It stands to reason that because most flavors of defense don't come with stats you can see and smell in the box score, defense is often overlooked in player evaluation from the fan perspective. Steals, blocks and rebounds tell little about a player's ability to challenge shots, force opponents into help and cause the other team to take jumpers from uncomfortable places. As shooting defense is by far the biggest piece of team defense (twice as valuable as turnover creation or defensive rebounding), and given that it's hard to come by accurate individual shooting defense stats, we tend to underrate the best in the league at forcing misses.
In the first of three NBA Backyard Treasures posts through Tuesday, we look at the most overlooked and underrated players in the league, with a particular emphasis on that which doesn't show up in the box score.
It might seem strange to put an All-Star in a column about overlooked players, but recognition of Iguodala's special talents have come too late and quietly. Consider that Iguodala, one of the top three wing defenders in the game, finished eighth in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season (behind Grant Hill!) and, far more aggravatingly, was beaten out for first team All Defense by Kobe Bryant.
Meanwhile, Iguodala is holding opposing small forwards to an effective field goal percentage of .345, according to 82games.com. No big deal. The league average eFG is .485, so Iguodala holds opponents to 0.28 points per shot less than the average defender. If a player takes 15 shots in a game, that's a difference of 4.2 points. That's huge.
Iguodala need a lot more recognition for his incredible defense than second team All-Defense and a single All-Star bid.
Ryan Anderson is Steve Novak but actually good. Novak, the big gunner who has made a plethora of fans from Linsanity's sidecar, is a tall three-point shooter who does little else well and, as a result, has existed primarily on the fringe of the league. Anderson's different: while (like Novak) he struggles defensively, Anderson can actually rebound and do more than fire up long jumpers.
That said, Anderson's primary contribution is to fire up long jumpers. This season he leads the league in made threes, attempted threes and he's above 41 percent in conversion rate. This isn't new: he made 134 three-pointers last season, too, and has consistently taken more than half of his shots from beyond the arc.
Is he a product of Stan Van Gundy's "Dwight and shooters" offense? In part, yes. If he were asked to function like an old school power forward, he would struggle. But the NBA has seen a real shift in the role of the power forward from a low post workhorse to a floor-stretching gunner. Few do it as well as Anderson, who will be a restricted free agent in July. How Anderson also manages to be a great offensive rebounder (13 percent this year, pretty close to elite) and a decent defensive rebounder despite playing with vacuum Dwight Howard. He's a potential 20-10 guy down the road, which is no small feat.
It's only fitting we have two Sixers on this list. Young, the team's sixth man extraordinaire, flew under the radar as a restricted free agent in December, eventually inking a five-year, $43 million deal to stay with Philadelphia. He's worth much more than that, and likely should have been compensated like a star. Like Iguodala, a good deal of Thad's value comes defensively. But instead of holding opponents to a low shooting percentage, Young keeps the ball out of their hands: opposing power forwards take just 14.7 shots per 48 minutes against Thad, compared to the 19.2 per 48 Young takes and the whopping 21.4 shots per 48 that Elton Brand's opposing power forwards take.
This is a big deal, as power forwards and centers tend to be the most efficient players on the floor at any given time (unless Andray Blatche is your power forward). Teams that force opponents to take more jumpers typically perform better on defense. Though Young isn't a starter, he plays more than half of Philadelphia's available minutes and is a huge reason the team remains at the top of the table in team defense, along with Iguodala and Jrue Holiday.