Larry Sanders made a huge improvement on defense this season, morphing into one of the leagues toughest interior defenders to augment his already excellent shot-blocking ability. It was enough to put him on the national radar in terms of Defensive Player of the Year attention and inspired a terrific campaign by the Bucks' PR team.
But when it came time to cast the ballots, DPOY voters once again overlooked mountains of evidence and put together a leaderboard full of question marks. Larry Sanders finished 7th overall, 4 points behind Tim Duncan and well ahead of Paul George. Sanders received just 4 first-place votes but lead the field in 2nd and 3rd place votes, respectively. Essentially, lots of people thought Sanders was very, very good on defense, but those people were all split in who they thought was better.
Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol took home the award, garnering 30 first-place votes. LeBron James was 2nd and Serge Ibaka was 3rd. Ibaka in particular continues to earn defensive praise largely based on reputation among the uninformed, as his overall impact on Oklahoma City's defense has been shown to be significantly overrated thanks to his great shot-blocking. Joakim Noah was 4th, while Gasol's teammate Tony Allen was 5th.
The Bucks struggled on defense in the latter portions of the season, and Sanders' case certainly took a hit as a result. But his on/off-court splits were still great, as the Bucks surrendered almost six fewer point per 100 possession with Sanders in the game over the course of the season. Knowing the voters, the Bucks likely took a hit for their out-of-context opponent scoring numbers: Milwaukee was 12th in team defensive rating but 20th in opponent points per game.
Despite getting overlooked in the award voting, Sanders' defensive ability is clear and his future is bright. With further improvement and a more defensive-minded roster around him, Sanders definitely has the potential to bring home the trophy in future seasons. For now, he'll have to stay focused on trying to slow down the Miami Heat.
Update: Sanders took to Twitter after the voting was announced:
Basketball is a team sport and that's why I love it so much, it's never been about me and what award I deserve..it's about what we deserve!— Nappy Gilmore(@LarrySanders) April 24, 2013
2012-13 Kia Defensive Player of the Year voting, via NBA.com:
|Player||Team||1st place votes (5 pts)||2nd place votes (3 pts)||3rd place votes (1 pt)||Total points|