My personal favorite of all the NBA awards, the Defensive Player Of The Year award honors the players who do the dirty work on their respective teams and go the extra mile to secure a win.
Winners of this award include some of the greatest players this game has ever seen in Dennis Rodman, Kevin Garnett, Michael Jordan, Dikembe Mutombo, and Hakeem Olajuwon. Eventually, we will be able to include Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green on that list, but for now, they haven’t yet earned their stripes. So let’s take a look at who has a chance at winning this award in the 2017-18 season:
Already a 2x winner of this award, Kawhi Leonard has quickly become the poster boy for this award. Not only is Leonard a magician on the defensive end, but he is by far the best in the league at turning defense into offense. Last season, Leonard averaged nearly two steals a game along with 0.7 blocks a game and was tasked with guarding the NBA’s best players each and every night.
Leonard even won the 2014 NBA Finals MVP due to his preposterous defense on Lebron James, the greatest basketball player on the planet today. In the past, Leonard has also led the league in steals and has been in the running for this award the past 4-5 years. It also helps that Leonard plays within the most stable organization in this league for the past decade. However, it looked as if the Spurs were going to be forced into tank mode once Tim Duncan retired before Leonard made an amazing breakthrough and proved himself as the air to the Spurs throne.
Leonard’s prowess defensively has gotten to such a high level that teams are purposely avoiding him and hoping that their other contributors can step up and give the team a win. Having Kawhi Leonard guard you has become the highest level of respect you can reach as an NBA player. Once you see that serious, straight face stare you down, you know that although you may not reach double digits that night, you are a top 30 NBA player. That kind of impact defensively is unmatched as Leonard has only been in the league for six years and could stack up to five of these awards on his way to Springfield.
Predicted Defensive Stats: 2.1 Steals Per Game, 0.9 Blocks Per Game, 4.8 Defensive Rebounds Per Game
The best rim protector in the NBA, Rudy Gobert nearly edged out Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard for this award last season. Coming in third last season for this award, Rudy Gobert will now be the focal point for both the Jazz’s offense and defensive with Gordon Hayward out of the picture. Last season, Gobert led the league in blocks, averaging 2.64 a game along with 8.9 defensive rebounds per game.
Already proven as one of the leagues best rim alterers this game has seen, Gobert has steadily been proving himself and nearly came out on top for this award last season. However, the loss of Gordon Hayward could prove costly as surely the Jazz will fall in terms of the standings which could deter the voters. But if Gobert can play great offensively and earn his first all-star appearance, it will indeed increase his chances at winning the Defensive Player Of The Year award. If Gobert does want to have a chance at winning the award, he will need to be even more efficient than last year and really carry the Jazz organization on his back.
If Gobert happens to see any sort of drop in numbers, his chances at this award will drop to below slim. However, that possibility is highly unlikely as Gobert, at age 25, is still a few years away from reaching his prime leaving him much room for improvement. So if a young star such as Gobert a momentous award such as this one to his mantle, it go would go a long way for his Hall Of Fame credentials.
Predicted Defensive Stats: 0.5 Steals Per Game, 3.0 Blocks Per Game, 9.2 Defensive Rebounds Per Game
Wildly overlooked on the defensive side of the ball, Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most athletic specimens on the planet. Standing at six foot, eleven inches, Giannis has a seven-foot, four-inch wingspan with over a twelve-foot vertical leap. These statistics just add more proof to his nickname, the “Greek Freak.” However, despite his athleticism, people still don’t see Antetokounmpo as a force on the defensive side of the ball.
Last season, Giannis averaged 1.6 steals a game to pair with 1.9 blocks and 7.0 defensive rebound. An all-around great defensive season, Giannis was put on the all-defensive second team and an All-NBA team as well. However, his presence was still overlooked and many don’t see any possible way he prevails as the front-runner for this award. But if the Bucks continue to develop their young talent, and Giannis continues to take the next steps in his development, it will be hard for the voters to leave him off of the short list.
Now I’m not saying he is for sure going to win it, as he will be facing players such as Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and Rudy Gobert, who are seen as some of the best defenders of all time. But Giannis does have two “X” factors in his favor. For one thing, he is a foreign player which means he will get the overwhelming support from his country which does influence the voters. And two, he is an offensive superstar, and let’s face it if two players have nearly identical defensive numbers, voters are far more likely to pick the one who is considered a superstar and dominates both sides of the ball. However, with that said, only time can tell which defensive power, can sustain their excellence for another full year.
Predicted Defensive Stats: 1.9 Steals Per Game, 2.2 Blocks Per Game, 7.3 Defensive Rebounds Per Game
Other Notable Players: Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Patrick Beverly, Andre Roberson