The NBA All-Defensive first and second teams were announced yesterday and there were a few, let’s call them curious selections. Kobe Bryant was voted onto the first team for the ninth time and LeBron James for the third straight year, along with Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, and Kevin Garnett. I’m okay with the last three on that list: there’s no doubt that Rondo is the best defensive point guard in the league, and the discussion of best defensive big man starts and ends with Howard and Garnett. But Kobe and Lebron? Really? Neither have a place on this list- both are good defenders, but neither are great.
Kobe Bryant has made the All-Defensive first team nine times. He is tied for the most appearances on that list with Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton, and has more All-Defensive first and second team selections than both. Think about this for a second. Kobe has more selections than Jordan, one of two shooting guards to ever win Defensive Player of the Year (DPY), and Payton, the only point guard to ever win DPY. Kobe’s never even come close to winning that award. Similarly, Lebron has also never come close to winning that award, and yet has been a constant on the first team in recent history. In this year’s voting, Andre Iguodala, Grant Hill, Andrew Bogut, Tony Allen, and Tyson Chandler all got more votes for DPY than either Kobe or Lebron (Kobe was also lower than Luol Deng in the voting).
It’s pretty obvious what’s happening here. The media member vote on DPY and take their vote seriously. The coaches vote on the all-defensive first and second team and just vote for the most recognizable players. Kobe and Lebron are supposed to be good defenders so they get votes. Tony Allen and Iguodala (my replacements for Bryant and James on that first team), who have been playing great defense all year, aren’t recognizable enough to make that first team. Throughout history there are some great defenders who have never made the first team. Shane Battier, one of the most consistent perimeter defenders over the past decade, has never made the first team. Shawn Marion, who finished fourth in voting for the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007 and was one of the best defenders in the league from 2003-2008, has never made either team. Hell, in 1995 Dikembe Mutombo, who won the DPY award, was relegated to the second team. How does the best defensive player in the league not make the first team?
It’s pretty obvious that these defensive teams are a joke to the coaches and players in the league, but it is an official award. The league needs to change this voting to the media members, who watch many more games than the coaches, and will take the voting more seriously.
Note: I did not do my research well enough. Lebron James was actually second in the DPY award in 2009. My mistake. I still would not have put him on the first team this year, but he is a good defender.