Joakim Noah was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year today, capping off an incredible run by the Bulls center that helped the Bulls once again become one of the NBA's elite defensive units. So how'd he do it? Here's a look, by the numbers, on how and why Noah became the NBA's most valuable defender.
Also, check out Noah's top five defensive performances of the 2013-14 season.
There aren't as many defensive stats to go by as there are on offense, but one universal number that can accurately depict how much a player meant to his team is Defensive Win Shares. It's a calculated estimation designed to show a player's contributions in terms of victories. And in that category, Noah's defensive play contributed nearly seven wins to the Bulls' 48-34 record. His 6.6 DWS led the NBA, slightly above Paul George (6.4), DeAndre Jordan (5.8) and Roy Hibbert (5.0), three other players who garnered votes for Defensive Player of the Year. (For good measure, Noah's 11.2 total Win Shares were ninth in the NBA).
Versatility is a major key to Noah's game, and he affected every part of the game when the opponent had the ball. His ability to defend at the rim, in the low post and out on the perimeter in pick-and-roll situations made him a nightmare for opposing offenses, helping him average 7.7 defensive rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals in 35.3 minutes per game. He was just one of three players to average at least seven defensive rebounds, a block and a steal, joining Detroit's Andre Drummond (7.8/1.6/1.2) and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins (8.6/1.3/1/5). The main difference? Noah's 48-34 Bulls are playing in the postseason and were second best in efficiency, while the Kings and Pistons combined for a 57-107 record and had the 5th and 8th LEAST efficient defenses, respectively.
There's no "points allowed" statistic on defense like there is on offense, but Defensive Rating is, again, a calculated estimation of how many points a player allowed per 100 possession. And unsurprisingly, Noah was dominant in the category. His rating of 96 (meaning he allowed 96 points per 100 possessions, or 0.96 points per possession) was tied for best in the NBA with Golden State's Andrew Bogut. There's no denying Bogut is one of the game's best interior defenders, but he was limited to 67 games this season, while Noah played 80 games while averaging nine more minutes per game.
Noah's aforementioned versatility meant he wasn't going to be a rim protector in the sense of a DeAndre Jordan, Serge Ibaka or Roy Hibbert. Still, Noah managed to rank in the top-10 in opponent's field goal percentage at the rim of qualified players who played at least 60 games, finishing the season with an impressive 46.8 percent mark. What's interesting to note here is that Taj Gibson ranked seventh in the category, allowing opponents to shoot just 45.7 percent at the rim. It's undeniable that Gibson's continued improvement defensively was a key to Noah being able to do more this season.
A good defensive player is important to a team, but only if it leads to great team defense. There are stellar defenders in the NBA whose teams didn't sniff the postseason (think Ricky Rubio, Drummond, and Anthony Davis). Noah certainly was not the case, as the Bulls' defensive efficiency ranked second in the NBA, behind only Indiana. The Bulls also allowed the fewest points per game this season, shutting down some of the NBA's most potent offense. This certainly goes further than what Noah was able to accomplish, as players such as Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler helped the Bulls become one of the NBA's most feared defensive units (not to mention Tom Thibodeau's philosophy).
It's been 25 seasons since a Chicago Bull earned Defensive Player of the Year honors. Michael Jordan won the award in 1988, fending off Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton for the honors. That season Jordan was third in Defensive Win Shares (6.1), averaged 3.8 defensive rebounds, 1.6 blocks and a league-best 3.2 steals in more than 40 minutes per game. He also led the league in scoring that year, averaging 35 points per game, but his defensive skills helped him earn 37 of the 53 first-placed votes.