LeBron James defense on Pau Gasol may show he's the most versatile defender in the NBA, but the box scores show he's not the Defensive Player of the Year.
Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press reported that Dwyane Wade thinks LeBron James should win the Defensive Player of the Year award this season.
“The guy guards any position and does it every night,” Wade said of James, who plays inside and on the perimeter at the offensive end. “I think he should be in the discussion for that.”
LeBron said it would be an honor to be named Defensive Player of the Year, but he doesn't think he has the numbers to win.
"It would mean a lot to be considered defensive player of the year — a lot,” James said. “I know how much I’ve put into it and I know I don’t get the 15 rebounds a game, the 13 rebounds a game, I don’t get the 3.5 blocks per game as well and I know that plays a big part in defensive player of the year. For me, I take just as much pride on defense as I do on offense. And that’s every night."
Let's take a look at the numbers to see if Wade has a case for making LeBron Defensive Player of the Year.
This analysis will use Win Score, a simple formula developed by sports economist David Berri that weights each stat in the box score based on the impact they have on points scored and allowed per possession. See the HEAT Produced Page for more information.
What LeBron's Defense Does to Opponents
According to data from the HEAT Produced Page, the HEAT hold the production of opposing small forwards to a 2.1 Win Score per 48 minutes (WS48). The average NBA small forward produces a 4.4 Win Score per 48 minutes, so the HEAT have held opponents to less than half the league average this season.
The spreadsheet below lists the Opponent WS48 at SF for each NBA team this season.
LeBron's played 59% of the minutes available at small forward this season, so he's responsible for a lot of the problems opponents have at small forward when they play the HEAT. Opposing small forwards average less points and assists with lower shooting efficiency and more turnovers than the average player at the position.
As good as LeBron and the HEAT are at defending the small forward position, they're not the best in the NBA this season. Andre Iguodala and the Philadelphia 76ers have held opposing small forwards to a 1.7 WS48 with less points, shooting efficiency, assists and offensive rebounds allowed than the HEAT.
The spreadsheet below lists the box score stats for Opposing SFs of each NBA team this season.
LeBron does not have the best defensive numbers at his primary position, but Wade said he should win the Defensive Player of the Year award because he can guard multiple positions. LeBron showed that versatility when he guarded Pau Gasol in last Sunday's game against the Lakers.
Pau's produced a 10.4 WS48 this season with 51% shooting efficiency and 2.7 turnovers per 48 minutes (based on data from The NBA Geek), but LeBron and the HEAT held him to a 5.9 WS48 with 40% shooting efficiency and 5.3 turnovers per 48 minutes.
LeBron had 13 rebounds (6 defensive boards), 3 steals and 2 blocks against the Lakers which was his fourth-best combination of those defensive stats this season, but he said he didn't think he had enough of those numbers to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Is that true?
What LeBron's Defense Does to the Box Score
LeBron may lead the NBA in chase-down blocks but that won't be enough to win Defensive Player of the Year. Big men have won 18 of the last 20 Defensive Player of the Year awards because it typically focuses on the defensive rebounding, steals and blocked shot stats.
Let's negate the advantage of big men for this award by using position-adjusted rebounds, blocks and steals (PARBS). This stat sums defensive rebounds, blocks and steals per 48 minutes for a player and subtracts the average for their position in those categories.
The average small forward averages 8.2 RBS per 48 minutes and LeBron averages 12.3 this season. That leaves LeBron with 4.1 PARBS. LeBron said he doesn't think he has the raw numbers in those categories to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, but does he have the position-adjusted numbers?
Below is a list of the top PARBS for the leaders in defensive rebounds, steals and blocks at each position.
PARBS for leading defensive rebounders at each position
- PG - Kyle Lowry: 2.5
- SG - Evan Turner: 5.5
- SF - Kevin Durant: 4.1
- PF - Tim Duncan: 4.9
- C - Dwight Howard: 6.1
PARBS for steal leaders at each position
- PG - Mike Conley: 0.3
- SG - Tony Allen: 2.1
- SF - Kawhi Leonard: 2.2
- PF - Trevor Booker: 1.0
- C - Dwight Howard: 6.1
PARBS for leading shot-blockers at each position
- PG - John Wall: 2.1
- SG - Tony Allen: 2.1
- SF - James Johnson: 3.6
- PF - Serge Ibaka: 3.4
- C - JaVale McGee: 3.2
Only three players listed above have higher PARBS than LeBron: Dwight Howard, Evan Turner and Tim Duncan. It looks like LeBron is right - he doesn't have the numbers to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Wade will have to hope he wins MVP instead.