17 October, 2023
05 May, 2024
Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider
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The BCL Mount Rushmore of defenders

MIES (Switzerland) - With the Quarter-Finals of Basketball Champions League Season 8 coming to an end on April 17, we are also approaching decision time for the end-of-season awards.

In case you missed it, you can still place your votes for the guards, forwards, and center in the 2023-24 Star Lineup. But the award we will discuss in this column is the latest addition to the individual accolades portfolio: the Defensive Player of the Year(DPOY) award.

The candidates we focus on could be sculpted into our very own Mount Rushmore of BCL defensive titans this season. 

Austin Wiley (Tofas Bursa) - Center

Like a one-man wall, Tofas Bursa are able to rely on big man Austin Wiley to do the work of many and form the last line of defense against any marauding offensive players.

The American center leads the BCL in blocks with 2.2 per game and has swatted a grand total of 33 shots so far this season. To add some context, the next name down the list is Vernon Carey Jr., with 19 blocks at a rate of 1.4 per game. 

it's not just the blocks though. Wiley is among the very best in the business at defending the most important action in modern basketball: the pick-and-roll.

The Tofas big man can cover the ball-handler and smother any attempt to drive, but he's also equally adept at positioning himself perfectly so he can recover to his man if the pass finds its way to the roller. Tofas essentially funnel as many actions as possible into Wiley and he acts like a human choke point. 

Noah Kirkwood (Telekom Baskets Bonn) - Forward 

In February, we looked at the teams with the type of defensive records required to win the BCL and Telekom Baskets Bonn were on the list. As were Unicaja and UCAM Murcia, the two teams already qualified for the Final Four in Belgrade.

Bonn have been excellent defensively all season and Noah Kirkwood has been a huge part of that. Standing at 2.01m and with Inspector Gadget-like arms, he positions himself in passing lanes and just extends his wings to envelop any loose passes in his vicinity. 

Kirkwood has recorded 24 steals so far this season, the highest total in the BCL, and he's procured them at a rate of 1.7 per game, which is the joint-second highest in the league. He also has the versatility to defend multiple positions and offer some rim protection and rebounding. 

Yorman Polas Bartolo (MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg) - Forward 

What can we say about a defensive force like Yorman Polas Bartolo? He has won the Best Defender Award in the German BBL twice already, in 2018 and 2019, and if this award had not been established in the BCL in 2022-23 for the first time, chances are he would have at least one BCL award on his mantlepiece.

Polas Bartolo is like a heat-seeking missile on defense. Once he's locked in on his target, they can't move without him present.

He will make it impossible for them to even catch the ball in the first place, and even if they manage to receive a pass they will probably wish they hadn't, the way he defends on the ball. Put simply, the Cuban small forward is amongst the most physically-imposing defensive players in the FIBA game. 

Howard Sant-Roos (UCAM Murcia) - Guard

Next on the list is another Cuban, and another player who would almost certainly have won this award already if we'd had it earlier. During the 2018-19 season in particular, when he played for AEK, Sant-Roos was almost unplayable on defense.

Sant-Roos plays defense like a fox in the henhouse. If the offense is even slightly lackadaisical with a dribble or a pass anywhere on the court, he's in there in a flash and pilfering steals and interceptions.

He has the joint-highest steal rate in the BCL, with 1.8 per game and legitimately plays 94 feet, regularly guarding people fullcourt and haranguing ball-handlers. 

Alberto Diaz (Unicaja) - Guard

Last but by no means least we have the current holder of the BCL DPOY Award, Alberto Diaz.

The Unicaja point guard is that good on defense we even thought about naming this the Alberto Diaz Award - we didn't really, but if he puts together any more defensive seasons like this, we might have to.

Spanish basketball prides itself on defense for all of the masterplans constructed by Sergio Scariolo for the national team. If you asked most Spanish basketball fans and experts who is the best defender on any given Spain roster, the answer will invariably come back the same: Alberto Diaz. 

Unicaja head coach Ibon Navarro has also built his project around defense and they have the best defensive rating in the BCL this season, conceding just 98.5 points per 100 possessions.

They have a culture of defense in Malaga and that culture starts with Alberto Diaz.

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.