Poll: The BCL All-Defensive First Team
MIES (Switzerland) - The Basketball Champions League has not handed out a Defensive Player of the Year award during the first six seasons of the league (never say never, though) but, as a theoretical exercise, we conducted a straw poll amongst BCL players and coaches and combined that with a few stats and videos, to see if we could put together an All-Defensive First Team from the season so far.
Disclaimer: This selection simply reflects the results of the straw poll and is not by any means an official All-Defensive First Team
Point Guard: Alberto Diaz (Unicaja)
I am sure you are all (not) shocked that this name came up but just in case you weren't aware, Alberto Diaz is one the very best defensive players in Europe. And don't just take our word for it, his coach Ibon Navarro has built his entire defense around him. "Guys you are in a team with one of the best defenders in Europe, we have to follow him," said Navarro about Diaz.
Plays like this in the video below are the exact reason why. Not only is Diaz an unbelievable on-ball defender but his ability to read the game and see danger before it appears enables him to completely change the game.
It's not just an isolated play. Diaz makes plays like this every game and leads the entire squad with his professionalism and focus on the defensive side of the game, which is really saying something when Unicaja have other perimeter defenders like Kendrick Perry and Nihad Dedovic on the roster.
If you looked at the box score you would have no idea that he has the kind of impact on the game that he does but the fact that Diaz was the clear leader in terms of nominations from his peers (both on his team and from opposing squads) tells you everything you need to know.
Shooting Guard: Dogus Ozdemiroglu (Darussafaka Lassa)
For the second season in a row, Dogus Ozdemiroglu is leading the BCL in steals. Ozdemiroglu picks 2.4 pockets per game and has such a knack for timing that they regularly lead to easy buckets going the other way for Darussafaka.
It's not just the ball-hawking and steals either. Ozdemiroglu is amongst the very best in the BCL in two very specific situations and both give a very clear window into his IQ on the defensive end: the last four seconds of the shot clock and straight after a timeout.
In plays that he is directly involved in Darussafaka concede just 0.2 points per possession in the last four seconds of the shot clock and a meagre 0.3 points coming out of a timeout.
Small Forward: Chris Johnson (Hapoel Atsmon Holon)
Chris Johnson can legitimately guard pretty much any player in the BCL. Every year that he has played in this league, Johnson has been front and center of the conversation about the best defender in the BCL. He has that lethal combination of strength, speed, long arms, and the smarts to read what his opponent wants to do.
When you consider that Holon will almost always use Johnson to guard their opponents' best perimeter scorers at regular intervals during the game, then the fact that Johnson is yet to concede a single point during an isolation situation is really something. In fact, he's so good at defending 1v1 that it's become a deterrent and players often don't even try.
Power Forward: Akil Mitchell (AEK)
When the best pick-and-roll guards in the league pick you as the toughest defender to play against, you must be doing something right. The fact that his offense is the primary reason for his place in the conversation for overall MVP this season often distracts from his contribution on the defensive end but Mitchell has been making game-changing defensive plays all season.
Mitchell leads the league in rebounds at 9.5 per game and his combination of bounce and instinct or "nose" for the ball allows him to hoover up any wayward shot but what really sets Mitchell apart on the defensive end is his ability to switch the ball screen and stay in front of guards and wings. You will regularly see Mitchell close out to a shooter with the speed of a wing player as well.
Center: Jerry Boutsiele (Bahcesehir College)
Boutsiele is leading the league in blocks and had SEVEN(!) blocks in the decisive Game 3 of the Play-Ins for Bahcesehir Colleage to reach the Round of 16. He also had 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in that game against Filou Oostende. Absolutely one of the most dominant performances of the season to date.
When you see Boutsiele you could be forgiven for assuming that he's a pure rim protector and not one for defending a switch but if we add the bonus video below from that decisive game against Oostende, we see that not once but twice Breein Tyree attacked Boutsiele 1v1 after a switch. On both occasions, the big man was not only able to stay in front but also swat the shot away.