Friday, May 19, 2006

Awards Screed

Watching QRoss abuse Steve Nash last night started me thinking about the MVP race. The Sports Guy has made the point many times before me, but certainly the biggest knock against Nash as MVP is that he is a truly horrible defensive player. Of course, it comes back to the ongoing question of what does most valuable mean, but in many cases the MVP vote seems to be for best offensive player (on a winning team, that did better than expected, where you have some level of confidence that they would not have done so well without this player, and he makes his teammates better, etc, etc). This is not unreasonable, especially considering that the NBA has a separate award called 'Best Defensive Player.' If there is a 'Best Defensive Award,' it stands to reason that the MVP is more about offense.

OK, fine. But what about the voting for All-NBA? If MVP is an offensive award, and the All Defensive team is a defensive award, shouldn't all-NBA be about players that can play at both ends? And yet, Steve Nash is first team all-NBA, and Ben Wallace is second team all-NBA. How can this be? Steve Nash, who stands out like a sore thumb on the defensive end for the Suns (and it's not like the rest of them are that great), and Ben Wallace, who is an absolute liability on offense.

Obviously it is possible that a player is SO good at one aspect of the game that he more than makes up for other deficiencies, and you could argue that is the case here. Certainly Timmy T and I have argued for several years now about Big Ben. And in Ben's specific case, the voting is skewed by the antiquated requirement that you vote for a center, two forwards and two guards, which in this year's case puts Ben on the second team at center, while Pau Gasol gets nothing, despite the fact that Gasol is taller than, as big as and A WHOLE LOT BETTER THAN Ben. Quick name the four players who have made All-NBA each of the last 5 years? That's right: Shaq, Kobe, Duncan and BEN WALLACE. It's like Sesame Street. One of these things is not like the others.

So many threads to follow... that's the problem with screeds.

Let me just point out that if the Suns are within a game of the Conference Finals with Boris Diaw at center, while the Spurs have played most of their playoff series with Duncan at center and Michael Finley at Power Forward... well maybe it's time that the All-NBA voting got a little more flexible. (This goes for the all-star game as well, but the fan voting adds another layer of stupidity to that one, so it may be beyond hope.)

Back to the award screed, my personal favorite may be the All-Defensive team. The writers who vote on this are so oblivious to what constitutes good defense that they will basically vote for whomever they are told to vote for. Back in 1999, Kobe and Phil went on PR campaign about Kobe's defense, and basically told everyone what a great defender Kobe was. And certainly Kobe can be a solid defender when he wants to be. But if you watch any Lakers games, you'll see that Kobe is in fact a very poor defender most of the time. He ball watches, he cheats and he gets beat a lot. But since the 1999 season Kobe has made 7 all-defensive teams, because Phil told the writers he was good, and they don't actually know any better. Think about it - the Lakers were 24th out of 30 teams in points allowed this year. And did you ever watch a playoff series and say, wow, Kobe really took 'blank' out of that series? Did Kobe shut down Nash? Did Kobe even GUARD Nash? Mostly Kobe guarded Raja Bell so that he could rest on defense and save his energy for offense. Not that he couldn't be a great defensive player. He just isn't, which makes the fact that he keeps getting voted onto the team all the more annoying.

The problem of course is that the game is so offense-oriented that it's hard to tell who the best defensive players are. And sometimes, the best defensive players aren't playing, because they aren't good enough on offense. Chauncey Billups was voted second team all defense this year (another lazy choice - the Pistons play good defense, ergo I'll vote for a Piston.) But Chauncey isn't their lock-down defender against opposing guards - that's Lindsey Hunter. So Chauncey obviously isn't as good a defender as Lindsey Hunter, but you can't vote for Lindsey because (a) he doesn't start and (b) you're just not that smart.

And then there are the steals. Last year Larry Hughes was first team all defense, pretty much solely because he led the league in steals. But Larry Hughes is a TERRIBLE defensive player. Anyone who has ever played basketball knows that the easiest way to get steals is to ignore your assignment and take risks in passing lanes. Is it possible to be a good defensive player and get steals? Sure it is. But to think that steals somehow equates directly to good defense is just naive and uninformed.

Unfortunately, there is no obvious way to fix this. It's grating when the writers vote for the wrong guys, but it's a lot harder to say who the right guys are. Defense is very difficult to measure, and beyond the handful of guys who have CORRECTLY gained reputations as lock down defenders (Bowen, Wallace, AK47, Artest and Prince), no one is going to generate enough attention to get the necessary votes. You can't just put the 5 top shot blockers on the list. Guys like James Posey, Andre Iguodala, Shane Battier and, yes, Quinton Ross are working in almost total obscurity at the national level (although Posey is getting plenty of exposure this year playing along side Wade and Shaq). So it won't be long before LeBron and DWade are fixtures on the all-defense team, because the writers simply won't be able to think of anyone else, and hey, I saw him make a couple of steals.

But not Carmelo Anthony. He's so bad on defense, even NBA beat writers can tell. And how he got to be third team all-NBA with his defense and rebounding... well, don't get me started.