Tyson Chandler was named Defensive Player of the Year today and that means that the player who blocked 106 more shots than any other player did not win it.
Serge Ibaka blocked 3.65 shots per game this season, the most by a player since the 2000-01 season.
But Ibaka didn’t get much respect this year for his defense. The new favorite thing for bloggers and sportswriters is looking at statistics like blocks that are now not seen as important as some of today’s new stats and acting like they mean nothing.
The consensus surrounding Ibaka this season is that he is an electrifying defender but not that good of a defender overall. That his readiness to go after every shot is a bad thing at the end of the day and hurts the Thunder defense as a whole.
There is logic that backs this up and maybe some numbers too. Basketball fundamentalists will tell you not to leave your feet too much on defense because you become out of position and leave the rest of your defense vulnerable.
There have been times this season when Ibaka went up to block a shot, missed, and the other team got the offensive rebound and scored. And Ibaka has had moments covering players like Dirk Nowitzki and not looking to good in trying to do so because those players get him to go for shot fakes very easily.
I will agree with these people that Ibaka has some of these problems and he is not the perfect defender or one of the greatest rim protectors (yet). I also agree that Tyson Chandler had one of the greatest effects on the defensive side of the ball in the NBA this season and is deserving of the award.
I just feel that Ibaka isn’t getting enough credit for his season and the defensive impact he had on the floor.
There’s something about blocking shots that doesn’t come up on the stat sheets. It’s an intimidation thing. When a player gets their shot blocked, they will change the way they play the rest of the game. They’re always thinking about if they’re going to get blocked again.
A missed shot is a missed shot but there isn’t one NBA player that doesn’t hate getting his shot blocked more than anything (except maybe Glen Davis).
Ibaka had this impact in almost every Thunder game this season. I can remember in mid-January when Boston played Oklahoma City. The Celtics tried to get Kevin Garnett established in the post early in the first quarter. Ibaka blocked one of his turnaround shots one time and the Celtics didn’t go back to that look for the rest of the game.
Now I’m sure everyone is nodding their heads at this. You’ve all noticed this before too and still feel that moments like that aren’t great enough to make Ibaka into a better defender. These are NBA players, they can probably get over getting their shot blocked so the intimidation factor isn’t a big deal.
I would argue that the effect of demoralizing plays in the NBA is a huge deal. There’s a reason players dunk in traffic and on fast breaks. There’s even a reason why players block shots out of bounds instead of trying to keep them in play (I’m not necessarily a fan of this but I don’t kill it as much as others).
We can act like good defensive fundamentals are so awesome but in the NBA there are so many skilled offensive players that good defense doesn’t always matter. Nick Collison can play Andrew Bynum perfectly in the post and go straight up when he shoots and it’s not going to matter. Ibaka can block one of Bynum’s shots one time and Kobe isn’t passing Bynum the ball anymore now.
I think that a few blocks in a game is more valuable in the long run than a guy who hedges real hard on pick-and-rolls and does a slightly better job rotating back on defense.
I know this doesn’t entirely make sense and stats don’t really back it up but you have to think about what really impacts a game.
Rotating over strong on defense and forcing a team to go to their second option with less time on the shot clock is great. But isn’t it more valuable to set the tone for an entire game with one play? When you can make one or two plays that change the way a player thinks (or simply start making them think) about simple plays like how high to shoot a layup off the glass.
I’m an Oklahoma City fan. I like almost every player on this team. But watching this team play every game this season I rarely find myself mad at Ibaka. When he makes mistakes that’s just kind of who he is and the player that Oklahoma City asks him to be. He made the biggest defensive impact on their team by far this season.
He’s 22 years old. He’s going to get better and he’s probably going to win a few Defensive Player of the Year awards before his career is done.
He had a great season this year though and he’s not getting enough credit for it.