The Spurs currently rank 3rd in defensive rating and every Spurs fans will tell you that Tim Duncan is the reason the defense is as good as it is. But with the narrative surrounding the Spurs being all about the system, Duncan's fantastic performances are lost in the shuffle and a lot of national pundits end up underestimating his impact. Duncan is on most respectable DPOY lists but for the most part Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol seem to be ahead of him.
Needless to say, we disagree. So PtR will be publishing a series of posts explaining why Tim Duncan should be chosen as the Defensive Player of the Year. We'll look at it from as many vantage points as possible and focus on every aspect of what makes a good defensive player.
But before that, as an introduction, let's take a look at how Duncan compares, in broad strokes, with former winners, to see if he shares their success and with his immediate competition, to see if he measures up.
Here is a table with the basic defensive stats of the past eight DPOY winners (all big men) and Duncan. Since Dwight Howard won it four years in a row and Ben Wallace won it twice consecutive, I'm using the numbers from each of their last win.
Per 36 minutes
Tim is slightly better on some things and slightly worse in others but he is putting up DPOY-worthy numbers. Now, a simple look at who got the award in the past makes it clear that team success counts as well. The only DPOY not anchoring a top 5 defense was Camby with the 2006/07 Denver Nuggets. In 2007/08, voters rewarded Garnett's success on a team level. Don't get me wrong, KG was a beast defensively that year, but others had similar numbers and impact on their team defense. But since the Celtics defense was so much better than the rest of the league, Garnett got the award.
Something similar happened with Tyson Chandler last year. Both he and Garnett won in their first year with a team that they turned on the defensive end. Before Garnett joined Boston, the Celtics finished 16th in the league in defensive rating. With Garnett anchoring their D, they finished 1st by a wide margin. Before Chandler joined the Knicks, they had the 23rd best defensive rating and after he joined they finished 5th. The fact that each was clearly the best defensive player team surely played a part in their selection as well.
So it appears that the parameters to select a defensive player of the year are his numbers, his impact and the defensive success of the team he is part of -- with improvement from past years playing a big part. I already showed that in terms of numbers Duncan belongs. Now let's look at the rest.
The Spurs this season have the 3rd best defense in the league so far, according to defensive rating. Success at the team level is clearly there. Last season the Spurs ranked 11th in defensive rating. While there have been additions to the team that provide a boost to team defense, the biggest difference in individual performance so far comes from Duncan. Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter's numbers have largely stayed the same but they are logging heavier minutes, which means they deserve some credit. But Duncan's numbers have gotten better across the board, to the point where the always impressive big man is putting up career figures for defensive rebound percentage and block percentage. The Spurs turnaround on defense is not solely the responsibility of Duncan but he certainly seems to be playing the biggest part in it.
Now that we know Duncan measures up to past winners, let's take a look at the rest of this season's contenders for the award to see where they are relative to Duncan. For the most part, the other names bandied out are Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah and Larry Sanders, when it comes to big men. Wings like Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen are probably in the conversation as well but perimeter players rarely get the award. These are the numbers of Duncan, Sanders, Gasol and Noah.
Per 36 minutes
Timmy definitely compares well to both his contemporaries and past winners. Now, all these numbers prove is Duncan should be in the mix. This is just a basic statistical introduction to this series of posts that will determine the strength of Timmy's case. We will take a closer look at what makes for a great defensive player as well as compare Duncan to his competition by evaluating all the candidates both from a statistical point of view as well as anecdotal observation. The GOATPUFF for DPOY bandwagon starts here. Hop on board!