In the NBA, we celebrate scoring. After all, if you have more points, you win. Perhaps defense will always be underappreciated, but if there is one organization and fan base that celebrates defense, it's the Detroit Pistons and their fans. Tonight, we celebrate defense. Ben Wallace was defense.
In the 33 years since The Defensive Player of the Year award was first awarded in 1982-83, the award has gone to 20 different recipients. Twelve players have received it once. Five players have received it twice. Dwight Howard has received it three times. But only Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Camey Wallace have received it four times.
Most people, when they think about the award, think of rebounds and blocks. As such, the award often goes to big men, with an emphasis on big. Wallace might have played near the basket, but he was no one's idea of a prototypical big man. But what he lacked in height, he made up in effort and an unshakable will. Standing at 6-feet-9, Wallace was the eighth-shortest player to ever win the award. The award has gone to players 6-foot-10 or taller in 19 of the 33 years it's been given. Wallace owns four of the other 14 years.
But just how good was his defense? It was not only great, it was the best of his era.
You could even argue that he got "robbed" in 2003-04, when Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) won the award. How? I have no clue. Looking at advanced stats, World Peace had a Defensive Win Share of 5.2. That's not bad. Last year the highest Defensive Win Share was 5.4 by DeAndre Jordan. However, in 2003-04, Wallace had a Defensive Win Share of 9.1. That is the highest Defensive Win Share for a single season since 1946-47 (as far back as Basketball-Reference.com will go).
Looking at the same year, World Peace had a Defensive Rating of 96, the lowest of his career. That isn't bad either. That would have tied him with Kawhi last year, the reigning DPOY winner. However, again, that does not compare to Wallace. Wallace had a Defensive Rating of 87 - the best in Basketball-Reference.com's database. But maybe they did not want to give the Defensive Player of the Year award to the same player for the third straight year (Dwight Howard was the first player to win the award three consecutive years).
Part of me wonders if that had ANYTHING to do with the Malice at the Palace the following November. Nah!
Now, the other four years he won the award he was the rightful choice. In 2001-02, he had the lowest Defensive Rating and highest Defensive Win Shares. The same in 2002-03. In 2005-06, his third year winning the award, he narrowly edged out Tim Duncan who had a better Defensive Rating than Wallace but a lower Defensive Win Share (Wallace was tops again). The same thing happened in 2005-06 as they were tied for Defensive Win Shares and Duncan bested Wallace in Defensive Rating by one point. But Wallace had more rebounds, more blocks, and doubled Duncan's steals (Wallace was tied for seventh in the league in steals).
As you may have heard, Wallace was miscast coming out of college as a small forward due to his height and frame. His offensive game was nothing to admire. Wallace knew that if he was going to stick in the NBA, it was going to be at the defensive end. Oh, and what a career that was.
Here's a wonderful video that the Detroit Pistons made of just how awesome he was on defense. Sit back and enjoy.