(Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s no secret that Lebron James is looking for a change of scenery this summer. Lebron has a strenuous relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It’s rumored that he has been touring prep schools in Los Angeles and Philadelphia for his kids to attend. While the Sixers and the Lakers would be great destinations for the King, I’ve been wondering where the best place for Lebron to go would be.
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.
After Russell Westbrook averaged a triple double last season, this MVP race may seem tame in comparison, but I think we’re in for a changing-of-the-guard season from the superstars in the league. The Lebron-era stars are starting their turn toward the end of the their careers and there is some serious talent coming up from the younger players. I think there will be a lot of familiar faces this season, but we’ll start to see some of the younger players sneaking into the conversation. Also, I think given the controversy, if you want to call it that, surrounding last years vote, and with the addition of Paul George to the team, Russell Westbrook has almost no shot at winning the award this year. He’s not on my list. So without further ado…
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
The runner-up to last seasons award is coming for blood. Or as much blood as someone who scored 10 points, had 7 assists and 6 turnovers in an elimination game in the playoffs can go for. Despite that, Harden is the best player on a team that should at least challenge the Warriors for the best record in the league, and that’s saying something. He got decently close to a triple double average himself last season, and with Chris Paul able to feed him more and Harden trying to run the offense full-time, he should get plenty of opportunities to score in bunches. Harden is my pre-season favorite to win the award next season.
2. Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
I get it. He’s 32, going on 33 this season, with a lot of miles on his body that not even an Instagram video can prepare you for. He’s feuding (or not) with Kyrie Irving and his camp, he’s probably already got eyes for Los Angeles, etc.
But the thing to always remember with Lebron is, he is the best player to ever play the game, and when he gets irritated, he can prove any point he wants on the court. He’s already thinking about Los Angeles? I’d argue he’s gunning for one final “fuck you” to Dan Gilbert on his way out. He’s going to be 33 this season? He’s also an alien and a player with the durability and stamina of which we’ve NEVER seen in the NBA.
So keep talking all that shit about Lebron being on the downside of his career. He’ll prove you wrong.
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Durant showed what he was capable of in the postseason for the Warriors. I don’t care if he doesn’t like the Slim Reaper nickname, it is the most accurate name for him. He went full Reaper to close the Cavaliers out in the finals and he should continue to dominate as he hits the prime of his prime. The MVP award isn’t just about composite numbers necessarily, it’s also about the flair, the swagger you bring to the table and if playoff KD shows up for the regular season, it’s a wrap.
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Listen. Kawhi is 26 years old. He’s only played 6 NBA seasons. We haven’t even started peak Kawhi yet. This is ridiculous. Leonard is the glue holding San Antonio together after Tim Duncan retired two years ago, and he will need to make an even further leap (mostly offensively) if he wants to challenge the Warriors. I think Rudy Gay is going to be a difference maker for the Spurs, but if they want to challenge the Warriors out West, not only will LaMarcus Aldridge need to pull his head out of his ass, but Kawhi will have to go to an otherworldly level.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I’ve been on the Greek Freak bandwagon almost since he came into the league, so this isn’t a totally unbiased selection, but this offseason, most of the talk around the 22 year old hasn’t been about IF he would win an MVP, but how MANY MVP’s he would win. Giannis is one of the NBA unicorns, and while I don’t think he will win it this season, if he starts hitting his jumper and the Bucks make a surprise run to the top of the Eastern Conference, he could bring home the hardware.
Signed: Rudy gay
Resigned: Pau Gasol, Patty Mills
Drafted: Derrick White, Jaron Blossomgame
Free Agents: Joel Anthony, Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee, Jonathan Simmons
Projected Starting Lineup
- Dejounte Murray
- Danny Green
- Kawhi Leonard
- Lamarcus Aldridge
- Pau Gasol
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