The NBA announced its All-Defensive teams today, and for the second straight year the league’s Defensive Player of the Year didn’t get a spot on the All-Defensive First Team.
Memphis Grizzles center Marc Gasol, this year’s Defensive POY, ended up on the Second Team. Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler shared that position on the First Team, having received identical point totals from voters. Had Noah and Chandler not tied, one would have been relegated to the Second Team and Gasol wouldn’t have made either squad.
Last year Chandler found himself on the Second Team despite winning the Defensive POY award.
Forwards LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma Thunder and guards Tony Allen of the Grizzlies and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers joined Noah and Chandler on the First Team. All four were also named to the First Team last season. Allen was the top vote-getter with 25 First Team votes and three Second Team Votes.
Forwards Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, and guards Avery Bradley of the Boston Celtics and Mike Conley of the Grizzlies join Gasol on the Second Team. The Grizzlies are the first team since the 1995-96 Bulls to place three players on the league’s All-Defensive teams.
So how is it that the player who is supposedly the NBA’s best defender isn’t named to a team of the NBA’s best defenders?
This apparent contradiction in postseason recognition is possible because the people who voted Gasol Defensive Player of the Year are not the same people who voted for the All-Defensive teams.
A panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters selects the Defensive POY. Each voter selects three players then ranks them. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote three points, and a third-place vote one point.
The 30 NBA coaches are responsible for selecting the All-Defensive teams. Each coach votes for five first-team players (two forwards, two guards, and a center) and five second-team players. Coaches are not allowed to vote for players on their own team. For what it’s worth, two coaches didn’t put LeBron James on either of their defensive teams. One was Eric Spoelstra, who wasn’t allowed to. That means that there is one coach out there who doesn’t think James is one of the league’s four best defensive forwards.
Prior to last year, this phenomenon had occurred twice before:
- In 1995 writers selected Dikembe Mutombo, center for the Denver Nuggets, as the Defensive Player of the Year. The coaches, however, put Mutombo on the All-Defensive Second Team. David Robinson was the center on the first team.
- In 1986 Spurs guard Alvin Robertson was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. But the coaches selected the Bucks’ Sidney Moncrief and the Sixers’ Maurice Cheeks as the guards for the All-Defensive First Team. Moncrief was making his fifth appearance on the first team, Cheeks his fourth. Robertson, in only his second NBA season, hadn’t been selected to either team prior to 1986.
There have also been four occasions when the league’s Most Valuable Player did not make the All-NBA First Team. Today, the same panel of writers and broadcasters that votes for the Defensive Player of the Year selects both the MVP and the All-NBA teams. But prior to the 1980-81 season, players chose the NBA’s MVP.
- In 1958, 1961, and 1962 the players voted Celtics great Bill Russell the Most Valuable Player but the writers placed Russell, a center, on the All-NBA Second Team. Bob Petit was the center on the first team in 1958, while Wilt Chamberlain was the center on the first team in 1961 and 1962. Russell also won the MVP in 1963 and 1965 and made the First Team both times.
- In 1973 the players selected another Celtics center, Dave Cowens, as the MVP, but the writers put Cowens on the Second Team behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The rookie awards, like the defensive awards, are split, with the writers choosing the Rookie of the Year and the coaches choosing the All-Rookie teams. Despite this, every Rookie of the Year has made the All-Rookie First Team. I’m assuming Damian Lillard will continue that tradition this year.