Sunday, 21 August 2011

THE BEST DEFENSIVE CENTERS OF ALL-TIME


Introduction and methodology:

Following on from the success of yesterday's article, I decided to find a way to rank the best defensive centers of all-time. There are, of course, numerous ways this can be achieved. However, I am particularly pleased with the results derived from the methodology described below.

The centers are ranked according to their defensive win shares per game between the ages of 22 and 32. Admittedly, I chose those ages somewhat arbitrarily, but I felt it was a decent way of comparing players at their peak. If I simply took a player's total defensive win shares and divided that number by the total number of games they played over their career, it would unfairly penalise those players who played into their late-30s (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, etc) and perhaps unfairly benefit those who jumped straight from high-school (Dwight Howard).

The results are converted to percentages. These percentages show us the percentage chance that a win by that player's team can be attributed to that player's defensive performance on any given night, e.g. if the 1960s Celtics won a game, there was a 14.3% chance that it was because of Bill Russell's defensive ability as opposed to, say, Sam Jones' offensive ability or Bob Cousy's overall performance.

I chose not to include Tim Duncan (who played primarily at PF). However, if I had, he would have ranked 6th overall.

Observations and conclusions:

- Bill Russell was far and away the best defensive center of all-time.
- David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon were nearly inseparable defensively during their primes.
- Dwight Howard is clearly the preeminent defensive force of the modern era. The next best active defensive center appears to be Andrew Bynum (23rd), who is still just 23-years-old.
- George Mikan's defensive ability has perhaps been somewhat forgotten over the years.
- Walt Bellamy was so poor defensively that he didn't even crack the top 100. He finished 110th (one place behind Danny Schayes).
- Despite giving up a few inches in height, Ben Wallace (8th), Dave Cowens (9th) and Wes Unseld (13th) clearly made up for it in other ways.

The top 100:

1 - Bill Russell - 14.3%
2 - Wilt Chamberlain - 9.3%
3 - Dwight Howard - 9.0%
4 - George Mikan - 8.8%
5 - David Robinson - 8.6%
6 - Hakeem Olajuwon - 8.6%
7 - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 7.7%
8 - Ben Wallace - 7.6%
9 - Dave Cowens - 7.5%
10 - Patrick Ewing - 7.3%
11 - Nate Thurmond - 7.0%
12 - Dikembe Mutombo - 6.9%
13 - Wes Unseld - 6.8%
14 - Alonzo Mourning - 6.5%
15 - Mark Eaton - 6.1%
16 - Yao Ming - 6.0%
17 - Shaquille O'Neal - 6.0%
18 - Jack Sikma - 5.9%
19 - Marcus Camby - 5.8%
20 - Jeff Ruland - 5.7%
21 - Bill Walton - 5.6%
22 - Robert Parish - 5.4%
23 - Andrew Bynum - 5.2%
24 - Tyson Chandler - 5.1%
25 - Brad Daugherty - 5.0%
26 - Willis Reed - 5.0%
27 - Artis Gilmore - 4.9%
28 - Al Horford - 4.9%
29 - Vlade Divac - 4.9%
30 - Andrew Bogut - 4.9%
31 - Moses Malone - 4.9%
32 - Caldwell Jones - 4.9%
33 - Bill Laimbeer- 4.8%
34 - Kendrick Perkins - 4.7%
35 - Clifford Ray - 4.7%
36 - Stan Miasek - 4.7%
37 - Emeka Okafor - 4.7%
38 - Alvan Adams - 4.6%
39 - Tree Rollins - 4.6%
40 - Joakim Noah - 4.5%
41 - Tom Boerwinkle - 4.5%
42 - Rick Mahorn - 4.5%
43 - Sam Lacey - 4.5%
44 - Steve Stipanovich - 4.5%
45 - Bob McAdoo - 4.4%
46 - Bob Lanier - 4.3%
47 - Ralph Sampson - 4.3%
48 - Darryl Dawkins - 4.3%
49 - Samuel Dalembert - 4.2%
50 - Red Kerr - 4.2%
51 - Theo Ratliff - 4.0%
52 - Zelmo Beaty - 4.0%
53 - Herb Williams - 3.9%
54 - Zydrunas Ilgauskas - 3.9%
55 - Marc Gasol - 3.9%
56 - Elmore Smith - 3.9%
57 - Alton Lister - 3.9%
58 - George Johnson - 3.9%
59 - Rony Seikaly - 3.9%
60 - Mychal Thompson - 3.9%
61 - Clyde Lovellette - 3.8%
62 - Benoit Benjamin - 3.8%
63 - Jim Chones - 3.8%
64 - Arnie Risen - 3.8%
65 - Elden Campbell - 3.7%
66 - Shawn Bradley - 3.7%
67 - Red Rocha - 3.7%
68 - Larry Foust - 3.7%
69 - Rich Kelley - 3.6%
70 - Ervin Johnson - 3.6%
71 - Neil Johnston - 3.5%
72 - Chris Dudley - 3.5%
73 - Marvin Webster - 3.5%
74 - James Donaldson - 3.5%
75 - Brad Miller - 3.3%
76 - Rasho Nesterovic - 3.3%
77 - Bill Cartwright - 3.3%
78 - Joe Barry Carroll - 3.3%
79 - Steve Hawes - 3.3%
80 - Harvey Catchings - 3.2%
81 - Luc Longley - 3.2%
82 - Rik Smits - 3.1%
83 - Erick Dampier - 3.1%
84 - Manute Bol - 3.1%
85 - Greg Ostertag - 3.1%
86 - Kent Benson - 3.0%
87 - Roy Hibbert - 3.0%
88 - Marcin Gortat - 3.0%
89-  Jamaal Magloire - 3.0%
90 - Mike Gminski - 3.0%
91 - LaSalle Thompson - 3.0%
92 - Jon Koncak - 2.9%
93 - Mark West - 2.9%
94 - Andris Biedrins - 2.9%
95 - Tony Battie - 2.9%
96 - Andrew Lang - 2.9%
97 - Jason Collins - 2.9%
98 - Wayne Cooper - 2.9%
99 - JaVale McGee - 2.8%
100 - Otto Moore - 2.7%

8 comments:

  1. This is silly. The article claimed "best", not 'greatest' defensive centers of all time; how is George Mikan *better than Hakeem? Dwight *better than Mutombo?

    To say that Mikan was better relative to his competition than Hakeem would be to say he was 'greater'. The wording here however seems to suggest that if the two were brought back and went to the park today, Mikan would be the better defender.

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  2. I feel you're being overly pedantic.

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  3. Time and again Hakeem has been underrated by da worst sport analysts who seem to be da majority out there today. For i don't know how any analyst who really know his onions about basketball could rank Hakeem, who is the 1st in blocks, the 8th in steals and 12th in rebounding overall in da NBA history at number 6. Ranking Hakeem behind Wilt, Dwight, Robinson and Mikan tells me da shallowness of Knowlege by Will Campton. Hakeem should be at #2 right behind Russell at da lowest. The same analysts will ignorantly rank MJ ahead of Rodman on defense. Hello somebody, so please re-do this listing pleeaazzee NOW !!

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  4. The rankings are based on a statistic called 'defensive win shares', not based on mine - or anyone else's - opinion. If the rankings were done according to my opinion, Hakeem would be higher than 6th. Therefore, there's no need to accuse anyone of having 'shallow knowledge'.

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  5. Hi Will, I'm also a big fan of DWS for measuring defense, especially for years before we had play-by-play data. Advanced statheads usually look at per minute stats rather than per game, though. Wilt was averaging 46.6 mpg between 22-32 years old. On a per minute basis he would probably drop out of the top 5, while Ben Wallace would rise a few spots. Also, I think D. Howard still benefits despite the age cutoff. He has what, 3 or 4 seasons eligible for this list? Hakeem's top 3 or 4 years are clearly better.

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  6. Thanks for the comment. It's useful to take those considerations on board. If I ever do a similar article in the future, I will try to do it per-minute for the reasons you gave.

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  7. This makes no sense. 60's equals estimate for DWS? Wtf.This is a horrible way to do it.
    Greatest defenderss ever =
    1. Bill Russell
    2. Hakeem Olajuwon
    3. I don't know ... And Kareem is not a top 40 defender ever. Do people actually watch games anymore? Horrible in comparison to the greats.

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    1. Kareem is 3rd all time in blocked shots. He was a great defender until he got older and knees were getting weak.Hell, he would be number 1 with over 4200 blocks if they were actually recorded in his first four seasons. Russel & Wilt might have even had more than KAJ because they used to get 7-8 a game. Too bad blocks weren't recorded when they played.

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