05 October, 2021
15 May, 2022
Defenders - The BCL Defensive Player of the Year
Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider
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Defenders - The BCL Defensive Player of the Year

MIES (Switzerland) - If we had an official award for Defensive Player of the Year in the BCL, who would win it? That is the question we try to answer every year with the BCL Insider Column. Whilst nobody will actually get named as the best defender in the BCL, we put together a list of five players that make up our “First Team All-Defense” as a way to honor the guys that are prepared to get down and do the dirty work on the defensive end - even if they don’t expect to get rewarded. 

How it Works

We believe it makes sense that the perfect people to judge the best defenders in the league are the ones 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. After that, we count the votes in total for each player and also by position. Now, the position part is where it can get a bit foggy. If we ended up with a situation where a player that can play or, more importantly, guard multiple positions had more votes than the highest vote-getter in a different position, the player with the most votes always gets in. As it happens with the best defensive players, the ability to guard multiple positions always seems to correlate with votes from their peers anyway, so the decision is almost always a simple one.

Guard - Alberto Diaz (Unicaja)

Unicaja are comfortably the best-ranked team defensively in the BCL. In fact, if they maintain their Defensive Rating of 96.5 points conceded per 100 possessions, it will be the best defensive season in the BCL since UCAM Murcia in the 18/19 season. Alberto Diaz is clearly a huge part of that which was reflected in the fact that he received votes from teams that haven’t even played Unicaja yet this season.

One area that Unicaja are especially strong is transition defense. According to Synergy, they allow just 0.74 points per play (PPP) in transition, which ranks them first in the league. When it comes to transition defense, Alberto Diaz is a one-man, full-court press. From a make or a dead ball he’s instantly switched on and terrorizing the opposition point guard and even from a miss you can be sure nobody is crossing half-court unmolested.

In terms of individual defensive stats, Diaz’ other strength is guarding the ball in the pick-and-roll. He allows just 0.54 PPP when guarding a scoring attempt from the ball handler. Above all, however, he just has great instincts as a defender and his energy for sniffing out opportunities on the defensive end is incessant. The clip below is another steal in transition and again results in another quick possession for Unicaja and two more points. Granted it was a mistake by Dijon but you need to be there to take advantage of those mistakes and when it comes to defense, Diaz just has that uncanny habit of always being there.


Guard - Justin Simon (MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg)

Justin Simon is listed as a guard but if you can define with any confidence the position he plays (especially on defense), please send your answers in on a postcard. He’s listed at 6’6” (1.96m) but he’s just as comfortable picking up a point guard as he is a center. There aren’t many 6’6” players that lead any league in Europe for shot-blocking but that is exactly what he’s doing. He averages 1.8 blocks per game which is first in the league and has a block percentage of 7.8 which is second. John Patrick’s small-ball defense this year needed rim protection from multiple positions and in Justin Simon they got it. Even more importantly, this gives us another opportunity to enjoy one of the greatest blocks you will see, anywhere. 

There also isn’t a lot of players that offer that kind of rim protection but also guard the ball in the pick-and-roll at an elite level but thanks to his never-ending wingspan and rapid footspeed, Simon will not only make it really difficult for opposing guards to create advantages in the pick-and-roll, even if he does end up behind the ball, he is still able to recover and make a play when other players would have already given up the ghost.


Forward - Chris Johnson (Hapoel U-Net Holon)

It’s no secret now that Chris Johnson is one of the best defenders on the continent. He was in our all-defense team last season and will almost certainly be a top vote-getter every season he’s here. Johnson, like Alberto Diaz, received votes from players and coaches outside his Regular Season group. It tells you everything you need to know that he ranks first in the BCL for defending the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll (0.3 PPP) and also third when it comes to defending the post (0.4 PPP).

It doesn’t end there either. He also leads the league in Defensive Win Shares at 0.55 and ranks second amongst power forwards for steals at 1.38 per game. They say no man is an island but when it comes to defense Chris Johnson breaks that rule. It must be such a luxury as a coach to know that you have a player that you can leave 1v1 on an island with pretty much any player in the league.


Forward - Kaiser Gates (Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem)

Last year Gates’ teammate Retin Obasohan was taking this spot in the all-defense team. So it should speak volumes that this year Gates gets in thanks to a vote that pushed him over the edge from none other than Retin Obasohan. Like pretty much every player on the list, Gates can have an impact on pretty much every area of the floor on defense. In the clip below we see him start on D’Angelo Harrison who is one of the very best 1v1 offensive players in the league. Then to make life even more challenging Harrison dumps the ball off to Miro Bilan who is one of the best finishers around the rim in the BCL. Gates handled both players and ended up blocking Bilan’s shot.

Whilst we are on the topic of blocks, Gates blocks 0.7 per game which ranks him fourth amongst small forwards. Jerusalem don’t just use him as a small forward, though. He has regularly been able to fill in at the five and plenty of guards have made the mistake of thinking that they were getting easy looks at the rim, only to find their shot completely erased.


Forward - Chima Moneke (Baxi Manresa)

Last but not least we come to Chima Moneke. If you don’t enjoy the energy that Chima Moneke expends playing the game of basketball then I suggest you take up watching Garden Bowls or Curling (edit: Curling and Bowls are actually very underrated sports to watch but you get the point). Not all players are wired to play for a coach like Pedro Martinez but it’s pretty clear that Moneke’s relentless energy is a perfect match.

When you combine that energy with athleticism and great hands, what you get is a defensive play-making monster. The two clips below are perfect representations of that. Especially the second clip. Most players would like to swipe and knock the ball loose but Moneke has that kind of mentality where he’s looking to rip it out of people’s hands. And it’s not just in the BCL that he’s this aggressive either.

An often-overlooked skill on the defensive end is the dark arts of trash talk and psychological warfare. According to Ismael Bako the reason Moneke got his vote for this very reason.

"In our team, I would say Chima because he's a real physical player and gets in the opponent's head," Bako said.

We didn’t need another excuse to share the two blocks in the video below again but if you look closely at the end of the clip maybe we can see a little bit of what Mr. Bako was talking about.


Honorable Mentions

Guard - Dogus Ozdemiroglu (Darussafaka). 

Guard - Goksenin Koksal (Galatasaray Nef)

Guard - Retin Obasohan (Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem)

Center - Ike Udanoh (SIG Strasbourg)

Center - Ismael Bako (Baxi Manresa)

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon is a basketball coach and analyst living in Madrid. Constantly digging in the crates of box scores and clicking through hours of game footage. Diccon is on the hunt for the stories within the stories. If you like to get a closer look at what’s going in the Basketball Champions League, you have found it.