There are a lot of factors when determining the Defensive Player of the Year and not all of them totally make sense. Like rebounding. I’m not saying big men shouldn’t be included in the award, but if all you can do is block shots and rebound, that doesn’t necessarily make you a plus defender (see: Hassan Whiteside). But these things factor in regardless, so it’s not really up to me. If I were in charge of the voting process, I would weigh things like deflections, steals, blocks and versatility over other factors, but here we are. So looking at this seasons DPOY candidates, you’ll see more versatile defenders, as well as a big men.
1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Yes, it’s boring to pick the same players for the awards every year. But Draymond is the glue in Golden State and before Kevin Durant got into town, I believe he was was the best player on the Warriors overall. He can guard any position, has active hands in passing lanes and is a great communicator. Green could have won this award six times in a row and I would still be arguing he should win it this season.
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi was (obviously) asked to do more on the offensive end for the Spurs last year and that led to a drop in his advanced defensive statistics. His usage rate went up by more than 5 percentage points but he lost almost a full defensive win share, as well as his steal and block percentages lowering. I say all this to say that Kawhi is still an elite level defender, but he may be sacrificing his defensive numbers and awards for MVP’s and championships. Not a bad trade off if you ask me.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Allow me to go stat nerd for a minute. Giannis finished last season seventh in block percentage, sixteenth in defensive rating, ninth in defensive win shares and fourth in defensive box plus/minus. All that while being just outside the top 20 in usage rate. Why does that matter? The only players above him in usage while also being consistently listed in the top 20 of those other categories are Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. That’s it. Thats next level shit. As I said in my MVP preview, Giannis is headed for superstardom, and the DPOY could be his bridge to that.
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
As noted above, Westbrook is an extremely underrated defender. The production he puts out on the offensive end combined with his defensive metrics lead me to confirm what most people have been saying for awhile. He is a cyborg, sent here to determine how many minutes and how much effort can be exerted by an NBA player before people get truly suspicious. We aren’t there yet though, because as far as I know, they haven’t started testing him for these things.
5. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Ah yes, our resident block and rebound specialist. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gobert. But I can’t unsee Steph Curry putting him into a literal washer and turning the spin cycle on high. I mean Rudy literally looks like he was dancing or on ice skates. Or both. I digress…
That play doesn’t stop Gobert from being the best shot blocker in the league and an amazing rebounder. With Gordon Hayward moving on to Boston, look for Gobert to take the definitive leader role and try to take Utah back to the playoffs.
Signed: Raymond Felton, Joffrey Lauvergne, Patrick Patterson
Resigned: Nick Collison, Jerami Grant, Andre Roberson
Received in Trade: Paul George
Drafted: Terrance Ferguson
Free Agents: Norris Cole, Taj Gibson
Traded: Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis
Projected Starting Lineup
- Russell Westbrook
- Andre Roberson
- Paul George
- Patrick Patterson
- Steven Adams
Photo: Mark D. Smith, USA TODAY Sports
In the final award preview post, we’re going to take a look at the the MVP race. I have a somewhat controversial list, as Steph Curry is not on it. After winning it the past two years, unanimously last season, I think there’s 0% chance the voters give it to him again. Adding Durant will pull votes from him anyway, and I just don’t see any way that Steph gets it.
That being said, there are definitely some familiar names on here, all for different reasons. Let’s check it out.
Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
You have to put the best player in the league on the list. Period. Lebron may have been coasting a bit last year, but that may not be the case this season. He was angry that Steph won it last season, and it showed in the Finals. If Lebron feels like making the point definitive, he could play in 72 games, try every night and get the Cavs to the best record in the league, even over the looming Golden State team. Conversely, Lebron could see the big picture and choose to rest his body for another shot at Golden State in the playoffs. Ultimately, I see Lebron as the big picture guy, however keyed in Lebron is bar none the best player in the league.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
And looking at Lebron from the opposite coast is Kevin Durant. While I think there’s no chance Steph wins it, I do think he pulls some votes from Durant. So, there’s only one scenario where Durant has a shot. If he can lead Golden State to another record-breaking season (upper 70’s in wins) and average the numbers he did last season in Oklahoma City (28.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5 apg) then I can see the voters being compelled to give it to him. Before the preseason, I didn’t know how likely this was. However, after watching the flow and chemistry on the court already for the Warriors, I think it’s definitely on the table.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
An underdog in terms of the betting odds, Harden is an intriguing option. Under the Mike D’Antoni offense, and running the point this season officially, Harden could have a monster year and bring the Rockets right along with him. Make no mistake, the Rockets won’t play any sort of defense, but they also might average 110 points per game. Harden could finish in the 30 ppg, 9 apg range and that would be enough if the Rockets get to a top seed in the West.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is going to play like a man possessed. It’s in his wiring. So let’s look at the differences between last season with Durant and the 2014-15 season without Durant.
- 2015-16: 23.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 10.4 apg, PER 27.6
- 2014-15: 28.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 8.6 apg, PER 29.1
Now, obviously the points and PER were higher without Durant, and that may be enough to warrant the award. But I think Westbrook will need a better showing both in team record and teammate stats to pull it out. He does have a better supporting cast this season than a couple years ago, but Russell will still need to prove it.
My Pick: Russell Westbrook
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