What awards say about Portland’s best defender ever:
There’s long been a notion surrounding NBA awards, and how they tend to favor offensively-brilliant players over defense ones.
Think about it: the Sixth Man of the Year award has more-or-less always gone to the bench player with the strongest offensive punch — the haymaker that puts his team over the top (i.e. Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, etc). Most Improved Player of the Year winners are always the players whose scoring numbers proliferate from the previous season.
The reason for bringing that was almost lost on me. Whereas offense is easier to watch (you simply see a player put the ball in the basket), defense is harder to gauge. Players call out coverages, rotate, help, hedge, etc. For that reason, some of the NBA’s greatest defenders have gone unheralded, as it relates to defensive awards.
Though Portland has yet to have a player win the Defensive Player of the Year award, they have had players earn media votes. I went through year-by-year, starting with 1982-83 to find those players, and they go as follows:
Blazers with Defensive Player of the Year votes:
— Calvin Natt: 1983-84, 2 votes
— Mychal Thompson: 1983-84, 1 vote
— Clyde Drexler: 1987-88, 1 vote
— Buck Williams: 1990-91, 2 votes
— Buck Williams: 1991-92, 1 vote
— Scottie Pippen: 1999-00, 1 vote
— Joel Przybilla: 2004-05, 6 votes
— Joel Przybilla: 2008-09, 1 vote
— Jusuf Nurkic: 2017-18, 1 vote
With all due respect to the Vanilla Gorilla, one has to wonder what the fate of their franchise is defensively if Joel Przybilla has the most Defensive Player of the Year vote points in their organization’s history. But, as it relates to actual recognition, the Blazers have had a handful of players with All-Defensive Team nods to their name.
Portland Trail Blazers to make All-Defensive First Teams:
— Buck Williams (2 appearances)
— Bill Walton (2 appearances)
— Sam Bowie, Marcus Camby, Clyde Drexler and Larry Steele (1 appearance)
Portland Trail Blazers to make All-Defensive Second Teams:
— Kermit Washington (2 appearances)
— Buck Williams, Theo Ratliff, Scottie Pippen, Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, and Bob Gross (1 appearance)
So, Williams paces the group in this one. It also certainly helps that Williams was a starter on six of the Blazers best ten defensive teams, according to relative DRtg (the team’s rating relative to the rest of the league).
With that in mind, the four Blazers worth carrying into the final slide are: Bill Walton, Buck Williams, Clyde Drexler, and Arvydas Sabonis, given their consistency in both metrics and accolades. Here, we’ll take a look at how their peers viewed their skills on the less glamorous side of the ball.