Chris Paul named first team All Defense; strange votes abound

USA TODAY Sports

The coach voting for All Defense is a tad out of sync with the journalist voting for Defensive Player of the Year, to the point where DPOY Marc Gasol was left off the first team and appeared to miss the second team as well.

Chris Paul was named to the NBA's All Defense first team for the second consecutive year today. It is the fifth time in his eight year NBA career that Paul has been named to the first or second team All Defense. Joining Paul on the first team this season were guard Tony Allen (who led all players with 53 points in the tallying system), forwards LeBron James (who tied with Allen for most first team votes at 25) and Serge Ibaka and centers Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah.

Sharp-eyed observers may notice at least two things about that list. For one, there are six players and two centers on the list while many NBA 'teams' go with five players and one center -- that's because Chandler and Noah finished in a tie with 24 points each. There's also this little anomaly: NBA Defensive Play of the Year did not make first team All Defense.

Weird right? Sure, but it's easily explainable by a few things. For one, different people vote for Defensive Player of the Year than vote for the All Defense teams -- about 121 journalists for the former, 30 coaches for the latter. Secondly, while the DPOY vote is for a single individual regardless of position, the All Defense vote is by position. That wouldn't explain Gasol finishing behind other centers of course, but it could help explain why Allen (if he were considered easily the best defensive guard) and James (if he were considered easily the best defensive forward) might finish so far ahead of a player that journalists voted the best defender in the entire league. Finally, the biggest single factor is that good defense remains very much in the eye of the beholder, and clearly these different groups are beholding things very differently.

Take a peak at the full voting for the All Defense teams. Rather than arrange it by first and second team (which you can see at the official announcement on NBA.com) I've arranged the voting by position.

POSITION

PLAYER

TEAM

1ST

2ND

TOT

PTS

Center

Joakim Noah

CHI

8

8

16

24

Center

Tyson Chandler

NYK

9

6

15

24

Center

Larry Sanders

MIL

4

8

12

16

Center

Marc Gasol

MEM

5

2

7

12

Center

Dwight Howard

LAL

3

3

6

9

Center

Roy Hibbert

IND

2

2

4

6

Forward

LeBron James

MIA

25

2

27

52

Forward

Serge Ibaka

OKC

17

12

29

46

Forward

Paul George

IND

7

13

20

27

Forward

Tim Duncan

SAS

3

14

17

20

Forward

Luol Deng

CHI

1

9

10

11

Forward

Kenneth Faried

DEN

1

2

3

4

Forward

Metta World Peace

LAL

1

0

1

2

Forward

Shane Battier

MIA

0

2

2

2

Forward

Nicolas Batum

POR

1

0

1

2

Forward

Kawhi Leonard

SAS

1

0

1

2

Forward

David West

IND

0

1

1

1

Forward

Andrei Kirilenko

MIN

0

1

1

1

Forward

Kevin Durant

OKC

0

1

1

1

Guard

Tony Allen

MEM

25

3

28

53

Guard

Chris Paul

LAC

15

7

22

37

Guard

Avery Bradley

BOS

10

5

15

25

Guard

Mike Conley

MEM

4

11

15

19

Guard

Andre Iguodala

DEN

2

12

14

16

Guard

Thabo Sefolosha

OKC

2

11

13

15

Guard

Kobe Bryant

LAL

1

4

5

6

Guard

Russell Westbrook

OKC

1

2

3

4

Guard

Mike James

DAL

1

0

1

2

Guard

Corey Brewer

DEN

0

2

2

2

Guard

George Hill

IND

0

2

2

2

Guard

Dwyane Wade

MIA

0

2

2

2

Guard

Tony Parker

SAS

1

0

1

2

Guard

Eric Bledsoe

LAC

0

1

1

1

Guard

Iman Shumpert

NYK

0

1

1

1

Guard

Jrue Holiday

PHI

0

1

1

1

There are a few really strange things in this vote, even allowing for the factors we've already pointed out. It's important to bear in mind the voting rules here. Coaches vote for five first team players and five second team players, and they must vote by position. In other words, no one is allowed to vote for Gasol, Chandler, Noah, Sanders and Howard for first team All Defense. As with All Star voting, they can fudge the positions some if a player is a tweener (i.e. is Iguodala might be considered a guard or a foward). Also, coaches are not allowed to vote for a player from their own team. So coaches have 10 votes to spread around, and any individual player can get a maximum of 29 votes (congratulations to Serge Ibaka, the only player to make every ballot for which he was eligible).

In the official announcement, the NBA places Marc Gasol on the second team; but he finished fourth among centers in points and 14th among all players. Which raises the question: huh? The tie between Chandler and Noah for first team center explains a one spot rise for Gasol -- but he's still behind Larry Sanders.

The only semi-valid explanation for Gasol being name second team ahead of Sanders would be if Sanders were considered a forward and not a center. However, Sanders is listed as a center in box scores, he's the tallest player in Milwaukee's starting lineup, he defends centers -- in short, he's a center, and there's really no room for debate on the subject. More importantly, when you add up all the votes for Chandler, Noah, Sanders, Gasol, Howard and Hibbert, you get exactly 60 votes, which seems to indicate that the coaches really did by and large list those players as centers. It's conceivable that players like Tim Duncan and Ibaka, generally listed as forwards, could have gotten votes at center while Sanders got votes at forward, but that seems like a stretch.

In the end, though it seems impossible to justify, what appears to be happening is that the NBA is trying to save face here. The voting for DPOY and the All Defense teams has longed bordered on joke status (see Bryant, Kobe) but it's never been so out of sorts that the DPOY failed to make the All Defense team. That's exactly what happened this season -- so the NBA just reformatted their table to avoid that particular embarrassment.

Which raises a pretty serious issue: why should Larry Sanders, a terrific up and coming defender in the NBA, be deprived of this honor? It's not unheard of for players to have incentive clauses in their contracts tied to earning certain honors -- let's hope that was not the case for Sanders, who could have lost a bonus based on a capricious and self-serving attempt on the part of the NBA to save face.

There are certainly other head-scratchers in the voting, all of which serve to raise another question: are coaches stupid? For the record, I don't believe that they are. I believe instead that they have many responsibilities as NBA head coaches, and that this particular one doesn't place very high on their list of priorities. In short, they don't take this vote seriously and they don't spend a lot of time on it.

Steals and blocked shots are the only purely defensive statistics tracked by the NBA, and despite the fact that those stats do not in fact necessarily equate directly to great defense, the league leaders in those categories usually appear prominently on all defensive teams. For instance, while Chris Paul is clearly a nuisance on defense and led the league in steals per game for the fifth time in the last six years, he is not a great on ball defender and regularly gets beaten by the top point guards in the league. Ask Mike Conley whether he'd rather be defended by Paul or by Thabo Sefolosha (or even Eric Bledsoe for that matter, who by the way did garner one second team vote) and I don't think Paul would be he answer. But at least it's an understandable choice. Likewise Gasol, a truly disruptive defender who does all of the little things to perfection, was only 12th in the league in blocked shots, while the top six shot blockers in the league all got All Defense votes, four of them more votes than Gasol.

Whichever coach (or team intern filling out the ballot on behalf of the far too busy to write down 20 names coach) picked Mike James as first team All Defense should face a disciplinary hearing of some sort. Of course, as with the person who cast a Sixth Man vote for Jordan Crawford instead of Jamal Crawford, this was undoubtedly just a mistake -- the vote was no doubt intended for LeBron not Mike, but still; it doesn't help the credibility of the process.

And what of the five coaches who steadfastly continue to cast votes for Kobe for the All Defense team? The Lakers ranked 20th in defensive efficiency this season and were regularly eviscerated in transition and on the perimeter. Yet three different Lakers received votes for the All Defense team -- talk about voting for reputation. Of course, Bryant's inclusion in the All Defense team has been a joke for years -- he's made the first or second team 12 times in the past 13 seasons and made the first team nine times despite the fact that his defense has been at best disinterested for many seasons now. At least 24 coaches had the good sense to leave him off their ballots this year, though one wonders what games those other five are watching.

The awards process in the NBA has always been a bit suspect, especially when it comes to defense. But this is the first I can remember where the DPOY was actually not voted to either All Defense team -- and certainly the first time that the NBA fudged the results to save face.

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