Sports Reference Blog

NBA All-Defensive Team Voting Added to Basketball Reference

Posted by Mike Lynch on March 10, 2023


While the NBA has only had a Defensive Player of the Year Award since 1982-83, it has named NBA All-Defensive teams since 1968-69. The All-Defensive teams allow fans to know which defenders were held in the highest regard, but don't necessarily tell us who was considered the best defender in a given season. Thanks to the research of Josh Elias and Sumitro Datta, we have added voting for the full history of the NBA All-Defensive teams, which allows us to get closer to answering that question.

The new data can be seen on the awards voting summaries that we have for each season. This particular voting runs from 1968-69 to 2021-22, and we will update it for future seasons. In 1968-69 the league was more flexible with what positions it allowed on the first team, as it featured two centers (Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond). In subsequent seasons, each 'team' would have two guards, two forwards and one center. This highlights some of the limitations in viewing the 1968-69 to 1981-82 leading vote-getter as the de facto Defensive Player of the Year. This is because centers had outsized defensive value in the league when the 3-point shot was either non-existent or barely used. And so in many cases the center who finished third in All-Defensive voting may have been considered a better defender than the 1st Team guard who had little competition and therefore lots of votes. This can be seen in year-one of the voting. Bill Russell, almost unquestionably the most impactful defender in NBA history, finished 2nd to Walt Frazier in overall voting, ostensibly because some people voted for Nate Thurmond (another of the most impactful defenders ever) over Russell. This is not to diminish Frazier, one of the greatest perimeter defenders ever. The same phenomenon would see players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Gary Payton garner more All-Defensive votes than the centers who won DPOY for much of the 1990s. There have even been instances of DPOYs finishing on the All-Defensive 2nd Team.

These voting totals are also compiled on player pages in the 'Appearances on Leaderboards, Awards, and Honors' section under the 'All-Defensive Voting Shares' header.

The are some limitations to the coverage of this data that we'd like to highlight:

-From 1968-69 to 1970-71, 1973-74, 1979-80 to 1984-85, and 1987-88 to 1989-90 we have voting for players on the 1st and 2nd teams

-From 1971-72 to 1972-73 and 1974-75 to 1976-77 we have voting only for players on the 1st team

-From 1977-78 to 1978-79 we have voting only for the top vote-getter

-From 1985-86 to 1986-87 we have voting for 1st and 2nd teamers, plus honorable mentions

-From 1990-91 to present we have all player votes accounted for

In case you're curious, the all-time leaders (since 1968-69) in All-Defensive Voting Shares are:

Tim Duncan - 8.40

Gary Payton - 7.74

Michael Jordan - 7.36

Kevin Garnett - 7.19

Kobe Bryant - 7.16

Scottie Pippen - 6.82

Dennis Rodman - 6.63

Rudy Gobert - 6.13

Bobby Jones - 6.00

Hakeem Olajuwon - 5.95

Chris Paul - 5.75

Dennis Johnson - 5.61

Walt Frazier - 5.44

Dave DeBusschere - 5.32

David Robinson - 5.01

LeBron James - 4.99

Ben Wallace - 4.99

Bruce Bowen - 4.81

Dikembe Mutombo - 4.67

Jason Kidd - 4.65

Draymond Green - 4.63

Kawhi Leonard - 4.31

Dwight Howard - 4.31

When viewing this list, please be aware of the data limitations mentioned above, which particularly impacts players from the 70s and 80s.

This data also linked to via the 'V' link on our All-Defensive Teams page.

We hope you enjoy this addition and we look forward to attempting to improve on it in the future.

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