I can not stress enough on how much of a NBA and NFL fan I am. But over the past several years, I have noticed the lack of love for playing defense in the NBA, and how much fans take defense for granted. I get it, offense brings MOST fans to the games. In basketball you have the amazing ball handling, passing, crossovers, dunks, jump shots, etc. But lets not forget what defense provides for teams in both sports in the NBA. Most fans overlook defense, because watching someone guarding their man, and not allowing them to score is not as intriguing as watching someone getting dunked on, hitting a 3 point shot or getting their ankles tangled up by a crossover move.
Defense is very important for teams to have if they want to accomplish winning a championship. I’m not saying offense is not needed, both offense and defense is needed, but because of the lack of appreciation of defense, some people forget how valuable defense really is. From the past 13 seasons, all the teams that won the NBA championship were all ranked in the top 10 in opposing teams field goal percentage during the regular season, 10 out of those 13 seasons, the NBA champions were ranked in the top 10 in points allowed. Only the 2014- 2015 Golden State Warriors, 2008-2009 Los Angeles Lakers, and the 2007- 2008 Los Angeles Lakers were not in the top 10 in points allowed. Also 10 out of those 13 seasons, the champions were in the top 7 in points allowed in the playoffs, and top 7 in opposing teams field goal percentage.
Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but seeing someone using a dribble move to get past their defender, or seeing someone jump high and dunk on someone is great to look at, but seeing someone lock up their man, get a steal, block a shot, or get a rebound is exciting to watch as well. In the NBA, a player who is great offensively but average or bad defensively has a better chance of winning the MVP award compared to someone who is great defensively but average or bad offensively. Ben Wallace is a perfect example. Ben has won defensive player of the year 4 out of 5 years between the 2001-2002 season to the 2005-2006 season (He won it in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006). Not once was Ben in the discussion of winning the MVP award, and at that time Ben Wallace was on a great Pistons team. The Pistons won 50 games in 2002 and 2003, won 54 games in 2004 and 2005, and won a franchise best of 64 games in 2006. Twice the Pistons went to the Finals in 2004 and 2005, and won the championship in 2004. And Ben Wallace was a strong reason why they were so successful in that time span. On the defensive side from the 2001-2002 season to the 2005-2006 season, he averaged 12.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, and 1.6 steals per game.
On the flip side Steve Nash who was playing for the Phoenix Suns won MVP back to back in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons, and Dirk Nowitzki who was playing for the Dallas Mavericks won MVP in the 2006-2007 season. Neither Nash and Dirk were that good on defense, whether guarding their man on the perimeter or the post, but because they were playing great on offense, they got the upper hand for winning MVP compared to Ben Wallace. Nash averaged 17.1 points, 11 assist, 90% from the free throw line, 50% from the field, and 43% from the 3 pt line a game in those two seasons when he MVP, and Dirk averaged 24.6 points, 3.4 assist, averaged 90% from the free throw line, 50% from the field, and 41% from the 3 pt line a game.
In the 2013-2014 season, Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah who won the Defensive Player Of The Year Award finished 4th in the MVP voting that season. He averaged 11.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. In the history of the NBA, only two players won the MVP and Defensive Player Of The Year Awards the same season, which were Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) in the 1987-1988 season and Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) in the 1993-1994 season. Dennis Rodman (Pistons, Spurs, Bulls, Lakers, and Mavericks) who the Defensive Player Of The Year Award two times and who made All Defensive First Team 7 times in his career, never won a MVP award or really was in the discussion to become one, who has a career average of 13.1 rebounds, and playing at a 6’7 height, averaging that amount of rebounds is pretty damn impressive and rare to see.
One big glaring question I have always asked myself was why is there a Defensive Player Of The Year Award or a All Defensive Team but not a Offensive Player Of The Year Award or a All Offensive team? Its like the NBA is saying that playing defense is so different and abnormal that they have to set it apart and reward playing great defense with their own award, and that the MVP award is almost like rewarding the great offensive players in the league. In the NFL, they have a Offensive and Defensive Player Award, which I actually like, you have an award for both offense and defense, then you have the big award, the MVP.
You do have players over the history of the league that showed that playing great defense is substantial to being a great player such as the likes of Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, David Robinson, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Isiah Thomas, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, etc. All of those players I named have at least made an All Defensive 1st or 2nd team at least three times in their career. And in today’s NBA you have alot of young guys who are making a name for themselves on the defensive side such as the likes of Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Andre Drummond, etc. Even looking back at the championship teams in NBA history like the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers of the 80’s, Lakers of the early 2000’s, San Antonio Spurs of the 2000’s, and specifically the Detroit Pistons of the 2003-2004 season all played great defense to get that trophy in June.
I would really hope that defense gets greater recognition as the NBA league continues to grow, and players come to the conclusion that putting up points, making flashy passes, and dunking on people’s heads is only one side of playing great basketball. Playing defense is VERY important if you want to show versatility in your game. And I will also hope fans recognize that offense is one side of playing basketball, not the only thing.