It goes without saying that Doc Rivers firmly believes that DeAndre Jordan is the Defensive Player of the Year for 2014-2015. In point of fact, he is vehement in his support by saying that they would "need to have an investigation" if Jordan was indeed slighted in the voting. I have no vote for the award. Perhaps that's for the best. Either way, I cannot, in good conscience, side with Doc Rivers right now. There's still roughly 20 games left to go in the season and it is winding down, yet I can't find a reason to give Jordan the award outside of basic counting stats. So, let's look more in-depth and examine DeAndre Jordan as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
ARE REBOUNDS AND BLOCKS ENOUGH TO WIN?
This isn't like yesteryear when you could win the award simply by out-rebounding and out-blocking everyone. Times have changed. It's easier to weigh DeAndre Jordan against his contemporaries due to the expanding statistical empire that is both analytics and traditional values. For instance, the last ten winners of the Defensive Player of the Year Award have all been big men. And, at that, they've all been centers for the most part. The only one who doesn't fall into the traditional center category would be Kevin Garnett back in 2007-2008 but he still saw 22 percent of his total minutes come at that position. So, en masse, these are centers. Jordan is a center. So this is primarily an apples-to-apples comparison here.
|PLAYER||REBOUNDS PER GAME||BLOCKS PER GAME|
Anything bold and underlined signifies the player listed as the NBA leader in that category for that specific season. So, that means that DeAndre Jordan leads the league in rebounds this year while Dwight Howard led the NBA two straight years in both rebounds and blocks, and Marcus Camby led the NBA in blocks when he won the award. Jordan falls pretty much right in line with what Howard was doing during the final year of his three-year stretch that saw Howard reign supreme as the NBA’s top defensive big man. There’s certainly a great deal of honor in that considering Howard’s place in the league as far as defense and reputation goes. And, to be frank, he has made nearly a similar impact as Dwight Howard that year.
Thanks to things like Defensive Rating and On/Off splits, we can see the impact that Dwight Howard had on the 2010-2011 Orlando Magic. In the 2935 minutes that Howard played during that season, the Magic had a Defensive Rating of 98.6. In the 1031 minutes he was not on the floor, it slid up to 100.8. Not to mention that the team’s Total Rebound Rate dipped from 52.6 percent with Howard to 50.8 percent without him. Where DeAndre Jordan comes into play is that the Clippers have a 104.0 Defensive Rating in the 2079 minutes they’ve played with him this season and 102.3 Defensive Rating in the 854 minutes without him. Yes, the Clippers defense does get better – by 1.7 points per 100 possessions – when Jordan is on the bench. The area where Jordan is most like Howard, though, is that his team’s rebounding craters without him. The Clippers post a 51.5 percent Total Rebound Rate with Jordan but see it plummet to 45.3 percent without his services.
While the team’s rebounding certainly hurts without him, the defense really doesn’t. So the question has to be asked. Are the raw numbers of rebounds and blocks nearly enough to give DeAndre Jordan the award? It’s hard to say. Especially since the last guy to post numbers close to Jordan and win was Dwight Howard but his team finished the season third in Defensive Rating as opposed to the 16th spot that the Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in right now. And, as much as this is an individual award …
TEAM DEFENSE SHOULD BE WEIGHED EQUALLY.
No matter how good an individual player is defensively, the team defense is still the most integral part of the team on that end of the floor. A sole great defender can certainly help out and fix some deficiencies, especially if he’s a big man, but it usually requires an entire team around him to make it all functional and in working order. The problem is that DeAndre Jordan’s team, through no fault of his own really, is not great around him defensively. At least not when compared to the previous ten winners of the award.
|PLAYER||TEAM DEFENSIVE RATING||TEAM NBA RANK IN DRTG|
As far back as I could go, which was all the way to the 1996-1997 NBA season, only one player who won Defensive Player of the Year has seen his team’s defense end up outside the top ten. That person was Dikembe Mutombo back in the 1997-1998 season when the Atlanta Hawks finished 12th with a Defensive Rating of 100.8. They were only 0.4 off of a top ten spot, though. To shed some light on DeAndre’s candidacy and compare it to how far the Clippers are from the top ten, Los Angeles is 2.7 points per 100 possessions worse than the teams that are currently tied for tenth – Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder, each with marks of 100.8. That’s roughly the difference from a top ten defense this year being the top defense this year.
The other thing to note is that each team got better defensively with that specific player on the floor whereas, as previously mentioned in the prior segment, the Clippers actually have been slightly worse with Jordan on the floor this year compared to when he’s on the bench. Due to NBA dot com’s lacking archival database, I could only go back as far as 2007-2008 to look at the ON/OFF splits for each of the past ten winners. Unfortunately, due to this, it removed Marcus Camby and Ben Wallace from my list. I would use Basketball-Reference for the ON/OFF data but their site has some weird hiccups. For instance, Denver’s team Defensive Rating in 2006-2007 was 102.7 but it got murky when you went to B-R’s ON/OFF data for Marcus Camby. According to them, Denver’s Defensive Rating was 106.9 with him on the court and 105.0 with him off the court. The numbers just don’t add up so we’re going to stick with the guys we have for right now after using the official NBA numbers.
|PLAYER||TEAM DEFENSIVE RATING [ON]||TEAM DEFENSIVE RATING [OFF]|
DeAndre Jordan is the only one of these players who see their team’s Defensive Rating rise with them on the court. In essence, all of the other guys saw their defenses suffer, some in very slight instances, when they were on the bench. But, so far this year, that hasn’t been the case with Jordan. If a guy isn’t making a difference in the numbers compared to some of the past winners at a similar position, then is he really making that much of a difference altogether and should he be the Defensive Player of the Year? That’s where more data is needed. After all, Jordan is slightly handicapped by the players around him. Outside of Chris Paul, the Clippers don’t really have an above-average individual defender on their team. J.J. Redick is a good team defender and so is Matt Barnes at times, but the team really lacks any semblance of great defensive balance. Let’s isolate Jordan and take a look at the other data, though.
RIM PROTECTION METRICS DO MATTER
Charles Barkley is already shouting from the rooftops about how "turrible" metrics and analytics are so we shouldn’t even use them to evaluate this sort of thing. Well, he’s wrong. Shocker. A massive thanks should go out to Seth Partnow (@SethPartnow) for the usage of rim protection data from his website, Nylon Calculus. Without him and his great numbers, a portion of this section would not be possible.
To put it into the most basic context imaginable, DeAndre Jordan, according to the rim protection metrics, is average. He’s legitimately average. He saves 0.00 points per 36 minutes. And this is actually an improvement for him because, as of the All-Star Break, he was in the -1.20 range. So he has gotten better. The problem is that he contests just 44.8 percent of shots at the rim and opponents are shooting 49.2 percent at the rim against him. The NBA’s leader in points saved per 36 minutes is Utah’s Rudy Gobert, with a mark of 4.16 which is far and away number one. He contests 56.7 percent of rim attempts and opponents shoot a staggeringly low 38 percent on them. Jordan is no Gobert. Then again, no one is. He’s pretty unique.
The issue with Jordan is that he still ranks behind guys like Andrew Bogut (3.24), Roy Hibbert (2.75), Serge Ibaka (1.78), Alex Len (1.65), Tim Duncan (1.23), Andre Drummond (0.94), Dwight Howard (0.70), and Tyson Chandler (0.40). These are all good-to-great defensive centers. Unfortunately, Jordan doesn’t rank above them. There are other ways to measure this, though. And, thanks to something I bought recently, we can really get a more in-depth look at rim protection thanks to the helpful data over at Shot Analytics dot com.
By gazing at their Points Above Expectation (PAE) metric – which "measures the number of points that a player or team scored (or defender) from a collection of shot locations compared to the number of points that the average shooter would have scored from those same locations" – we get a great look at how some guys rank out. There’s regular PAE and PAE/100, which is defined as Points Above Expectation Per 100 Shots. So it’s sort of like Pace but for shots on an individual basis.
When it comes to PAE as a defender, you want to have a negative score. That means you were saving points in this instance. And, according to PAE, DeAndre Jordan ranks 81st in the entire league among shots directly at the rim when he’s the defender. If you filter out wing players and focus on just big men who have faced at least 150 shots at the rim this season, Jordan ranks 46th. His PAE is -11.3 while his PAE/100 is -2.6. The top two players in PAE this year are Serge Ibaka (-87.4) and Rudy Gobert (-82.6). Roy Hibbert, Derrick Favors, and Andrew Bogut round out the top five. Draymond Green is 9th, by the way.
We can isolate these numbers even more by looking at their individual defensive shot charts, which you will see momentarily. We’re going to be using a baseline of a shot attempt being taken within five feet of the basket and the defender being within three feet of the shot to contest it. Simply, he is there to either alter the shot through basic fear of a block, block the shot, or contest it. Each person’s shot chart has their name at the bottom. It’s all pretty simple.
You can click the image to enlarge it in another page.
Since the image gets somewhat minimized and becomes hard to read, the numbers from top left to bottom left are 50 percent for Jordan, 41 percent for Gobert, 46 percent for Green, 49 percent for Duncan, 40 percent for Bogut, and 43 percent for Ibaka. These are, perhaps, the top six guys for the Defensive Player of the Year Award according to the media and people who vote on such things. If you feel like the shot disparity is different for each guy, it is and it isn't. It’s easier to see in table form. These are still shots that are within five feet of the rim and have the main defender listed as within three feet of that.
|SHOTS FACED||FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE ALLOWED||OVERALL PAE|
The PAE, mind you, is just for overall At The Rim attempts. It doesn’t take into account overall defensive impact. But, as you can see, Jordan doesn’t even come close to those other guys as far as being a rim protector goes. Even Tim Duncan, who allows close to the same field goal percentage on similar shots as Jordan does, has a better PAE and better points saved per 36 minutes. This is where Jordan’s Defensive Player of the Year argument loses a lot of its steam. When combined with the fact that his rim protection hasn’t been great, he’s allowing a higher field goal percentage than those other candidates, his team’s defense gets better with him off of the floor, and his team’s overall defense isn’t even in the top half of the league, it’s hard to see what case DeAndre Jordan – and Doc Rivers, for that matter – have at this moment in time. It’s also partially because other players, namely one wing player, have stepped up and made an impact for their team’s respective defense.
IS IT FINALLY THE YEAR A NON-BIG WINS AGAIN?
The last time a non-big won the Defensive Player of the Year was Ron Artest back in 2003-2004. It’s not often you can say Artest instead of Metta World Peace but that’s exactly what his name was back then. It was still Ron Artest. He won the award over Detroit’s Ben Wallace, preventing Wallace from winning three in a row. It actually broke up a run where Wallace won four out of five years. Before Artest, though, the last non-big was Gary Payton in 1995-1996. In totality, since the award was first handed out in 1982-1983, only seven times has a non-big actually won it. Let’s face it, it’s a big man award these days and has been for 17 of the last 18 years and 18 of the last 20 years. You have to put together a special season as a non-big to win this award. Yet, lo and behold, we have a worthy candidate to speak of in that regard.
|OVERALL PAE||TEAM DEFENSIVE RATING [ON]||TEAM DEFENSIVE RATING [OFF]|
It’s hard to classify Draymond Green as "just a wing" or even "a big" since he does everything. In essence, he is the Swiss Army Knife Defender. Whether he’s disrupting pick-and-rolls with his excellent arm length and hands, defending bigs on the low block, even playing center at times when they go really small, or just guarding whoever they need him to guard, Green has been the best overall defender in the NBA this season. He simply disrupts an entire offense when he’s on the floor. So much so, in fact, that Golden State’s elite defense drops to giving up nearly 103 points per 100 possessions without him there. The guy is worth nearly seven points on the defensive end by himself. The only other premier wing defenders who top that are Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Tony Allen, and Kawhi Leonard. Charlotte’s defense goes from 95.0 with him to 103.9 without Kidd-Gilchrist, Memphis' defense goes from 95.4 to 104.1 without Allen, and San Antonio's defense goes from 96.6 to 102.4 without Leonard. They're all difference makers but Green guards every position.
Draymond Green is the epitome of a do-it-all defender. Even Serge Ibaka’s overall PAE (-116.3) can’t compare to Green’s. And that’s with him having a 40 point advantage just on rim protection alone. That tells you everything that Green can do. When Green is just within three feet of a shot no matter where it’s being taken on the floor, opponents are shooting just 39 percent and have a 40 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage. When he’s within three feet of a jumper being attempted from at least 15 feet, those numbers nose-dive all the way down to 18 percent overall and 24 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage. It’s unheard of this day in age. Not even Tony Allen – 32 percent overall and 35 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage – can compete with that. Draymond is disruption.
WHO ARE THE OTHER LIKELY CANDIDATES?
The litany of contenders for this award have already been listed, including Jordan. I could see DeAndre Jordan finishing in the top three again simply due to coach hype and raw rebounding and block numbers. However, I can’t see him winning it when there’s just so much more data this day in age than ever before. No, defensive metrics aren’t perfect or even close to it. Yes, the eye test does matter. But numbers are helpful in this instance to draw some conclusions about who the contenders are. Serge Ibaka, Rudy Gobert, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut, Marc Gasol, and Draymond Green. And, of course, DeAndre Jordan as mentioned.
Ibaka has been otherworldly this year. He’s the only Oklahoma City player to play in all 60 games and he constitutes a 3 points per 100 possessions difference defensively. Plus, there’s his rim protection that’s been outlined. While Synergy’s defensive data is tough to go through due to all the noise and stuff, the isolation defense can be used at times. In that situation, Serge Ibaka’s been isolated against defensively 101 times which is second most. However, he’s allowing opponents to score just 0.57 points per possession and has held them to a 27.6 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage. Ungodly.
Gobert is a special case. Yes, his team is not good. No, it’s not his fault. The Utah Jazz rank 23rd in Defensive Rating this year. They’re nearly a full point worse than the Clippers in that regard. So then, how is Gobert a somewhat better candidate than Jordan? Well, it’s simple. He’s better. Far better. Not only is his rim protection better but so is his Defensive Rating when on the court. When he is on the court, Utah allows 100.4 points per 100 possessions. When he’s rooted to the bench, it increases to 108.0. On shots that occur from less than six feet, the usual field goal percentage of the shooter that is being defended is 59.2 percent. Against Gobert, though, it’s 44.5 percent. Jordan’s is 57.5 percent.
The case for Duncan is a lot more basic than most. Per the picture that was shown, Duncan allows roughly the same percentage on shots within five of the basket when he’s within three feet of the shot as Jordan does. Yet he’s better than Jordan across the board in other rim protection metrics. When he’s on the floor for San Antonio, the Spurs are allowing 99.4 points per 100 possessions. The number only slightly increases to 100.3 when he’s off the court. Duncan’s case is more heavily relied on the "lifetime achievement award" type of thinking. He’s never won the award, he’s been better than Jordan this year, and his team is in the top ten for Defensive Rating. Perhaps the media gives it to him.
When evaluating Bogut, it’s best to keep in mind that Golden State didn’t drop off without him. At least not defensively. They’re still number one in basketball even without him. It’s just that Bogut’s rim protection and general deterrence of shots cannot be ignored. With him on the court, Golden State’s Defensive Rating is 94.3 but the number jumps up to 100.1 without him. It’s a good sized increase but not the largest we’ve seen. If Bogut were indeed healthy for the entire year, he’d have a great case as the anchor for the league’s best defense. The problem is that he wasn’t and doesn’t. The truth is that he has been better than Jordan when he’s been on the court. The issue is that he hasn’t been on the court as often as Jordan.
Marc Gasol is a former winner of this award and deserves his rightful place in the discussion again. The Grizzlies are 7th in the NBA in Defensive Rating at this present moment. Due to that, the big anchor for their defense automatically gets thrust back into the conversation. The slight deterrent to him winning another award is that the Grizzlies are actually far better defensively with him off the court (95.8) than when he's on the court (102.1). And, while he is holding opponents to just 45 percent shooting on shots from five feet of the rim when he's within three feet of the shot, he's posting -0.38 points saved per 36 minutes in the rim protection department. His overall PAE is -74.6 and he still shuts down a team's pick-and-roll game, but he's not the defender he was even a few years ago. He's still in the discussion simply because of past accomplishments.
The likely winner of the award is Green. We’ve talked ad nauseam about his candidacy and how great he’s been. We also talked about how instrumental he’s been in Golden State’s defensive dominance. There’s a lineup that the Warriors have trotted out there for 85 minutes this year that consists of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green. Yes, you’re seeing that right. Green is the center. That unit’s Defensive Rating is 85.9. There are great defenders besides Green on that unit – namely Thompson and Iguodala – but it’s Green who makes it possible due to his length, strength, and great ability. That unit is holding teams to 32.2 percent shooting. Green is also the league’s most isolated defender. He’s been targeted 117 times, allowing just 0.61 points per possession and a 27.0 percent Effective Field Goal Percentage. There’s no telling where they’d be defensively without him. Simple as that.
HYPERBOLE IS FUN, TRUTH IS BETTER
Doc Rivers has a tough job. He’s there to win games and keep morale on the team high. You can do both by touting DeAndre Jordan as the Defensive Player of the Year when he’s not. Personally, it’s hard to say where the team would be without him had all these injuries still taken place. They’d be relying on Spencer Hawes as a rim protector and, while he’s not utterly terrible, he’s not even average at it like DeAndre Jordan happens to be. The main driving force between Doc’s comments could be how great Jordan has played since the absence of Blake Griffin. And he has been dominant.
Since Griffin got sidelined, Jordan’s averaging 15.8 points and 19.2 rebounds to go with 1.8 blocks in 37.4 minutes. If you take out the first game against Oklahoma City, he’s averaging 16.7 points and 20.2 rebounds with 1.9 blocks. He also has registered two 20-20 games and four total games of at least 20 rebounds. He has four 20+ rebound games in the last ten games after having just four in the prior 51 games. He’s taking advantage of an increased number of rebound chances. That’s his job. You can’t slight him for his job.
Over the last ten games, when Jordan’s been on the floor, the Clippers have had a 100.8 Defensive Rating. When he’s been off the floor, it marginally moves up to 101.7. Almost a full point per 100 possessions. The same is true when the team’s been without Chris Paul, as well. So, you have to ask yourself, is this just Doc Rivers overreacting to an absolutely dominant stretch by a damn good player or is this the actual truth coming from the mouth of the Clippers head man? It’s more of the former than it is the latter at this point in time.
It would be awesome to see DeAndre Jordan build upon his third place finish in the voting last year by bringing home the trophy this year. However, it’s hard to see. His team’s overall defense isn’t in the top ten, he hasn’t personally moved the needle that much when he’s been on the floor, and he’s simply not the rim protector that his raw numbers say he is. Someone from a top ten defense will win it. It’ll either be Draymond Green, Serge Ibaka, or Tim Duncan. Right now, my money is on Green. It’ll be down to the wire. Jordan’s done a great job, just not great enough.