LeBron James is this year's Most Valuable Player. There's no debate over that. However, should he also take home Defensive Player of the Year honors on top of what will be his fourth MVP Award?
It's widely accepted that LeBron is one of the league's most versatile defensive players, capable of guarding any fast, athletic guard, facing up any strong, quick-stepping forward and holding his own with some of the best post players out there.
But is it enough to vault him ahead of the league's best defenders, led by the likes of Marc Gasol atop the league?
Skimming the top of the evidence, it seems as if LeBron's leadership role in the Miami defense isn't quite as impressive as it was last season.
As a team it seems the Heat are not necessarily an elite defensive unit, just a group that is above average. At 103.8 points per 100 possessions, Miami is ninth in the league, compared to their fourth-place finish a year ago.
One of the biggest changes they've made this year is that LeBron, instead of being a perimeter defender first and a post defender second, has turned into a hybrid defender, apt to take on any role at any time.
It's not that Miami has become a worse defensive team, it's just that they're a different defensive team than they were a season ago.
In reality, those numbers tell you what LeBron does on fewer than three possessions out of scores he plays in per game. They don't tell you much, but they can be used as a year-to-year comparison of past defensive stat-stuffers.
Most important to look at when debating the merit of defenders is how well their team performs when they are on the court compared to when they're on the bench.
Teams are averaging just 99.3 points per 100 possessions when LeBron is on the floor, compared to 104 points per 100 when he's sitting.
His team's effort while on the floor would be good enough to make them the third most efficient defensive team in the NBA, while the team's work without LeBron would put them in the bottom half of the league.
So how does that compare to the league's leading candidate for the DPOY Award, Marc Gasol?
Gasol's methodically grinding Grizzlies give up just 95.4 points per 100 with him on the floor (which would be the best team in the NBA) and 102.8 per 100 when he's on the bench (which would make them an average defensive team).
Comparatively, LeBron has a net defensive rating of plus-4.7, while Gasol is at an astonishing plus-7.4.
What becomes incredibly difficult is when you attempt to explain why those numbers come out that way and how to split up credit among teammates. It's the crux of breaking down a defender.
For example, Mike Conley and Tony Allen have similar net defensive ratings as Gasol (Conley being exactly the same), as they play in the same rotation and generally spend most of their time on the floor together.
The debate between the two players is night and day. LeBron is a wild athlete, while Gasol is a calculated body-stopper. One is a forward, the other one of the few bona fide centers in the league. One looks like a lumberjack fresh out of the Alaskan woods, the other like a shiny Greek god carved of stone.
The most intriguing difference between the two is their approach to post defense. While Gasol just absolutely won't let players get a good look at the rim, giving them the hardest attempt possible, LeBron is more about ball-denial than physicality once he's established position.
When it comes down to it, the vote could come down to a single argument: Is Gasol more deserving for being the best defensive player on the best defensive team? Or is LeBron more deserving for being the best defensive player on a very good defensive team, while simultaneously being one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA?
Whatever the argument, James is without a doubt the best two-way player the NBA has to offer. It could be that this year he has been the best on either end of the court.
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