I don't imagine many people want to read a rambling discussion of the defensive player of the year award today, but here goes nothing!
We start with the news. Last night in the Spurs locker room, when he was asked about Tim Duncan's sixth place finish in defensive player of the year voting, Manu Ginobili said he wasn't happy. He offered a solution (via Mike Monroe):
“It is the toughest award they give away because players don’t vote,” Ginobili said. “It’s the player that (goes) against other players who know. Sometimes the best rebounder is not the best defender; or the best in steals is not a great defender. He just gambles a lot. It could be (an award for players to choose), but it’s been going on for so many years. It’s not that I’m complaining, but probably we do know better than the media.”
This is not a good idea. It seems okay, but it is not a good idea.
Let's just keep it simple: Ginobili's saying that since Tim Duncan finished sixth this year, it's proof that players would probably do a better job than NBA media.
On the other hand: Players would NEVER choose Tim Duncan for this award. Like, ever.
Not because nobody respects Duncan, but everything that makes him great (rotations, footwork, deflections, etc) is stuff that three-quarters of the players would almost certainly ignore when it comes time to fill out an awards ballot. I fully support the idea that players understand basketball better than stupid annoying media, but let's be practical. Players are also not nerdy enough to spend the time getting it right when it comes time to decide between Serge Ibaka and Joakim Noah or Tim Duncan.
For his part, Duncan said the bigger travesty in all this is that Bruce Bowen never won a defensive player of the year award. “Now that was messed up,” he said. Very true.
In general, though, defensive player of the year will feel stupid no matter who we choose. Someone will always get screwed. For instance: Are we rewarding the player whose defense is most valuable to his team?
Because that would probably be Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah this year.
Or are we looking at the most dominant defender in basketball?
Because that would probably be LeBron, or maybe Tony Allen.
If you look at the history, the only non-big men to win DPOY since 1990 are Gary Payton (once) and Ron Artest (once), so the voter groupthink has always skewed toward the rim protector who anchors a defense as opposed to the lockdown perimeter defenders. This doesn't always make sense.
(Example: Tyson Chandler won defensive player of the year after he carried the Knicks defense last year, but when the Knicks played the Heat in the playoffs, LeBron shut down Carmelo and single-handedly killed the Knicks offense, while Chandler--who, in fairness, was sick at the start of the series--wound up getting bumrushed like everyone else against the Miami offense. Whose defense had a bigger impact on that series?)
A defender's value is relative to the context. Who he's playing with, who he's matched up against, and where he fits in the larger scheme of his team. (Would we think of Bruce Bowen as an MVP-caliber defender if he'd played his entire career on the Bucks? Would Marc Gasol be DPOY on the Wizards?) That's true of any award, but especially defensive player of the year, where everyone's interpretation is twice as subjective.
It's like an Oscar. Substance matters, but not as much as buzz and momentum.
So ... Back to the point. If "defensive player of the year" is aggressively subjective and overrated to begin with, what's the only way we could possibly make this award more meaningless?
By letting Dwight Howard decide, obviously.