No matter how you feel about advanced statistics, the sports world is shifting more and more towards them, and this week we'll use them to break down the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year race.
Wild Stat: .086 Defensive Win Share Per Game recorded by Paul George (Courtesy of Basketball Reference)
Roy Hibbert is the nominal front-runner for this year's DPOY race coming into the All-Star break, but neither he nor any of the candidates has put together a season dominant enough to put the talk of this race to an end. In seeking to make my own short-list I consulted Basketball Reference's Defensive Win Shares, a stat derivative of Bill James's original Win Shares formula. It turns out that Hibbert's teammate Paul George has outdone him, and by a fairly large margin at that. This is especially shocking considering Paul George is a small forward, and big men always have the edge in accumulating defensive wins. The more you study this statistic, the more you see that Paul George is actually having a historically great season for a non-big man. The number I started this piece with, .086 Defensive Win Share Per Game, is far more than Marc Gasol, another center, was able to garner last year when he won DPOY (.065), and significantly more than the .0744 Michael Jordan posted in his DPOY season of 87'-88'. He outdid Ron Artest and Gary Payton in the their DPOY seasons, and I was having trouble finding anyone who had done better at any time. Paul George has already established himself as one of the best defenders in the NBA, but is it possible that he is actually historically great?
The highest Defensive Win Shares Per Game posted by a wing player since modern defensive statistics were recorded is the .0854 posted by Scottie Pippen in 94'-95', ever so much less than what George is on pace for. Statistically, Paul George is on pace to have the greatest defensive season ever by a non-big man! This is really nothing short of a revelation, through only watching we can only get a sense for who some of the top defenders in the league are, but this statistic has allowed us to recognize just how historically great George has really been.
It's likely that George's numbers will regress over the second half of the season and he won't be able to quite reach Pippen's level, but this season is no fluke either way. Last season George actually posted a .0797, bettered only by Pippen's historic mark we mentioned earlier. George's numbers are probably boosted a bit by playing within a great team defense, but there is no denying that George is a force to be reckoned with, and has a chance to go down as one of the all-time great defenders.