5 Defenders - The BCL Defensive Player of the Year
MADRID (Spain) - The end of the Regular Season always sharpens the debate for end of season awards. My column last week was focused on starting the debate for Coach of the Year honors, Igor Curkovic has been updating his MVP Race all season, and as a collective of writers for the Basketball Champions League, we got together earlier in the season to layout the runners and riders for the Best Young Player award (expect this to be revisited soon). So, with all the conversations for those awards taken care of, I figured the only one left to discuss is the award for Defensive Player of the Year.
Now, of course, we don't actually have an official award for Defensive Player of the Year, so debating over who should win an award that doesn't exist is probably a bit like arguing about whether a hotdog is or isn't a sandwich, or if it would be easier to fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses - completely pointless. But pointless debates are the best ones anyway, so let's do this.
Like last season, the nominees have been chosen by players and coaches in the league, and also like last year, we have put forward five nominees in order to make an all-defensive team. We could have done a statistical analysis and gone deep into defensive win shares or defensive plus/minus but surely the best people to ask would be the guys that have to scout or play against the best defenders in the league. We also wanted to have at least one player for each position type; Guard, Forward, Big. There are some blurred lines in those positional definitions but this way we were able to include two players from each position if they received the most mentions from their peers.
Lamonte Ulmer - Guard
JDA Dijon not only led the league in steals for the second season in a row, but they also set records doing it this year. 11 steals per game is an all-time BCL best, as is a Steal Percentage of 14.7%. Based on the fact that Lamonte Ulmer is Dijon's chief thief and a league-leader himself in steals at 2.2 per game, it shouldn't really be a surprise to see monsieur Ulmer on this list. JDA Dijon concede 102 points per 100 possessions as a team, which is good for 3rd in the BCL. However, when Ulmer is on the floor Dijon only concede 94.1 points per 100. Individual Defensive Rating can be misleading for various reasons but an 8 point jump in Defensive Rating and a league-best steal count is hardly a coincidence.
The clip below is peak Lamonte Ulmer, watch how he reads the pick-and-pop and leaves his man to rotate over. The key details are how early he reacts and his angle to the attackers outside hip with his hands already up and ready to steal the pass over the top.
Lahaou Konate - Forward
Lahaou Konate as a contender for the best defensive player in the BCL should surprise no one. The Frenchman has been one of the league's most determined and versatile defenders for two seasons now. At 6'5" (1.96m) Konate can switch and guard four positions and is cerebral in the passing lanes.
I could tell you that statistically, Konate has the best individual, defensive points per possession in the league among defenders that have been directly involved in the final play of 30 possessions or more this season (only 0.47 PPP!!) but the video is much more interesting.
Yorman Polas Bartolo - Forward
"The best defender in the Basketball Champions League this year is Cuban." Somebody said.
Somebody could have made that statement last season, at the start of this season, or even right now, either way, somebody would have a high percentage chance of being factually correct. The undisputed holder, of our unofficial Defensive Player of the Year award from last year, is Howard Sant-Roos. If we did give out the award this year, it would be very hard to look past Don Bartolo of Telekom Baskets Bonn. I can honestly say I have never seen a youth team from Cuba play basketball. Even without ever watching a single minute of Cuban youth basketball, I can tell you that they must be teaching them to play defense in the tropics.
Bartolo is the reigning, two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the German BBL, which, when you think about the caliber of defenders they have in Germany, is already impressive enough. Watching Bartolo defend is even more impressive. He is a very different physical profile to his compatriot Sant-Roos but has the same ability as a defensive destroyer. The clip below is a great window into his ability to shut down an opponent by himself. Bartolo starts the clip defending Dylan Ennis. he quickly snuffs out Zaragoza's play call by blowing up the dribble handoff. Then instantly switches onto 6'11" (2.08m) Nemanja Radovic and muscles him off the ball in the post. Zaragoza currently sit third in the ACB, and look a very real Final Four contender in the BCL, they will also not quickly forget the way that Yorman Polas Bartolo played defense against them.
Marcus Slaughter - Big
Statistics only ever raise questions, they rarely answer them. In the case of Marcus Slaughter, his stats alone wouldn't be enough to include him in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. The fact is that Slaughter has a body of work and defensive skill set that will keep him these conversations as long as he is playing.
Away from this debate, on the court, Slaughter may be a step slower physically but he is still technically one of the best pick-and-roll defending bigs ever in the BCL and his mind and ability to read the game has, if anything, got quicker. Watch the two blocks in the video below, in the first clip notice how early Slaughter realized that the defensive coverage was blown. Instantly he turned to sprint to the rim, matching Rupnik step-for-step. In the second clip, he completely ignored the fact that his man was setting a "Hammer" screen on the weak side. Instead of being drawn away from helping at the rim - as the play from Anwil was designed to do - Slaughter read the ballhandler and sent it to the front row.
Moustapha Fall - Big
The last name on this list possibly requires the least explanation. Even the most casual of fans can see the impact Moustapha Fall has on the game, and more importantly the impact he has on his opponents. Coaches will tell you defense is about effort and heart but it's also about psychology. The way that Fall blocks every shot that comes his way and the aggression that he does it with, are enough for him to be a shot deterrent just by being on the court. You already know that Besiktas guards and wings will have doubled the number floaters and runners they practiced in the lead up to next week's game. None of them will be expecting to take many layups at the rim.
Here are a few of my favorite blocks from Fall this season. Check the velocity he got on the block on Holon's T.J. Cline. Even Edge's best impression of Hugo Lloris wasn't enough to keep the ball inbounds.
Zach Hankins. If this had been a deep dive about statistical analysis and video, Zach Hankins would absolutely be in this discussion. Hankins is second in the BCL for Block Percentage and individual Defensive Rating, As the anchor of the league's best defense, Hankins needs to be in this conversation for sure.
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