On Monday, the NBA announced the 2013-14 all-defensive first and second teams. with another vote, another reason for the the basketball Internet to complain about the voting. But despite some individual strange-seeming selections, the voters as a whole rewarded the right teams if not always the precisely correct players for their achievements on the defensive end.
As has become the common practice this postseason, alongside the vote totals released, the individual ballots of the 123 participating media members were published as well.
As with nearly every award vote, there were some head-scratchers, ranging from LeBron James getting the second team nod (in a season that has been by both observation and advanced metrics, his worst defensive season in recent memory) and Patrick Beverley also making the second team despite only appearing in 55 games to some inexplicable votes for sieves such as James Harden and David Lee, or players who appeared in limited minutes like Danny Granger.
Some of these votes appear to be mistakes attributable to the online voting form. Suns broadcaster Al McCoy, for example, confirmed he did not intentionally vote for Lee. Similarly, the eminently respected Hubie Brown almost certainly meant to vote for the Spurs Danny Green rather the the very similarly named Danny Granger on his second-team ballot.
But even with the minor quibbles about some votes here and there, the overall tallies proved pretty accurate, at least on a team level. Running a simple correlation on vote totals and team Defensive Rating (per Basketball-Reference.com) reveals the voters did pretty darn well, with total votes predicting 57.7 percent of DRTG:
In fact, the correlation is stronger between DRTG and simple points per game allowed, which in the past has rewarded players and teams not for good defense but for playing at a slow tempo. Interestingly, and even stronger correlation exists between team DRTG and the number of individual players who received one or more votes. This tally of players recognized predicts 72.9 percent of the variation in DRTG over the season:
Of course, DRTG isn’t a perfect measure of defensive, especially at an individual level, but the graphs allow for the identification of teams that were perhaps either over or underrated by voters as a whole. Dots above the curves representing teams whose defensive performance was worse than predicted by votes and those below the curve being underrated.
Of particular note are the New Orleans Pelicans, who were 27th in the league in DRTG, yet received the 10th highest vote total because of Anthony Davis. Though Davis did league the league in blocked shots per game, his defensive impact does not appear to live up to his reputation as the Pellies were only a half-point per 100 possessions better on defense with him on the court than off. All signs point to Davis becoming a great overall defender, but the recognition he’s received this year has been premature. Other teams which the voters may have overrated include the Clippers, Rockets (and not just for the Harden votes), Heat and (surprisingly) Bulls who finished with almost 100 more total votes than Indiana despite Indiana’s superior defense over the season.
On the other end of the spectrum the Charlotte Bobcats-Hornets were dramatically underrated, receiving only five total votes despite finishing fifth in the league in DRTG. This oversight is a result of their low media profile, the fact that they were a “system” defensive team, but most of all that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s individual defensive talents are yet to be fully recognized around the league. Other underrated teams included the Wizards, Raptors and Hawks among teams who received very few votes. The Spurs had the third best defense, but in part because of their overall depth did not receive a commensurate amount of recognition for individual defensive excellence. The Pacers late season struggles were probably overvalued by the voters, and resulting in their distant second finish to the Bulls in overall votes.
In total, media members appears to have done a reasonably good job identifying and recognizing the teams which performed well defensively this season, even if they didn’t recognize the names on the back of the jersey with as much accuracy as those on the front.
Seth Partnow lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife, daughter and dog. He blogs about the NBA and related topics at WhereOffenseHappens.com. His work can also be found at Hickory-High.com and ESPN’s ClipperBlog.com, where he is a regular contributor. Seth can be reached on twitter @WhrOffnsHppns.