Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls' on-court maestro of their ballyhooed defense, received the award for Defensive Player of the Year at a press conference Monday. Roy Hibbert was second and DeAndre Jordan placed third. Shortly after that, players who also received votes but did not make the top three started to leak to the internet. You can find what players received votes from what members of media here.
One thing I couldn't help but notice was that Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't receive a single vote despite constantly being praised by those who have seen him as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
What MKG does for the Bobcats defense is something that nobody else on the team can do. He has the hardest and most important job. The Bobcats defense has their bigs fall back and protect the paint. The perimeter players all play one-on-one with their man and play high to prevent three-point shooting. If a man is beat, the perimeter players have to recover/help to try and contest the shot. Of course this allows an open mid range jumpshot due to the time it takes to recover, but the Bobcats are OK with this.
With MKG, he's usually not only tasked with guarding the best scorer among opponent swingmen, but he is also the most important piece of the Bobcats' defensive rotation from man defense to help defense to covering large swaths of the court from the middle of the floor. Thanks to his length and athleticism, MKG has the ability to contest shots that other players may not be able to get to. He is the best defensive player on a very good Bobcats defense that is ranked in the top eight in defensive rating, points per game (which can be flawed in its scope), and points per possession. So what gives? Why the lack of love in voting for the best defensive player on a highly ranked defense?
Is it a case of the Bobcats not being exposed to the public? That's a possibility. The Bobcats didn't play a single game on national TV until the playoffs, after voting had already closed. It's fair to assume that a lack of exposure left many voters forgetting about MKG. Plus, voting for three very good defenders is a difficult task, especially with deserving competition like Noah, Hibbert, Jordan and others. While everybody knows how good Kidd-Gilchrist is on defense, a lack of national TV exposure may have not had him fresh in the minds of voters. Televised games put performances and players into the national consciousness. Where was MKG? On Charlotte with a lack of TV and minimal media exposure.
Maybe there were too many other good defenders and MKG just got lost among the shuffle? While this is the case overall with Noah, Jordan, and Hibbert receiving the majority of the votes, there were still other players that received votes here and there over Kidd-Gilchrist. Patrick Beverley got two third place votes. Trevor Ariza got a second place vote and a third place vote. A total of 17 players received a vote of some kind so you can definitely say there was enough votes to go around.
Part of it also may be that imposing big men are often favored in consideration over wing players. Beverley's pesky defense might earn him a DPOY nod if you only asked opposing point guards. Weakside rotations that halt a possible three-pointer are great, but won't draw eyes often. Blocks can take the air out of a building and defending the rim is a valiant devotion to the last space between players and the hoop.
All of this said, I think the main reason MKG isn't getting votes for defensive player of the year is, ironically enough, because of his offense. Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the best defenders in the NBA -- I don't think there's any denying that. The Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James scoring detonations are a fair rebuttal but aren't representative of his entire season, even against those players in the Bobcats' series against them. The Bobcats' defense stumbles from a 98.8 defensive rating with MKG on the floor to 102.4 with him on the bench. Opposing small forwards are held to an 11.1 PER on average against Kidd-Gilchrist, per 82games.com.
But at the end of games he is often found on the bench because he is such a minus on the offensive end. A coach is going to sacrifice his great defense, at the end of the game, for a player that can play on both sides of the floor. Playing four on five is a disadvantage that a winning basketball team can't afford and media members are going to have a hard time giving votes to a guy that doesn't play max minutes, especially in crucial moments. MKG can guard the best players in the NBA by himself and handle it pretty well. But to some, he isn't a reliable a defender because he can't stay on the court due to offensive limitations. Until MKG can overcome these limitations, he's never going to enter the tier of elite defenders due to a lack of reliability.