Thursday, May 28, 2009

Playoff Musings, DPOY edition

I will openly admit at the onset that I watch way more basketball in the postseason than the regular season. In part because it is on every night and also because frankly its more exciting. Don't be misled and think that I am not an avid NBA fan just because my viewership peaks in May. With that disclaimer out of the way lets address the topic at hand.

The defense in the playoffs is getting worse and worse. And few are exempt, especially the D-POY himself.

Defensive Player of the Year. The best defender in the league. One on one, help defender, team defender, you name it they do it. Right? I'm not so sure I would go that far. It seems to only be a big man award. 20 of the 27 times it has been given out, it went to big men, forwards or centers, who include Olajuwon, David Robinson, Mutombo, Mourning and Garnett. (I hesitate to agree with Ben Wallace winning 4, but two of those came in the same year Steve Nash won back to back MVPs so lets just all agree the voters didn't know what was going on those years) Big men routinely win this award, but why. The stats tell the story there. There are two defensive stats; steals and blocks. Nine winners of the award led the league in blocks the same year they won the award and three other winers led the league in steals the year they won. Basically half of the winners were "statistically" superior, and of those stat leading winners, 90% of those came in the last 18 years. So its turning into a question of which is more impressive; Chris Paul's 2.8 steals or Dwight Howard's 2.9 blocks. Or was Dwyane Wade's combination of 1.6 blocks and 2.2 steals the most impressive? If you are using stats as the measuring stick, HOW do you know? The truth is, the stats will never tell you.

After seeing the Magic play more times than I care to, and watching Dwight Howard roam the paint, (though its more of a set up shop in the paint) I can't say I am all too impressed with the reigning D-POY (pronounced DEE poi). I know games get more physical, and some would say its the officiating and their quick whistles. If you watch Dwight, he roams around but more often than not be shies away from contesting the shot aggressively. If we look at just the evidence from the box scores we see that in the playoffs this year Howard has fouled out of 4 games, had 5 fouls in 4 others. Most of the fouls he gets called for are when he keeps his arms straight up on the air and jumps backward. Is that good defense? Now I understand that a big man is more likely to get fouls called on him because he is guarding the basket and plays at the rim usually result in fouls, but I won't accept that as a definitive excuse.

I am not singling out Howard, but he is a good example and is easy to follow. I hate to see it, but far to many players are falling into that routine; putting their arms straight up and hoping to not get the foul called. You know what, I hope they call the foul every time for being pansies on defense.

In the Rockets' two playoff series, Battier had the assignment against Brandon Roy and Kobe Bryant. Granted he was much more dedicated to Bryant than Roy, but Roy averaged over 7 FT attempts against Houston and Bryant was right at 6 per game, yet Battier never fouled out and only one time did he reach 5 fouls. If you watch Dahntay Jones in comparison, you'll see its no easy task. So good, hard nosed defense might just be rewarded with more leeway on the whistles.

Is this another Battier is underrated article? Not specifically. The best defense doesn't show up on the defender's stat sheet. It might not even be visible in any box score. But it sure is apparent when you are watching the game. Call me crazy, but good defense isn't watching Pau Gasol come barreling down the lane for a dunk so you don't pick up your 5th foul. Good defense is not jumping backward with your arms straight up in the air.

When was the last time this post season you saw a player change their shot because they were afraid of it being blocked? Only when LeBron was chasing them down from behind. Why was he chasing them down from behind? Because the two defenders that got back don't know how to stop a fast break. Why is the only thing we have seen throughout the whole LA/Denver series (and Orlando/Cleveland for that matter) been nothing more than a guy coming over to double team and then him passing to the open man? Because so few are the good one on one defenders. I am tired of seeing Kobe pass to a wide open Vujacic because JR Smtih left him open to "help". Like he was going to actually do anything to deter Kobe.

Maybe its the changes in the rules or the quick whistles of the 70 year old referees. Maybe its just just a lack of some good old fashioned defensive drills every once in a while. We hear all about some player showing up an hour early to work on the rhythm of his jumper. Can we get somebody showing up early to work on moving their feet on defense because they got beat off the dribble EVERY posession? Lets remember the days when Dutch Boy ruled the paint and the Davis Brothers cleaned up the rest. (how else do you think a team with Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson got past the First Round) Patrick Ewing never won a D-POY but he definitley had a little more fortitude in the middle than the Smiling Superman especially when he had Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason knocking guys out as they came near the paint.

Whistles are going to come. They always have and always will. But come on guys, "Its like we're not even trying"

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