessions a player’s team has allowed when he was on the floor, a category dominated by players on the league’s best defensive teams.

To be considered for the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, you should be on a good defensive team. The last player to win the award that wasn’t on a team that ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency was Dikembe Mutombo in 1997-98. And 12 of the 15 winners since then (including each of the last six) played for teams that ranked in the top five.

And you can find plenty of great defensive players in this season’s top five teams in defensive efficiency. Indiana (1) has both Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Chicago (2) has Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Golden State (3) has Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. Oklahoma City (5) has Serge Ibaka.

It’s hard to pick a Spur for DPOY candidacy when none of them have averaged 30 minutes per game. Beyond the top five defensive teams, Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan could be candidates. Their teams all rank in the top 12 in defensive efficiency, and Howard’s Rockets have only dropped out of the top 10 since he started missing games.

This season, we have SportVU data to tell us how well opponents shoot near the basket when a player is there defending it. And we can supplement that with data on how often opponents actually shoot near the basket when that player is on the floor. Big guys should get credit for keeping the other team away from the basket, after all.

All stats are through April 7, 2014.

Big men DPOY candidates, defending the rim

Player %FGA Rank1 FG% Rank2
Andrew Bogut 27.5% 1 45.5% 7
Chris Bosh 32.1% 34 52.5% 39
Marc Gasol 30.3% 20 50.4% 24
Taj Gibson 31.1% 27 45.0% 6
Roy Hibbert 28.3% 4 41.7% 1
Dwight Howard 30.7% 24 47.8% 13
Serge Ibaka 34.2% 53 44.3% 3
DeAndre Jordan 31.9% 32 49.4% 19
Joakim Noah 29.6% 13 46.1% 8

%FGA = Percentage of opponent shots taken from the restricted area with player on the floor.
Rank1 = Among 72 bigs who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 opponent shots.
FG% = Opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim while player is defending it.
Rank2 = Among 58 players who have defended at least 5.0 shots at the rim per game for at least 50 games.

There’s more to defense than protecting the rim, though. For a big man to be an impact defender, he has to be able to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. This is where a guy like Bosh can show his value on a team that defends like the Heat. It’s also where a guy like Drummond still has a lot of work to do.

SportVU has numbers on how efficiently opponents have scored when a player is the help defender on pick-and-roll.

Big men DPOY candidates, defending pick-and-rolls

Help Defender Screens Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Andrew Bogut 725 688 624 0.91
Chris Bosh 1,120 1,063 1,051 0.99
Marc Gasol 765 726 759 1.05
Taj Gibson 715 695 699 1.01
Roy Hibbert 1,159 1,111 1,026 0.92
Dwight Howard 1,343 1,271 1,293 1.02
Serge Ibaka 961 924 925 1.00
DeAndre Jordan 1,494 1,441 1,500 1.04
Joakim Noah 974 939 879 0.94

There’s a lot that goes into these numbers. They’re from all possessions in which that player defended a ball-screen and the results (a score or no score) could be several passes away. So they do depend on his teammates quite a bit. Still, we can see that Bogut, Hibbert and Noah have distinguished themselves as both rim protectors and pick-and-roll defenders.

The other thing we can look at his how much of an impact these guys make on their team defensive numbers.

DPOY candidates, on and off the court

On floor Off floor Difference
Player MIN DefRtg MIN DefRtg DefRtg Rank
Andre Iguodala 1,976 96.6 1,745 103.1 -6.5 9
Chris Bosh 2,395 100.8 1,293 105.7 -4.9 20
Paul George 2,823 95.9 941 97.8 -1.9 74
Roy Hibbert 2,331 95.6 1,433 97.5 -1.9 76
Dwight Howard 2,310 102.1 1,368 103.5 -1.3 90
Andrew Bogut 1,688 99.1 2,033 100.2 -1.1 98
Taj Gibson 2,216 97.2 1,525 98.2 -0.9 105
Joakim Noah 2,619 97.5 1,122 97.9 -0.4 114
DeAndre Jordan 2,766 102.0 993 101.4 +0.6 139
Marc Gasol 1,775 102.8 1,941 101.5 +1.3 150
Serge Ibaka 2,475 101.3 1,198 99.8 +1.4 154

Rank = Among 239 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes for a single team

If a team has better defensive numbers when a player is off the floor, it doesn’t mean that he’s a bad defender. The Thunder are typically defending the opponents’ best players when Ibaka is on the floor and their subs when he’s off.

Who these guys are being replaced with also plays a role. Hibbert’s the best rim protector in the league, but Ian Mahinmi is also a very good defender.

But the on-off court numbers make a strong case for Iguodala. The Warriors have been a much better defensive team with Iguodala on the floor and Bogut off than vice versa. Opponent shooting numbers, when you compare Iguodala to some of the league’s other good defenders at the small forward position, also make a case.

Top five small forward scorers* with defender on the floor

On floor FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTA PTS eFG% TS%
Luol Deng 68 180 37.8% 21 57 36.8% 61 208 43.6% 50.3%
Paul George 82 170 48.2% 11 30 36.7% 62 232 51.5% 58.8%
Andre Iguodala 65 156 41.7% 17 43 39.5% 48 185 47.1% 52.2%
LeBron James 97 210 46.2% 24 67 35.8% 73 272 51.9% 56.2%
Kawhi Leonard 64 139 46.0% 8 26 30.8% 51 179 48.9% 55.4%

* Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Paul George and Rudy Gay
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Ron Artest (2003-04) and Gary Payton (1995-96) are the only perimeter players to win Defensive Player of the Year in the last 25 years. And it’s hard to argue against a pick of either Hibbert or Noah as the anchors of the two best defensive teams in the league.

But Iguodala should definitely be in the conversation. He’s the biggest reason why the Warriors have jumped from 13th in defensive efficiency last season to third this year, and why the Denver Nuggets have gone in the opposite direction (from 11th to 21st).


  1. mac says:

    Looking at those numbers, it looks like Andrew Bogut is the best defensive center in the NBA this season.

  2. Tavon says:

    I believe it comes down to Roy Hibbert and Andre Iguodala. You can take either one when deciding who’s been the best defender in the league, but Andre Iguodala has really transformed the Warriors into a very good defensive team. And if you don’t agree, just look at the Nuggets without him. He deserves to win this award. I wouldn’t be upset it Ro Hibbert won it though. Anyone else is a mistake. Sorry Joakim

  3. Dan says:

    It would be nice to incorporate how often the player fouls in situations.. protecting the rim, defending pick and roll.

  4. jhgkerr says:

    “steals and blocks, which don’t really tell us much. Two of the league’s top five in total steals plus blocks ” For those concerning Davis. He’s one of my favourite players. But the fact is, you simply can’t win these awards without a winning record. It’s just not fair.

  5. Brenda says:

    It is time to recognize true talent Lebron James qualities to be consider for defensive player of the year.

  6. JohnR says:

    Jimmy Bulter is the best defender in the NBA this year from what I have seen, but he won’t win because people don’t know him.

  7. Reumon says:

    Noah. Otherwise Davis…

  8. JQ says:

    “Ron Artest (2003-04) and Gary Payton (1995-96) are the only perimeter players to win Defensive Player of the Year in the last 25 years.”
    I think Dennis Rodman is more of a perimeter player (small forward) when he won in 1990 and 1991.

  9. Shep says:

    I think Roy hibbert should get it because of Indianas successful year as he can defend every player in the league with no problem he also comes out out with rebounds and blocked shots. This is coming from a miami heat fan

    • kitten mittens says:

      he only plays good against the heat, all you have to do is draw him a little bit out of position and he is basically useless. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great defender, but he is a little overrated as he is a beneficiary of Indiana’s great scheme. They have really good perimeter defenders that just funnel people in to him, he really doesn’t have to move a lot. He really struggles when he has to move. Honestly I think Noah is the better defender because he gives you the rim protection and great mobility. Igoudala should get the award, look at the Nuggets pre and post Iggy and the Warriors pre and post Iggy. That guy just does all the dirty work.

  10. MewSpurs says:

    Kawhi deserves deep consideration for DPOY. Igoudala has been out for a long period of time now, and with the playoffs approaching, it brings out the best in players.

  11. Z for 3 says:

    I might be Bulls biased here but Jimmy Butler warrants attention. The guy plays 40+ min a night and shuts down the best offensive player of the opposing team. Whats more is that he is filling the void the Bulls created when they traded Deng who should also get some love

  12. emersizzle says:

    Why isn’t Davis mentioned?? Looking just at per game stats, he has the highest steals/blocks combined. And his opponents stats at rim are very good as well.

    Also, I do thin there needs to be other categories to help guards (opponents ppg and fg percentage for example) then beverly, kawhi, lebron would probably get some nods

    I’d go with Noah, mainly because he is the defensive leader as well as overall leader for a mediocre team that relies on its defense.

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      Why? Because John Schuhmann avoids certains stats, stats that WILL determine who gets DPOY votes. Anthony Davis, Serge Ibaka, and Chris Paul should all be consider to get votes.

  13. okc2014 says:

    Hibbert or Noah. Tough one.

  14. Indy says:

    It comes down to either Hibbert, Joakim, or Iggy in my opinion. I am a huge Pacers fan so I’ll admit my bias, but I really can’t see anyone other than Roy winning it.

  15. bpguay says:

    it should be Noah and iggy no else in contest for it

  16. KeCe says:

    Yes, Yes, Iggy is tha man 😉

  17. bodjee says:

    Where are the stats for guards? You should also include the stats for steals, charges … How do you include the defensive plays that does not appear on the stat sheets? I think there is more to defence than block shots and standing tall.

  18. sean says:

    it’s noah and it’s not even close this year

  19. Temi says:

    Paul George, and Dwight doesn’t belong in that category . Please be real

  20. Temi says:

    If kahwi Leonard isn’t in the top 3, you guys must be smoking Indian hemn.

  21. matt says:

    Anthony davis???

  22. Tim says:

    Jimmy Butler

  23. Jim Muncy says:

    I like the Serge protector. He does it all over the court and not just at the rim. He does an amazing job of helping off. The last guy I would want to see coming my way is Ibaka (and not just for the reasons Blake Griffin and Lebron James have to not like the guy).

  24. Adrian says:

    $As an Aussie Bogut fan, Watching Bogut and Iguoldula play D this year has been good to watch. He won’t win but the amount of shots changed-challenged by Bogut is amazing. Now, only for M.Jackson to run a couple of plays through him on offence to make GSW less predictable with ball. Wishful thinking. Come on Aussie.

  25. Shawn Kemp no. 1 says:

    stop trolling esc someone may take you seriously

  26. esc says:

    Last year was the joke of the century to appoint marc gasol DPOY. But for those that can connnect the dots we know that the plot, the plan and the ploy was to make sure LeBron did not win both awards. So it is- the “wtich-hunt” continues. Anyone operating on 1/4 ounce of common sense knows that Noah, Obaka, James, Chandler, Igudola, Howard, and Tony Allen (Gasol’s) teammate knows how the NBA functions, especially when it comes to their “never-ending” blatant hatred for LeBron James. Especially when it comes to him being an “independent thiking AA” That combination never goes over too well- if you catch my drift. If you are not “socially-engineered I know you do.

    • Kelly says:

      OR, the “NBA” didn’t coerce all the INDEPENDENT media members into voting for someone other than LeBron James–a player they are very much vest in promoting.

      MAYBE the reason that Marc Gasol won is that he deserved it. MAYBE LeBron didn’t. He actually took a big step back last year, and he’s take a bigger step back this year. He’s entering the Kobe-realm of living off rep.

      • bpguay says:

        LOL, please tell me your joking.. lebron was the best defensive player and it wasn’t even close last year legitimately any real fan of basketball knows that, im not a lebron fan but he 100% deserved it he also should of got it the year tyson chandler won. They wanna give it to a big man, but a big man is not always deserving

        this year it should be Noah or Iggy, they have the largest significance to their team. No one else should be in the conversation.

      • jOLAN says:

        When you are the biggest part of an offense, its pretty hard to also be the best defender (why MJ was so great). Lebron is one of the best defenders, but he isn’t consistent, and he cant be because it would hurt the team to much on offense. aside from noah, and iggy (both all around players, with james) the rest are only defensive players (the ones who actually have a chance to win). Hibbert doesn’t do much on offense, and when he does, its for 1 game here and there, same with gasol (but he creats more), Ibaka, is ok but not a great threat, and Jordan cant put anything in unless its an oop or a put back rebound.