NBA Preview: Defensive Player of the Year

TOM REEL, STAFF / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

This is my personal favorite award. It may have something to do with the very creepy Mike Ryan song about Draymond Green from a couple seasons ago found here. But I’ve always appreciated the emphatic block or jump into the lane for the breakaway steal more than the dunk that follows. While nobody can defensively light up the crowd like Steph Curry does with his 3’s, these players get the nod as the most likely to do so.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Leonard is the reigning two-time DPOY and it’s easy to see why. Averaging 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.4 bgp last season, he is definitely helped by the Spurs culture and commitment to defense. However, with Tim Duncan retiring this offseason, Kawhi is now the face of the franchise (not named Gregg Popovich). Look for him to take that mantel and run with it. Kawhi also had a fantastic 26 PER as well, and finished tied for second in defensive win shares (5.5).

Ideal Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Probably the most versatile defender in the league, Draymond has definitely made a name for himself. Last seasons issues in the playoffs not withstanding, he is still one of the best defenders in the league and will continue to be that for the Warriors this season. Earning a 19.3 PER and averaging 9.5 rpg are impressive numbers for a guy that’s listed at 6’7” playing the 4/5 positions. However, Green’s numbers don’t reflect the presence he has on the court, as well as the effect he has on his teammates defense. I don’t know that he will be able to overshadow the Warriors offensive players, but if he can anchor their defense, he could finally breakthrough for the award.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Drummond is the centerpiece to the Pistons rebuild, and in year two of the Stan Van Gundy era, many expect them to make a leap this year. Drummond is a big reason for that. He averaged 14.8 rpg last year, and with a 24.5 total rebounding percentage, he knows where to be at all times. He was also tied with Leonard in DWS (5.5). Van Gundy has gotten the best out of a defensive center in the past (Dwight Howard) and could have another gem on his hands.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Horford has never been awarded any defensive awards in his 9 year career, and only had 4.5 DWS last season. He averaged 1.5 bpg and had a block percentage of 3.6. Now enter the Celtics. Their commitment to team defense, as well as the length and athleticism on the outside, are the reason Horford is a darkhorse for DPOY this year. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder could easily be on this list as well, but I believe if anyone on that team has a chance, it’s Horford. The DPOY award usually benefits the front court players, with acknowledgment to Kawhi.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Al Horford

Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

The biggest question is if Whiteside loses motivation now that he has his big contract. If he does, which is a very real possibility if the Heat struggle without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, then Miami will look like fools. However, if he elevates even further, and develops himself as a more pure defender, we could be dealing with something flat out terrifying. Since joining the Heat, about a season and a half worth of games, some off the bench, he is averaging 11.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg, and has a PER of 25.7. He is an exceptional athlete and if he harnesses his potential, Whiteside may walk away with the award and lead the Heat into the playoffs again.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside

My Pick: Kawhi Leonard

Louisville 24, Duke 14 Game Notes

Getty Images/Andy Lyons

I know it’s the middle of the season, but I’ve decided to start a weekly post on my thoughts of the Louisville game from that week, as well as some big picture notes.

The closest thing to Duke’s offense has to be dental surgery. Painful and slow. But, a win is a win and right now, that’s all Louisville needs to do. All the following notes are in order of the game, so it should be easy to follow along.

  • Papa John. What an asshole. Gave out free trash pizza though.

 

  • Lamar had one of the best pass fakes ever. Tucked the ball and completely sold the “I gave the ball to the running back and now I’m chillin” look after. Only the end wasn’t fooled, and unfortunately Lamar overthrew the receiver. But it was a RIDICULOUS fake.

 

  • Again, ridiculous play. Lamar’s pass to Seth Dawkins down the middle of the field was on a rope, thrown off his back foot, all while getting hit by a defender. Lamar is special, but more on that later.

 

  • Brandon Radcliffe had a great first half (and game, fumble aside). He showed great vision, power, and patience.

 

  • Duke’s defense was the first defense to really limit the offense. Clemson’s offense was forced to play with us because their defense was letting Lamar do Lamar things after the chokehold from hell.

 

  • Daww. Engagement.

 

  • Jaire Alexander continues to impress on special teams. Not entirely sure why people keep kicking to him.

 

  • If you had told me before the game that a skill position player would score an 80 yard touchdown, Jeremy Smith probably would have been the last guy on my list. Even below the backups and freshmen. The run came on a blitz, which took a lot of defenders out of it, but man, it was crazy.

 

  • This was definitely Lamar’s most inaccurate game. He was over and under throwing the receivers and struggled on a communication with a couple routes with the receivers. That being said, I thought it was his most disciplined game. He took what was given to him and didn’t make the stupid decisions many true sophomore quarterbacks make.

 

  • There were several plays that proved to me that Lamar is the most elusive man in sports. The way he gets away from defenders is something I can’t recall seeing. It’s insane.

 

  • Duke’s offensive playbook is 7 plays. Read option (always to the running back), hand off to the running back, rollout throw on third down ONLY, punt, field goal, quarterback punt, and quarterback fake punt. That’s it.

 

  • Lamar learned from the Clemson game. There was a read option where the defender came to blow him up after the handoff to the running back, and Lamar spun away from the contact. It was one of his smartest moments of the game.

 

  • We have no kicker. Where’s John Wallace when you need him?

 

  • The defense played a tremendous game. They were asked to maintain their poise and stamina while being on the field for 15 minutes longer, defending the same 3 plays all game. Huge credit to Grantham for his work with the defense.

 

  • I felt like Cutcliffe might have given the rest of the country the blueprint to beating this team. We had more talent, and that won out. But if a more talented team takes that plan, Louisville could be in trouble.

 

  • I feel bad for #31. My immediate thought went back to the 2005 Rutgers game with William Gay. It wasn’t such a black and white call as then, but it was similar. I never wish that on any kid. We got lucky.

 

Additionally, we have a handful of doomsday fans in the fanbase. “Lamar’s Heisman is gone” and “We lost all hope at the playoffs” were things that I saw online. Firstly, we played on Friday before basically everyone else. Secondly, Lamar finished with over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ask a normal quarterback if that’s a game he’d take. And lastly, as seen in the Ohio State and Clemson games, anyone can be beaten on any day. Best thing that can happen for us is for Washington to lose, Ohio State and/or Michigan to lose a game before they play at the end of the season, and if somebody could knock off Alabama that would be great.

Most importantly, and firstly, we have to win our games. NC State, you’re next.

NBA Preview: Most Improved Player

The MIP is is typically an award reserved for second year players making the adjustments learned from their first year in the league and bench players finally given the opportunity to start (sometimes a combination of both). This year is not much different, with one exception. We’ll start by looking at the exception.

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Adams is one of my favorite players in the NBA due mostly to his personality and look. He looks like a pirate and it’s fantastic. Last season he averaged 8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and had a slightly above average PER of 15.5. He made a difference in the playoffs for the Thunder and, in my opinion, cemented himself as the starting center on this team. Eyes Kanter is offensively talented, but depending on how much Russell Westbrook is relied on as the primary (and possibly only) scorer on the team, they may want to go with the defensive anchor of Adams over Kanter. If that’s the case, look for Adams to have a monster year.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Singler, Ersan Ilyasova, Steven Adams

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

Turner flashed his low post dominance last season, getting to a 15.4 PER despite only putting up 10.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Turner projects as a defensive anchor for the Pacers going into the future, and given the opportunity to start, should flourish. The presence of Al Jefferson will give Turner an experienced old head to learn from and grow his offensive abilities.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner

D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Before we go on, let me say this. All four of the players on this list are players I really enjoy watching. Russell is someone I have really high hopes for and I think that he has matured and grown a lot since the nightmare that was his rookie season. Russell averaged 13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 3.3 apg last year, but only had a 13.2 PER with 0 win shares. Advanced metrics don’t love Russell, but his growth should change things in that department.

Ideal Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Probably the most intriguing player from last seasons draft, Porzingis could be in for a big time season. Averaging 14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg and earning a PER of 17.7 in your rookie year is no small feat. The additions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the offseason have elevated expectations in an already hungry New York market. Add in Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks fans are understandably excited. Look for the Knicks to sneak back into the playoffs this year potentially.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis

My Pick: D’Angelo Russell

NBA Preview: Rookie of the Year

Well, this race got very interesting. Before Ben Simmons’ injury earlier this month, the wide belief was that he would have the award essentially locked up. He’s one of the few rookies that were expected to start right away, and his talent is undeniable. However, in the wake of his injury, that leaves a thin field of options due mostly to the fact that most of the rookies in this years class aren’t expected to start.

Regardless, there will be a Rookie of the Year awarded this season, and I have my top four most likely candidates, as well as my pick for who will win the award.

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Considered, along with Simmons, to be one of the most talented prospects in the draft, Ingram is coming off a great freshman season at Duke. He averaged 17.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 2 apg. He’s a legit threat from outside, and his long frame should at least make things difficult for opposing players. The downside for Ingram is that he’ll be starting the season behind Luol Deng to start. He could play his way into the starting lineup with the rest of the Lakers youth movement, but until that time, I wouldn’t bank on Ingram for the award.

Ideal Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov

Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves

Dunn has a similar problem as Ingram. He’ll start the season behind Ricky Rubio, but could outplay Rubio. Minnesota seems bullish on him, but if Rubio doesn’t start hitting some shots, it’s going to get a lot tougher to justify keeping him in the starting rotation. Enter Dunn. Dunn averaged 16.4 ppg and shot 37% from behind the 3 point line. He’s an NBA ready point guard that one would assume is the future at the position for the Wolves.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns

Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans

Hield will get a slight leg up on the competition to start the season due to Tyreke Evans’ knee injury. Also, the unfortunate situation with Jrue Holiday and his wife will leave the backcourt fairly inexperienced, as Langston Galloway looks to fill his role on the team until Holiday feels it’s the right time for him to return. Hield had a phenomenal senior year at Oklahoma, averaging 25 ppg and shooting 46% from 3 point range. Hield will have to adjust quickly, but if he can find the spark early, he could make enough noise to earn the trophy.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Terrance Jones, Anthony Davis

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia Sixers

By now, everyone has been tipped off to this, but Embiid is now a favorite to win the Rookie of the Year. The talent is there, it’s always been a matter of his health. He’s healthy entering the season, and if he can stay healthy, he has an excellent chance at winning the award. Embiid has looked great thus far in preseason games, and has added a 3 point shot to his skill set. He could develop into one of the best bigs in the league, and everyone has been put on notice.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid

My Pick: Joel Embiid