Defenders - The BCL Defensive Player of the Year
MADRID (Spain) - Every year the Basketball Champions League recognizes the best players with MVP awards, the best young guns with Young Player of the Year, and the best coach with the title of Coach of the Year. For the past two years on the BCL Insider Column, we have also tried to throw some light on the league's best defenders. Even though they didn't win an official award, the likes of Howard Sant-Roos and Yorman Polas Bartolo both played the kind of defense that commands recognition and would have almost certainly been worthy winners. They weren't alone either. In both seasons we had to pick an "All-Defensive Team" to cover all the best stoppers. This year is no different but before we get into the conversation it's probably best to quickly explain how each player came to be nominated.
We believe it makes sense that the perfect people to judge the best defenders in the league are the guys that have to go out and try to score on them each week. So we ask players and coaches from each team to pick the best defender in their squad and the best defender they have played against. Then we counted the votes in total for each player and also by position. Now, the position part is where it can get a bit foggy but if we ended up with a situation where a player that can play or perhaps, more importantly, guard multiple positions had more votes than the next highest vote-getter in one position, the player with the most votes gets in.
Guard - Omar Cook
We start with a BCL champion and undoubtedly a front runner. There are stories from Omar Cook's time in Estudiantes when he would spend entire practices refusing to allow the young Point Guards on the squad to cross half court. It seems time has done nothing to soften that competitive edge. In stark contrast to his teammate Thad McFadden, you will rarely see Cook smile on the court but you can be sure he's enjoying himself just as much as Thad draining bombs from deep when he's putting the clamps on the opponents' best scorer.
A quick look on Synergy for defensive stats shows that for players involved in more than 50 possessions, Cook leads the league at 0.55 points per play conceded. Just to clarify, that means in possessions when an opponent has ended a possession trying to score on Omar Cook, they have scored an average of 0.5 points... The moral of the story here folks is try to score on someone else. It's not just in the stats either, Cooks defense comes up big when his team needs it the most. Check the clip below against Darrusafaka and Andrew Andrews. Andrews caused problems for numerous guards in the BCL during the Regular Season and coming out of the timeout, with twelve seconds on the clock and the game on the line, he was absolutely the player Darrusafaka wanted with the ball. The only problem was Omar Cook was the player guarding him and he refused to give him any air. Ten seconds later, a desperate heave went awry and Burgos won the game. Literally game-winning individual defense.
Guard - Nick Johnson
Next up is the human highlight reel known as Nick Johnson. We could tell you that despite being a guard, he's one of the league's best post-up defenders - giving up just 0.4 points per play on the block - and then show you clip after clip of teams completely misjudging him and thinking that a switch is a mismatch down low (it really isn't). We could also talk about his stats guarding the ball in the pick-and-roll or spot-up shooters...but why go to all that trouble when we can just play you a video of the best shot-blocking guard we have seen in all five seasons of the BCL.
The video below has chase-down blocks with his left hand and his right. Last season he even blocked one in transition with both hands. Just for the fun of it, you would guess. We didn't include that clip but there is plenty in this video alone to give you the idea.
Guard/Wing - Retin Obasohan
Ok, so, yes we can hear you thinking that including Retin Obasohan as our wing player is a bit of a stretch (he has predominantly played Point Guard for Nymburk this season). But he was our joint top vote-getter and with his strength and wingspan, Obasohan has no trouble guarding any perimeter player and we needed to get him in this all-defense team somehow.
Obasohan ranks fifth overall on Synergy at just 0.66 points per play conceded and fourth among guards in the BCL for steal percentage at 3.6%. But where Obasohan has possibly shone brightest this season has been guarding the ball screen. With a combination of excellent balance, body strength, and quick hands he is basically pick-and-roll proof. Not only is Obasohan hard to screen in the first place, but he's also as good as it gets when it comes to picking pockets before the screen even happens. And once he has that steal, good luck catching him in the open court.
Wing/Forward - Chris Johnson
Again, we haven't followed a strict definition of positions here but honestly, we could put Chris Johnson in for any position. Basketball fans and journalists love to talk about those unicorn defenders that can guard positions one through five. Well, Chris Johnson actually guards positions one through five.
He's top five defensively for players with more than 50 possessions at 0.64 points per play conceded, and also top five guarding the post and spot-up shooters. To make the point, the video below starts with him playing goalkeeper and blocking a Center at the rim. In the second clip, he's guarding the post and again, blocking a shot against D.J Kennedy, one of the league's best post-up forwards. Then finally you will see him matched up against one of the league's quickest guards in Tarik Phillip. Johnson not only stays in front but also, you guessed it, blocks his shot.
Big - Michale Kyser
Finally, we come to the anchor of our all-defense team. The entire VEF Riga squad has been full of revelations this season and none more so than Michale Kyser. The American big man is enjoying his best season in Europe and for every ounce, he has in talent, he is matching it with heart and motor. That isn't to say Kyser isn't talented. At 6'9" (2.06m) with a legit wingspan, bounce, and the foot speed to switch and stay in front of guards, the former Louisiana Tech senior is looking like the perfect modern big that runs the floor, guards ball screens, catches lobs and blocks shots.
Of all the skills in that list, the shot-blocking is the one that should be in bold letters. No layup is safe. Time after time this season we have seen players drive to the cup against VEF Riga and think they have enough space to get their shot off, and time after time we have seen Kyser extend out an arm like Inspector Gadget and swat the ball into Row Z.
Always Read the Credits
The following also received votes and were unlucky not to make the five; Dylan Ennis, Evgenii Baburin, Yunus Sonsirma, Tarik Phillip, Artis Ate, Sasu Salin, Tony Taylor, DeAndre Lansdowne, Jack Devecchi, Tyrus McGee, Anthony Clemmons, Tre McClean, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Jeremy Simmons, Ishmail Wainwright, Jordan Sakho, Marcus Slaughter, Miro Bilan, and Ousman Krubally.
We'd like to end with a huge thanks to all the players and coaches that took the time to participate. If we name them all then we run the risk of teammates asking each other why they never got a vote :) You all know who you are.
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