Which Player Is the Real Defensive Player of the Year?

Published 04/18/2016 by Vantage Sports
  • Kawhi Leonard has bested Draymond Green for the Defensive Player of the Year award for the second year in a row.

  • But who should have really won?

  • Are Leonard's disruption stats enough to take over reigning Vantage DPOY Draymond Green's league-leading shot defense?

NBA award season is always good fodder for articles at the least. It's all mostly nonsense. Most awards are built on the assumption that sportswriters and broadcasters are good judges of players because they watch more games than anyone else. That's of course not true anymore.

Since Vantage Sports has tracked every relevant action every player made on every play this past season, let's take an objective look at who the real Defensive Player of the Year is.

Given that Kawhi Leonard has received the DPOY award with Draymond Green finishing second two years in a row, the first question is whether the voters got it right between those two this year. To answer that, we'll look at their relative stats and ranks in a number of Vantage defensive categories. The second question is whether any other player should be included in the current two-man conversation.

All ranks are among qualifying players where the sample size is set at various levels to include starters and bench players who see regular minutes.


HUSTLE

Loose Balls Possessed per 100 Chances

Givent the NBA's recent announcement that it will just begin tracking a select few "hustle" stats, which Vantage has been tracking for years, let's start with Loose Balls Possessed per 100 Chances last season.

Draymond Green – .82 (ranked 10th among qualified players)

Kawhi Leonard – .65 (ranked 54th among qualified players)

OK, so we know that Draymond picks up the pieces better than Kawhi. In addition, the Spurs actually have a higher rate of deflecting passes than the Warriors, so it's not a question of opportunities.

Beat Back on D Rate

Here's another more-advanced hustle stat for you, which is the number of times each player is beat to his own three-point line by the man he is guarding in defensive transition (per 100 chances).

Draymond Green – .35 (20th)

Kawhi Leonard – .55 (86th)

Defensive Activity Rate

This stat is one of Vantage's more interesting ones because it simply counts all defensive actions, both good and bad, per defensive chance. So while a really bad, but also really active, defender could rank highly in this category, it generally doesn't work this way. That is, defensive players with high Defensive Activity Rates tend to be better defenders. Perhaps this goes to show that just putting in the effort is most of the battle.

Draymond Green – 1.41 (22nd)

Kawhi Leonard – 1.19 (67th)

The combination of these three movement and involvement stats shows that Green consistently outperforms Leonard in this defensive area. Next we'll take a look at defensive rebounding.


DEFENSIVE REBOUNDING

DReb+ per Opportunity

Rather than look at DReb+ per Chance, which is mostly about volume and responsibility, we'll look at DReb+ per Opportunity. This way we're focused only on the player's ability to collect the rebound, tip the rebound to a teammate, or draw a foul during a rebound attempt when the player is actually in the rebounding area.

Draymond Green – .28 (20th)

Kawhi Leonard – .25 (33rd)

While Leonard is definitely not going to get close to Draymond in pure defensive rebounding volume because of the different roles they play, you can see that Leonard is elite and effective in defensive rebounding when given the opportunity. But, again, not quite as elite as Green.

Defensive Blockouts per 100 Opportunities

Since we're really talking about the overall best defender, we can't ignore the unsung heroes of defensive blockouts on rebounds. We can think of this stat as the assist for a teammate's rebound, and it should carry nearly as much importance.

Draymond Green – 7.55 (76th)

Kawhi Leonard – 3.88 (130th)


SHOT DEFENSE

Shots Faced per Chance

This is a stat that really means something when comparing two elite defenders often guarding one of the opponent's best players. What this stat tells us is how disruptive of opponents' game plans these two players are—basically forcing opponents to go away from having their best players take shots.

Draymond Green – .26 (98th)

Kawhi Leonard – .17 (46th)

Leonard gets his first Vantage stat win, and it's an important one. Rightly or wrongly, it seems that teams are generally more afraid of attacking Leonard than Green.

Points Against per Shot

Now the question is whether opponents' fear of attacking the player is justified. Points Against per Shot is the best stat to tell us just that.

Draymond Green – 0.86 (1st)

Kawhi Leonard – 0.91 (18th)

While both players are great in this stat, Draymond Green remains the toughest player in the league to score points against.

Blocks per 100 Chances

With Hassan Whiteside just lapping the field this season in this category, it carries less weight when looking at just Green and Leonard, but here are their numbers anyway.

Draymond Green – 1.52 (37th)

Kawhi Leonard – 1.30 (44th)

Fouls per Shot

Guarding the shot without fouling is important, given the ramifications beyond the attendant free shots with the defender having to sit with foul trouble, getting the other team in the bonus, and so on.

Draymond Green – .064 (53rd)

Kawhi Leonard – .051 (8th)

The shot defense category is much closer than hustling and rebounding. Green took two categories and Leonard took two. While Leonard beat Green by more significant margins in his two wins, Green won the most important stat. So we'll graciously call this stat category a draw with a bonus nod to Green for being the toughest defender to score against in the league.


DISRUPTIONS

Turnovers Forced per Chance

Forget the underinclusive and often luck-based steal stat. Turnovers Forced per Chance actually looks at turnovers the defender forced with pressure, deflections, or other decisive action.

Draymond Green – .033 (13th)

Kawhi Leonard – .032 (24th)

They're basically tied for all intents and purposes, but Draymond does get the nominal win.

Pressure Rate

Applying consistent defensive pressure on the perimeter is a key disrupting factor on defense that spoils whatever the offense is trying to do. When you think of that ultimate pesky, annoying defender who is always messing with your flow, that guy from Down Under Matthew Dellavedova may pop into your mind. And, yes, he did blow away the rest of the league this season in Pressure Rate at 3.42. But back to our subjects.

Draymond Green – 1.59 (39th)

Kawhi Leonard – 1.43 (62nd)

Deflections per 100 Chances

Getting your hand on the ball is another sine qua non of disruptive defense.

Draymond Green – 1.08 (39th)

Kawhi Leonard – 1.20 (24th)

Leonard takes this one as might be expected. With some of the best hands in the game, this element is key to Leonard's defensive success.

Passes Denied per 100 Chances

This stat is related to Shots Faced per Chance in that it is a generally hidden effect of disruptive defense. Being able to prevent one of the opponent's best players from getting the ball won't show up in the box score, except indirectly in the lower-than-usual opponent team points.

Draymond Green – 0.61 (108th)

Kawhi Leonard – 0.95 (41st)

Effective Bump%

In the copycat NBA, cutting has seen a huge jump this season as teams imitate the Warriors' successful style. Effectively bumping cutters jams up these lanes and disrupts this style of play.

Draymond Green – 16.36% (139th)

Kawhi Leonard – 31.62% (6th)

The disruptions stat category is a clear win for Kawhi Leonard. While Draymond is elite at forcing turnovers, so is Leonard, and Leonard does so much more on defense by being one of the best deflectors, pass deniers, and bumpers in the league.


MISCELLANEOUS DEFENSE

Keep-in-Front%

While this stat would normally favor a big since it's easier to stop a big driving than an elusive guard, given Green's role on defensive, which often takes him out to the perimeter, this stat takes on new meaning.

Draymond Green – 71.18% (62nd)

Kawhi Leonard – 42.73% (188th)

Switch%

While Switch% isn't really a one-on-one defensive stat in and of itself, in this context, it does tend to show which player is more flexible in guarding different players. We already know that both Green and Leonard have elite shot defense numbers, but this tells us how many different types of opponents those numbers are coming against.

Draymond Green – 38.55% (1st)

Kawhi Leonard – 21.47% (59th)

Closeout Points Allowed

Closing out well on shooters is a must for any defender in the three-point-shooting age. This is the flipside of Keep-in-Front%, as it is much more difficult for a big to close out on a perimeter shooter since the big has a lot farther to travel.

Draymond Green – .028 (163rd)

Kawhi Leonard – .022 (80th)

Points Allowed per Screen Defended

Defense isn't just a one-on-one game. The next several stats focus on how good these players' team defense is.

Draymond Green – .072 (62nd)

Kawhi Leonard – .074 (68th)

Effective Help Rate

Help defense is key to many defensive schemes. It is also very difficult to guard because it puts the help defender in a situation where the offense has already created an advantage. In theory, being put in this difficult situation should lead to overall worse stats.

Draymond Green – 54.09% (35th)

Kawhi Leonard – 48.54% (67th)

Effective Double-Team Rate

Double-teaming is a coaching-driven stat, but effectively double-teaming key opponents becomes increasingly important in the playoffs.

Draymond Green – 38.00% (33rd)

Kawhi Leonard – 45.45% (11th)


SO ... WHO'S DPOY?

Sportswriters and broadcasters gave Leonard nearly twice as many first-place votes as Green. The numbers above should definitively prove that to be just wrong. Whether you think Leonard or Green is the DPOY depends on how important you think each category is. To give the award to Leonard over Green, you'd have to argue that disruptive stats like denying passes and bumping cutters are significantly more important than defending shots, getting rebounds, and helping all over the court on defense. There is certainly an argument to be made here. But while gumming up the offensive flow of an opponent is important (and Leonard is second to none in that area), Draymond Green remains the best shot defender in the whole league (ranked 1st in Points Against per Shot) and the most versatile (1st in Switch%). Being able to guard every player on the court, and guard him well, makes Draymond Green this season's best defender once again.

But what about that second question: is there a third person in this conversation? You could certainly throw Hassan Whiteside's name into the conversation based on his shot defense and defensive rebounding. But when it comes to all the other defensive stats, Green and Leonard are in a league of their own for being consistently good in just about everything.