Watching Kendrick Perkins dominate Dwight Howard defensively in Game 1 got me thinking, “How did Perk NOT make the NBA’s All-Defensive 2nd team?”
Clearly, Howard deserved the nod as the center on the 1st team– he’s a defensive rebounding and shot-blocking machine who forces tough, altered shots from anybody brave enough to visit him in the paint. But, after watching Perkins manhandle the man-child once more, I was curious to see who beat out Perkins for the center spot on the second team.
The answer: Tim Duncan.
I’m a huge Duncan fan, and he’s been a great defender his whole career, but this award was clearly based on reputation more than production. Duncan is on the back-side of a Hall of Fame career, and he’s not the defender he used to be. Duncan was never the best leaper or the most athletic big man, but with recent injuries to his feet and knees, Duncan’s mobility has taken a serious hit. Nowadays, Duncan relies solely on his intelligence and grit to be a successful defender. This season Duncan averaged 1.5 bpg, almost a full block below his career average of 2.3 bpg.
Compare that to Perkins, who averaged 1.7 blocks–while playing 5 less minutes per game than Duncan. Also, Perkins has to share the load–both rebounding and shot-blocking–playing alongside Kevin Garnett, a fantastic defender and a good shot blocker as well, while Duncan is the sole shot-blocker on his team. I can recall many times when both Perkins and Garnett jumped up together to block a shot, before Garnett “steals” the block from Perkins, or vice versa. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same thing happen with Duncan and Matt Bonner, or ACL-less Dajuan Blair. Hell, Dajuan Blair would have a tough time beating Glen Davis in a jumping contest. Actually, so would Tim Duncan at this stage of his career.
And Perkins’ shot-blocking is not even his biggest strength as defender. Dwight Howard would be the first to tell you that Perkins is hands-down the best post-defender in the league. He just spent Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals proving that much. I don’t even think there is an argument. Perkins is the ONLY post-defender who can guard EVERY center one-on-one. Even Dwight Howard receives help in the post occasionally. When was the last time you saw Doc Rivers send a double-team on Perkins’ man?
On the other hand, Duncan is once again past his prime as a one-on-one defender. He routinely receives double-teams and extra help from his teammates while guarding the elite centers in the NBA. For most of the season, the San Antonio Spurs struggled to be the elite defensive team they have been for the past decade. Most of the blame was heaped on newcomer Richard Jefferson unfairly. Not to say Jefferson is an all-world defender–he most certainly is not– but the extra help Duncan now needs in the post makes the perimeter defensive rotations much harder.
Simply put, Duncan won this award because of the reputation he deservedly established over his career as an elite defender. But this year? There’s no chance he was the second best defensive center in the league. And that’s why I have such a problem with the media voting on the defensive teams. Most of the voters vote strictly based on reputation: How often do you think media members focus on each player’s individual defense when they are watching games? I’ll tell you how often– it’s never.
Just look at the 1st team all-defense. Kobe Bryant made the 1st team over Josh Smith. In almost every game this season, Kobe guards the worst perimeter player on the other team for at least three quarters, then sometimes switches onto a better player in the fourth-quarter to satisfy his ego. Bryant hasn’t fought over a pick-and-roll ONCE in any Lakers game I’ve watched over the past three seasons, while Smith is a one-man wrecking crew defensively for the Hawks.
Yet, Kobe gets the nod for first team all-defense, while Smith is relegated to the second team. But there is an easy way to fix these injustices: let the players vote for the defensive awards. Because only after you are guarded by someone can you really tell how good of a defender someone is. Throw reputations out the window and let’s see who the players think is the best defender, the guy who makes who you cringe when you realize he’s matched up against you.