Chances are, the comments section is going to be led by people who read the title of this article and don’t bother to look at the facts provided below. There’s an even greater likelihood that people will dismiss this article before reading it all the way through.
For the select few that are willing to understand that this is not a hit-generating title, I’ll be be clear: Robin Lopez of the Portland Trail Blazers deserves to be a member of a 2014 NBA All-Defensive Team.
In terms of the race for Defensive Player of the Year, it appears to be a two-man show with Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers. With this in mind, Lopez is in line to miss out on an All-Defensive Team selection, which is in part due to his counterparts’ magnificent play on defense.
It doesn’t help that public perception suggests that Lopez is anything but a top-tier interior defensive presence.
If you’re talking about elite interior defense, you’re likely going to reference Hibbert, Noah and Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder before anyone else. Ibaka is the blocks king, Hibbert is a 7’2″ rim protector and Noah does so much on defense that it’s impossible to do anything but praise him.
Don’t be so quick to dismiss Lopez as a player of a similar caliber.
On the surface, Lopez posted basic statistics of 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in 31.8 minutes. That places him at eighth in the NBA in blocks per game, which is a strong enough number to at least beckon the question of, “Is he elite on defense?”
The advanced metrics say yes. A loud and resounding yes.
During the 2013-14 season, Lopez faced an unbelievably high 10.3 field goal attempts at the rim per game. That’s behind Spencer Hawes, 10.4, and tied with DeAndre Jordan for the second-most in the entire league.
Hawes allowed opponents to shoot 52.3 percent in those situations. Jordan checked in at a solid 49.4 percent.
Lopez can be found all the way down at 42.5 percent. The first sign of an elite rim protector.
Not only is that a stunning percentage—and that adjective doesn’t do it justice—but that’s the second-best mark of any player in the entire league. The only one who has a better mark is Hibbert, who limits opponents to 41.4 percent shooting when he meets them at the rim.
When a player’s only competition is a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year, they’re nothing if not in position to make one of the All-Defense Teams. Or at least they should be.
As we look deeper, a situation is created where Hibbert, Lopez and Noah should battle it out for the center nods. The thing that gives Noah the advantage is his energy and infectious play, which often cannot be measured.
Just don’t dismiss Lopez in that regard.
Lopez finished the regular season at sixth in contested rebounds per game with 4.3. Noah is one of the players who sits ahead of Lopez on that list, but here’s the kicker that cannot be ignored.
Lopez leads the NBA with a contested rebound percentage of 51.0. Hibbert comes in at 47.4 percent. Noah is at 41.2 percent.
For a full comparison of how Lopez stacks up against the NBA’s top All-Defense contenders, check out the chart included below.
The degree of separation is minimal, at best. In fact, a case could be made that Lopez’s measurements actually surpass those of Hibbert and Noah.
We all have our interpretations, but what cannot be denied is that Lopez has joined that top-tier company as a complete defensive presence who makes an under-appreciated impact.
Unfortunately, Lopez’s individual brilliance has been surrounded by a subpar defensive unit. Unlike Hibbert’s Pacers and Noah’s Bulls, the Trail Blazers are not an elite defensive team in any way, shape or form.
Portland was 22nd in scoring defense, 27th in opponent points in the paint per game and 23rd in second chance points allowed per game. Even as we evaluate players for an individual honor, the quality of team defense cannot be ignored.
For that reason, Lopez is unlikely to receive the recognition that he deserves.
Rather than criticizing Lopez for Portland’s failures as a defensive unit, however, we should instead praise him for fighting through the gang mentality of offense above all. Portland allows opponents to break through their perimeter defense and attack the rim with virtual ease, yet Lopez has been elite as a rim protector.
As a 26-year-old who’s just hitting his stride, he should be recognized as such.
It’s going to be difficult for Lopez to get nods over players of Hibbert’s or Noah’s profile. That’s especially true for Noah, whose individual numbers have always paled in comparison to his leadership and immeasurable ability to influence and inspire his team.
Nevertheless, Lopez deserves recognition for the magnificent season that he’s provided Portland with. What he’s done has been truly outstanding, and for his season to go unnoticed would be a discrimination against low-profile players with a high-measure impact.
As blasphemous as it may seem by the standard of name value, Robin Lopez deserves to be a member of an All-Defensive Team.