MAVNALYSIS: The Case For Marion As DPOY
Far too often, when national analysts paint their complete landscape of the league's best defenders, where they lead our eyes seems to be guided by perception, often outdated, rather than reality. This is an understandable crime that comes rarely as a product of a conscious decision to mislead the audience, but more likely from the restrictions of time.
Even the most avid of fans haven't the time to watch more than a team or two, perhaps three, closely enough to truly understand how each of its parts has been performing across an extended period of time. Instead, they rely on opinions cobbled together from brief glimpses of a team, of players. Assumptions are flown, allowed to grow broad, and gradually come to define.
This isn't an insidious process of purposeful misrepresentation, but a victim of time constraints. For fans, this is easily forgiven even if the tedium of conceived frustrations can be tiresome. Fairly or not, we expect more from national writers, commentators or analysts … and sometimes we are rewarded. Other times, local fans quickly seethe at the misconceptions bred upon misperceptions then cast about as fact.
In the case of Shawn Marion, perhaps fans of the Dallas Mavericks have grounds for complaint. Far more often than not, when top defenders are praised and when awards are handed out, Marion's presence is conspicuously lacking.
Marion himself thinks he knows what they are missing.
"I'm a competitor," Marion says. "When you're a competitor, it doesn't matter what it is, you're going to go out there and compete. I'm built a different way – I have this inner dog in me that I feel like a lot of people don't have."
Now, the Mavs PR department is doing its part, as video highlights are easy to come by ...
But there is no amount of noise that can overcome the absurdity of the fact that Marion has never been chosen as a member of any NBA All-Defensive Team is blatant.
"Yeah, yeah, I know that,'' Marion tells DB.com. "They don't really know what they're talking about, do they?''
Oddly enough, this is likely the product of the teams he has made a name for himself on, rather than the player he is. When most think of The Matrix they picture his high-flying antics with the Phoenix Suns, a team never mentioned in the same breath as any positive defensive notions.
Nationally, he slipped from the radar in Miami and Toronto, and to a lesser extent in Dallas until last year … when the championship run, in particular a matchup with the villainous Heat in The Finals, brought him to the forefront once more. Only, he was forced to share the defensive praise with a pair of well-deserving others in Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd.
Marion, the best perimeter defender on that and this Mavericks team, placed third in that popularity race through no fault of his own, simply because his story wasn't as nationally captivating as the extensive career achievements finally complete for Jason Kidd or the vocal soon-to-be-free-agent Chandler. Marion's elite defensive prowess was a given, and perhaps even taken for granted.
For an example of this we'll turn to an article by John Hollinger, not because it's Hollinger, but because he can act as an example of a generally well-respected and largely-read national voice. In his article naming Tyson Chandler as his choice for Defensive Player of the Year, he gives us the ability to view the NBA through the prism of a national perspective … not one that has watched every game Marion has played since becoming a Mav (we assume).
Hollinger names Tyson Chandler as his favorite candidate for DPOY, a choice we view as a strong one, and in this article he also provides his top three All-Defensive Teams.
So, how does Marion stack up against Chandler, the other names he mentions as his other top candidates for the award, and the three small forwards making his first, second and third All-Defensive Teams … none of which were the Matrix?
Using Synergy Sports, we looked into the numbers of the names Hollinger does include, and added a couple of our own. Included in our list are: Luol Deng, LeBron James, Grant Hill, Kevin Garnett, Andre Iguodala, Tyson Chandler, Tony Allen and Metta World Peace (partially in honor of Sunday's matchup with the Lakers, and his play in that game) … a group with an elite defensive reputation to go with two Defensive Player of the Year awards, 14 first- and 7 second-team All-Defensive Team honors.
All of these players have at least 417 defensive plays charted by Synergy, other than the 384 for Garnett. Based on individual overall points-per-possession allowed those outside of Dallas may be a bit surprised. In order, they are: Garnett (.74), Marion (.76), Iguodala and Hill (.78), Chandler (.79), Deng (.81), LeBron, Tony Allen and World Peace (.82).
Of the nine elite defensive players included on this list, Marion ranked second, far more than simply holding his ground.
When you turn to the overall field-goal percentage of those caught in the vice of these defenders, Marion once more comes up glowing as he easily leads the pack: Marion (34.3), Hill (36.3), World Peace (36.4), Tony Allen (36.5), Garnett (37.4), LeBron (37.5), Iguodala (38.0), Deng (39.1) and Chandler (40.1).
Marion only allows the opposing player to score at least one point on only 33.9 percent of possessions, again easily leading this group … LeBron comes in second at 35.2 percent.
If you're looking for turnovers, Marion causes one on 12.6 percent of plays where he is the primary defender, tying with LeBron for third among these nine. Iguodala leads the way at 12.8 percent.
Included in those overall defensive ratings are seven categories of plays: isolation, pick-and-roll ball handler (when the defender sticks with the ball handler using a pick), post-up, pick-and-roll roll man (when the defender switches on to or has the player who set the pick), spot-up, off screen (defending a player that uses a pick where the ball handler is not directly involved, think Jason Terry running off of multiple picks to find space as Kidd waits to make the pass from the top of the floor) and hand-off plays.
Of the seven categories, the Marion holds the man he is responsible for to the lowest field-goal percentage of this group in two of them, is in the top three for four, and only has one category he's not in the top four.
Basically, in every category but one, Marion is among the elite of the elite.
The one? He ranks sixth in "Spot-Up" field-goal percentage allowed, though this can be at least partially explained by the level of teammate-dependence placed on Marion, especially prevalent in the extended portions of the season played without Delonte West as well as those without Kidd … as he wanders away from his man to help, inevitably the gap between the man he is directly responsible for grows, leaving him more ground to close should they receive the pass, resulting in an easier attempt.
In contrast, when Marion's attention isn't divided, when he's chasing his man around off-the-ball picks, he allows only 0.72 points per possession (ranking second of these nine players) and holds his man to a field-goal percentage of 31.6 (first of this group).
Of the seven categories described above, when given more than ten opportunities (to remove outlier percentages obtained in minimal chances, such as success in two of three), none can match the havoc Marion causes to pick-and-roll ball handlers. Of 87 attempts, the ball handler has turned the ball over 27.6 percent of the time, or in 24 instances. This translates into Marion causing a turnover in just over one of every four times a ball handler attempts to use a pick to attack, to shake, him.
Just as he is a severe obstacle on the perimeter, Marion allows the lowest field-goal percentage of this group on post-up tries (34.1), though he ranks fifth in points per post-up possession (.74) in large part due to a high shooting-foul (and free-throw conversion) rate as he also ranks first in the percent of post-up plays he allows any score to take place.
He's as versatile as he is lethal.
"He's a big difference-maker for us," Mavs coach Carlisle says. "And he doesn't do it necessarily in a conventional way and that's one of the things that's made him a special player for us."
When you include context to these numbers, the argument in support of Marion only becomes stronger. Consider the fact that the next three best defenders on the team have all missed at least 10 games and combined to miss 48. Outside of Chandler, none of these nine defenders are relied on as heavily as Marion, who may be asked to guard Chris Paul one night, Kobe Bryant the next and Kevin Durant the next. Still, the Mavs rank seventh in points and sixth in field-goal percentage allowed per game.
Chandler and Garnett may be the best of the group at protecting the paint, but find themselves vastly outmatched a high majority of the time at the perimeter. Tony Allen may be the best perimeter defender, but is likely to be eaten alive by most power forward's with a respectable offensive game.
Marion, on the other hand, while years have drained from his once premiere athleticism, can hold his own for stretches whether he finds himself matched up at the perimeter or interior. Some of the matchups may prove less than ideal, given that Marion is "only" 6-7, but things won't come easy for those unlucky enough to find they've fallen into his crosshairs.
"I'm a basketball player," Marion says. "You put me in there and I get enough minutes at it, enough to get comfortable and know the situations, I'm good to go."
Chandler is a sound choice for Defensive Player of the Year, but the fact that Marion isn't in the conversation and continues to elude national prominence, or even consistent recognition is a testament to the fact that perceptions often lag far behind reality, or wander completely from it. The numbers falling directly in contrast to the recognition say so (again, how does he not have a single All-Defensive Team nomination in his career?) and if a championship can't change that, what will?
It's time that Marion found what he's earned. It's time the praise came not only locally, but also nationally. It's time stale perceptions cracked to reveal the truth that's swum for far too long unnoticed beneath.