Kawhi Leonard is great, but Draymond Green should have won DPOY

Posted: 05/06/2015 by levcohen in Basketball

I was going to retroactively make my MVP pick, but I figured that wouldn’t be too intriguing. Why? Well, I already wrote about the race in March, coming to the conclusion that I would pick James Harden to win the award but that Stephen Curry would end up winning the award because he was both a deserving candidate from a stats standpoint as well as the star player for one of the best regular season teams ever. And that’s exactly the way the race played out. At the end of the year, my ballot would have been: Harden, Curry, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and a tossup between Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. It was a stacked race and one that was tough to pick. Instead of talking about my rationale for picking Harden again, I’m going to transition to another race: Defensive Player of the Year. It was basically a three man race, with Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and DeAndre Jordan racking up a combined 114 of 129 first place votes.

Kawhi Leonard is an absolute beast defensively. He led the league with 2.3 steals per game, with his absurdly long arms and great athleticism coming through time after time. It felt like whenever Leonard was around the ball, he would take it; he constantly harassed the best ball handler on the opposing team, forcing turnovers and keeping teams from getting into an offensive flow. The eye test favors him because he’s so active and such a pest. But I think Green was the better all-around candidate for a number of reasons.

First of all, there’s the Steph Curry “best team in the league” argument. When you think of the Warriors, you think of Steve Kerr and the Splash Bros, right? A fast-paced offensive juggernaut. Well, Golden State did finish as the second most efficient offense (just a tick behind the Clippers), but they were also the best defensive team in basketball, allowing just 98.2 points per 100 possessions (the Spurs were third at 99.6). They were even better when Green was on the court, allowing just 96 points per 100 possession. But the Spurs, too, were better with Leonard on the court, allowing 97.1 points per 100, a bigger difference than Golden State’s with Green. In other metrics, though, Green holds a clear advantage. His DRPM, ESPN’s attempt to separate individual performance from team performance, is +5.07, which is second in the NBA and means that ESPN estimates that the Warriors give up 5.07 points fewer per 100 possessions purely as a result of Green. Leonard’s DRPM is 4.61, sixth in the NBA and a clear notch behind Green’s. But still, details, right? Not much separates these two, and it can be argued either way. Let’s delve a little deeper.

Over the course of the season, Kawhi Leonard has allowed players he’s guarded to shoot, on average, 4 of 9.2 from the field (per NBA.com), good for 44.2%. The players he’s guarded shot 44.7% over the course of the season, which means that Kawhi has held opponents to a percentage slightly lower than they would otherwise shoot. Not bad, right? But Green has been better. Opposing players are shooting on him more (14 times a game) in roughly the same amount of time, but they are shooting drastically worse, at 39.1%, well worse than the 45.4% they would normally shoot. Despite allowing nearly five more shots per game than Kawhi, only 1.5 of those shots has gone in. And that lower percentage allowed has come despite the fact that opponents are shooting from less than 10 feet 47.8% of the time against Green and 39.6% against Leonard. To recap: opponents get more looks and easier looks against Green and still shoot significantly worse against him than they do against Leonard. That difference in where shots are coming from could be because Golden State asks Draymond to play down low more than San Antonio asks Kawhi to do the same, which brings me to my next point.

Ever wonder how the Warriors thrive defensively despite the fact that their only real rim protector and post defender, Andrew Bogut, plays just 23.6 minutes per game? I did too… until I started researching this post. Draymond Green is an absolute beast. He fell to the second round in the draft because he was undersized, yet the Warriors start him at power forward and often play him at center. And the lineups in which Green plays center are Golden State’s most overpowering lineups, showing just how versatile Draymond is defensively. This gets said about a lot of players, but it’s really true about Green; he can guard any position. How about this: of the 37 players who played at least 30 minutes per game and allowed at least three field goal attempts at the rim, Green ranks fifth at 46.9% opposing field goal percentage at the rim. The guys ahead of him? Behemoths Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nerlens Noel. Guys known for their defense at the center position. Green and Josh Smith are the only guys in the top 15 who aren’t big men, and the bottom five of that group of 37 are all wing players. Pretty impressive.

I haven’t even gotten to the biggest and simplest reason I’d have put Green atop my ballot: games played. Although they played a similar number of minutes per game, Leonard played just 64 games, while Green played 79. As a result, Draymond played 457 more minutes than Leonard this season despite the fact that the Warriors were often so far ahead at the end of games that they rested their starters. Those 457 minutes, 9.5 full games, are the final reason that I’m picking Draymond.

There are a lot of similarities between the two players, including the fact that they are both listed at 6’7″ and 230 pounds. Kind of freaky, right? They both were also drafted as small forwards who had trouble shooting and have developed into pretty good offensive players (Leonard has a higher ceiling and is already the better all-around player). But both players call defense their trump card, and I believe that Green was just a smidgen better than Leonard defensively this season. It’s not quite a photo finish, with the games played stat putting it over the top, but give me Green.

Top five ballot:
Anthony Davis

  1. dpcathena says:

    Color me convinced.

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