MILWAUKEE WI - DECEMBER 06: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat is fouled while shooting by Andrew Bogut #6 of the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center on December 6 2010 in Milwaukee Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Starting with Bucks legend Sidney Moncrief in the first two years, guards won five of the very first six Defensive Player of the Year awards. But since then, guards have won the NBA's top defensive honor exactly once in 22 years. That one was not-Bucks-legend (though independently a Buck and a legend) Gary Payton in 1996.
Yet, no matter self-modifications in physical appearance, is convincing virtually no one he is a guard. So those couple decades worth of history were not working against him today when Dwight Howard was awarded the honor for the third straight time. Moreover, the list of winners is heavily dotted with centers who led their respective leagues in blocked shots, as did Bogut this year.
But while Bogut's position and statistics worked in his favor, his team's losing record did not. Just once in history has a player on a losing team won DPOY -- that was Alvin Robertson (lots of Bucks connections here) when he set a still-standing record of 3.67 steals per game. Bogut cannot boast such an overwhelming stat, nor did he play all 82 games (he played just 65) like Robertson. Nor did Bogut, ultimately, deserve to win. Howard rightfully earned the award.
Bogut's sixth place finish in the voting is a bit low, though.
Defensive Player of the Year is simpler than MVP, the latter often being muddled into a mess of misperceived "value" and traditional offensive statistics carried by convenient, happy story arcs.
Simpler, but not easier. Because defense is not nearly as quantifiable as offense, and so we are left to watch the players, and watch them closely. But most of us only really, really watch one team, and thus one, maybe two candidates. I watched Tony Allen and Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo when they played Milwaukee, and a few additional times. I also safely assume that most of the voters only watched Bogut when the Bucks when they came to town, and a few additional times. And since Bogut missed 17 games, maybe they never saw him play at all. And if you are going exclusively on stats, that one stat -- 65 games played -- is really the only one working against Bogut.
Bogut was the best defensive player on the fourth most efficient defensive team in the NBA, and opponents scored the fourth fewest points in the paint against Milwaukee. He led the NBA in blocks, and his blocks have been statistically valued higher than the blocked shots other elite shot-blockers. He was among the leaders in charges drawn, and I never know for certain if defensive rebounding is considered "defense," but Bogut was pretty swell on the defensive glass, ranking seventh overall in defensive rebound rate.
Opposing centers averaged a 13.9 PER against Bogut while he was on the floor. For comparison's sake, Tyson Chandler (who finished third in voting) allowed a 17.3 PER to opposing centers, and averaged not even half as many blocks (1.1) as Bogut. Opposing teams scored 101.9 points/100 possessions with Bogut in the game -- and scored 105.5 points/100 possessions when Bogut was not on the floor. Milwaukee also held opponents to 60.7 % shooting at the rim -- second best in the NBA. For perspective, that is almost as bad as Milwaukee shot at the rim themselves (57.9 %). Bogut, with some help from his friends, almost made opponents as bad offensively as the Bucks. Real talk.
And even after a couple paragraphs worth of statistics, numbers don't do him defensive justice. This is not the case of a player gambling for stats to the detriment of his team. Bogut coordinates everything out there, he talks if you are not in position, he has an innate sense of when to step in and back off, he quiets opposing frontcourts and makes guards circle the lane instead of attack the rim.
Whether you watched him play, or didn't watch him play, there is a major shortage of evidence to suggest that Bogut was not one of the five best defensive players in the NBA this season. This sixth place finish follows a seventh place finish last season in voting, and realistically, Bogut will probably need to play 70+ games to make a run at the top two in this award. And if that happens, he will more likely have the ever-important bonus of not playing on a losing team as well.