The NBA's 10 best defenders for the 2013-14 season—at least according to voting media members—have been decided.
The NBA announced this season's first-team and second-team All-Defensive squads Monday, most of which held to form. Joakim Noah, Paul George, Serge Ibaka, Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala comprise the first team. Roy Hibbert, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Jimmy Butler round out the 10 honorees.
Noah, the Chicago Bulls center who won his first Defensive Player of the Year award this season, led all vote-getters with 223 total points. He was on the first team for 105 of the 123 writers and broadcasters who voted.
Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale spoke to Noah's defensive prowess in March, via ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers:
He's played very well. He should be defensive player of the year. He's done a great job with these guys. They've been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.
The lynchpin for the Bulls on both ends of the floor, Noah averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game while leading a depleted roster to the East's No. 4 seed. The Bulls finished second in defensive efficiency during the regular season, giving up 97.8 points per 100 possessions. Noah and Taj Gibson together gave Tom Thibodeau arguably the league's best defensive frontcourt to help mitigate myriad injury issues.
This is Noah's third All-Defensive team selection and second first-team honor in as many years.
Butler, a 2013 breakout player who became the Bulls' best perimeter defender after the Luol Deng trade, gives Chicago two players on the first and second teams. The Indiana Pacers, who led the NBA in defensive efficiency and were borderline impenetrable for the first half of the season, are the only other team with multiple All-Defensive selections.
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Joe Cowley discussed Butler's overall game and his dedication to defense:
Butler wants to be the defensive stopper that plays heavy minutes, which means his scoring is bound to suffer somewhat because of the physical style he plays defensively. That’s why it will be a huge offseason for him — he has to improve on a season in which he shot just 39 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range.
George, a second-team selection a year ago, makes the leap to the first team in 2014 and was the second-highest vote-getter (161 points). While his so-called "leap" largely came on the offensive end, George is arguably the league's toughest perimeter defender. Only Noah had a higher defensive win shares total, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
George's ascent also coincides with a bit of a dip from James, who had been a first-team selection each of the last five seasons. With the weight of Miami's three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and a fourth in the offing, James took more plays off than in previous seasons. When ESPN's real plus-minus stat debuted, one of the more notable takeaways was James actually being a replacement-level defender in 2013-14.
George's ascent is coupled with that of Hibbert, who makes his first All-Defensive team appearance. Viewed by many as the Defensive Player of the Year favorite during the first half, Hibbert's candidacy fell as the Pacers struggled down the stretch.
While his presence often coincided with controversy—especially in the playoffs—Hibbert is still the league's premier rim protector. Opposing players shot just 41.4 percent when Hibbert was within the vicinity of the rim during the regular season, a league-best rate among players with a significant sample size.
Leonard and Beverley also make their first appearances on the team. Iguodala, long one of the league's better perimeter defenders, is a first-team selection for the first time after earning a 2011 second-team honor. Paul and Ibaka are holdovers from last year's team.
Overall, the teams went mostly as expected. Even if James is a lesser defender than in previous seasons, no one straps up better or against a more varied set of players when called upon. And though Paul missed a significant period with injuries, he still led the league in steals per game for the fourth straight season.
Based on the age and situation for players like Noah and George, it's fair to say we could see these guys as headline defensive players for a long time to come. Both players play in a defense-first system, and both have every tool to be consistently dominant on that end of the floor.
The same can be said for rising defensive stars like Beverley, Butler and Leonard as their franchises continue to utilize their abilities to stop the opposing team's best perimeter threat. In a league that is known for its flashy offenses, these players and others will continue to give importance to the defensive end in the years to come.
Stats are via NBA.com unless otherwise cited.
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