How did DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul overcome Clippers’ defensive mediocrity to make All-Defensive first team?

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All-Defensive team voters must think little of Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and the Clippers’ reserves.

That’s because DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul were voted to the All-Defensive first team despite the Clippers being roughly average defensively.

The lack of faith in the Clippers’ bench is understandable. But Griffin, Barnes and Redick are all capable defenders – not liabilities holding back Jordan and Paul. Considering the Clippers’ starters played together more than any other five-man unit this season, the Clippers’ reserves alone don’t explain the disconnect between the teams’ overall defense and Jordan’s and Paul’s accolades.

The Clippers ranked 15th in defensive rating, allowing 0.1 points fewer per 100 possessions than NBA average. They’re also the 34th team with multiple players on the All-Defensive first team.*

*Counting only players who spent the entire season with an All-Defensive teammate. Dave DeBusschere was trade mid-season to the Knicks in 1968-69, joining Walt Frazier in New York. 

Here’s how each of those 34 teams rated defensively relative to league average that year:

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Team All-Defensive first-teamers Defensive rating relative to NBA average
2015 LAC Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan -0.1
2011 BOS Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo -7
2008 SAS Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan -5.7
2007 SAS Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan -6.6
2005 SAS Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan -7.3
1998 CHI Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen -5.2
1997 CHI Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen -4.3
1996 CHI Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen -5.8
1995 SAS David Robinson, Dennis Rodman -2.9
1993 DET Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars 0.9
1993 CHI Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen -1.9
1992 DET Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars -2.9
1992 CHI Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen -3.7
1990 DET Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars -4.6
1989 DET Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars -3.1
1988 HOU Hakeem Olajuwon, Rodney McCray -2.3
1987 BOS Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale -1.5
1986 MIL Paul Pressey, Sidney Moncrief -4.5
1985 MIL Paul Pressey, Sidney Moncrief -4.3
1984 PHI Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks -3
1983 PHI Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Moses Malone -3.8
1982 PHI Bobby Jones, Caldwell Jones -3
1981 PHI Bobby Jones, Caldwell Jones -6
1978 POR Bill Walton, Lionel Hollins, Maurice Lucas -3.7
1976 BOS Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, Paul Silas -1.6
1975 BOS John Havlicek, Paul Silas -3
1974 NYK Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier -3
1974 CHI Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier -4.1
1973 NYK Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier -4.3
1973 LAL Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain -5
1972 NYK Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier -1.6
1972 LAL Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain -5.3
1971 NYK Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier -3.9
1970 NYK Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed -6.6

The only worse defensive team to get two players on the All-Defensive first team was the 1992-93 Pistons, who placed Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman despite allowing 0.9 points MORE than league average per 100 possessions.

It was Dumars’ and Rodman’s fourth straight season making the All-Defensive first team together, and Detroit defended very well the prior three. Some of the Pistons’ downturn was due to the Bad Boys aging – and that probably should have applied more to Dumars. This was his last All-Defensive selection. But Isiah Thomas declining rapidly and Terry Mills filling a larger role aren’t the fault of Rodman and Dumars.

Plus, the Pistons played at a vey slow pace. Though they ranked just 15th of 27 teams in points allowed per possession, they ranked seven in points allowed per game.

Jordan and Paul have no such explanations. The Clippers’ core isn’t moving past its prime, and they play at a reasonably fast pace. I didn’t have Paul on my All-Defensive first team, but he’s at least close. Jordan, on the other hand, didn’t stack up favorably to Rudy Gobert, Andrew Bogut, Nerlens Noel and Marc Gasol. Yet, he topped them anyway.

The best rationale I see: Doc Rivers is a heck of a campaigner.