On Wednesday, the NBA announced that Memphis Grizzlies' center Marc Gasol won the 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Miami's LeBron James finished second to Gasol who won despite a plethora of players receiving first place votes.
Anyone who watches much basketball could tell you that Marc Gasol is not the best defender in the NBA. 3-time winner Dwight Howard laughed when he heard the news that Gasol had won. Gasol did anchor the league's best defensive team while averaging 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals per game.
LeBron James has been called, "1-5" by his coach Erik Spoelstra because he is able, willing, and frequently does guard all five positions in the course of a game, whatever the team needs. James frequently takes the opposing teams most potent weapon late in games, no matter the position. He has shut down Derrick Rose in the playoffs, guarded Durant in the Finals last year, and so far this year has cross matched to limit Monta Ellis. We've seen him guard Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Roy Hibbert.
So, in a year that had injury plagued Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard out of the talk (the past two winners), why didn't LeBron make the jump and become recognized as the league's best player?
The answer: advanced metrics.
To the eye, one can see how James changes the game on defense. James averaged 1.7 steals and .88 blocks per game this year. As I mentioned earlier, he is capable of guarding anyone, any size, and any speed.
Spoelstra said, "Possibly in the eyes of other people, maybe they take him for granted, his impact defensively. He guards [positions] 1 through 5 every single night and he knows it and accepts that challenge. In the fourth quarter, whoever the biggest threat is, that's who he's guarding."
There are plenty of defensive minded players in the NBA who are terrific. Tony Allen, Avery Bradley, and Serge Ibaka come to mind. But LeBron is a bit different. He is capable of becoming all the the things these defenders specialize in. How many times have we seen players take a peak behind them on a fast break to make sure LeBron isn't trailing them? How many times have you seen him pick the passing lane perfectly? How many times have you seen him just smother a defender and lock him down?
They eye test tells us LeBron James is the most overall, all-around, balanced defender in the game. He's intimidating, smart, fast and strong. He's everything. Offensively and defensively.
So why didn't he win?
Well one reason could be that people don't want to see James win everything. But more likely it is the fact that we can measure every single aspect of the game today. The Grizzlies were 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when Gasol is on the floor. That's really good. Not only that, but Gasol boosted the Grizzlies defensive rebounding rate considerably while on the floor as well.
Listen, Gasol is a terrific defender. He's someone to reckon with on the low block. He's smart, has a good instinct and thrives on stopping opponents. And with the high profile defenders like Howard and Chandler hurt more than usual, Gasol stepped up statistically.
But let's be clear on two things. Marc Gasol is not the best defender in the league. And he's not a better defender than LeBron James.
He may be more valuable to his team defensively than LeBron is, but that's also a close call. Gasol won this award not by what we see, but what we read. This is probably why he gave so much credit to his teammates upon receiving the award.
"I look at it as the whole team got acknowledged," Gasol said. "I think it's a team effort. It's a team game. There's no way around it. That's how we play basketball. We play as a unit. Defensively, you need five guys to play defense. If one of us is not playing defense, we can't do it."
LeBron James was not robbed of this award, it's simply a matter of choice by the voters. Marc Gasol won because we read into the advanced statistics rather than what our eyes tell us.
Either way, LeBron probably has a few more pieces of hardware coming his way soon.