As we reach the halfway point of the season, the race for Defensive Player of the Year is winding down and conversation is heating up. Candidates from both conferences are making their case for the award that players like Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon and ‘The Glove’ Gary Payton took great pride in. While there are many players in the league who certainly display a high level of defense, these players do it in more ways than one on a night-to-night basis, demonstrating what it means to be an elite defender in the greatest basketball league in the world. So, without further adieu, here are my candidates for the 2017-18 defensive player of the year.
5.) Draymond Green:
It’s no surprise that last years winner is in consideration again the following year. Green is probably the most versatile defender on this list. He can guard 1 through 4 and some 5’s, his strength and mobility give him a huge edge compared to other forwards around the association due to the fact that he can switch onto guards in the pick-and-roll and hold his own. How many power forwards in the league can guard their match-up and still be able to switch on to some of the games most dangerous guards like Damian Lillard and James Harden without getting exposed or put on a highlight reel? That list would be incredibly short. Equally as impressive, he ranks 12th in blocks(1.5), 5th in steals among power forwards(1.3), leads the Warriors in defensive win shares for the 4th straight year, and is holding his opponents to 43% shooting on the year.
I could continue to throw a bunch of numbers at you, but we’d be here all day and we have more players to get to. By now, everyone should be aware of the of how impactful Draymond Green is on the defensive end night in and night out. He’s a player that’ll be in this conversation for years to come.
4.) Rudy Gobert:
While Gobert has missed a good chunk of the season, which will probably disqualify him from the award, what he’s done for the Utah Jazz has been nothing short of spectacular. Gobert is a player who guards all 5 positions at the same time, he can send shots flying into the 5th row, contest mid-range jumpers with his freakishly long arms, alters shots at the rim and is a low-post presence that makes players think twice about coming into his territory.
The Jazz are at their best when Gobert is dominating on defense. Since returning from injury on January 19th, the Utah Jazz are 12-2 and currently on an 11-game win streak. A large part of that is due to the lengthy arms of the Frenchman. During that span, Gobert is averaging 2.4 blocks a game and the Jazz have had the best defense in the NBA with a 100.2 defensive rating while allowing the 4th fewest amount of points per game at 101.7. On the season, Gobert is averaging 2.3 blocks a contest, but again, he’s only played 32 games so it’s a little difficult to hand him the award at this point, but nonetheless, he deserves some recognition.
3.) Kevin Durant:
By now, I’m sure we’re all aware of the season Durant has had on the defensive end. He has the 3rd most blocks on the season with 97 in total, and he’s remained in the top 5 blocked shots per game list for the entire 2017-18 season with 1.9 rejections a game. Despite his thin frame, Durant is making opponents have second thoughts about meeting him at the rim.
As a result of the superb shot blocking we’ve seen from him this season, the Warriors are the #1 shot blocking team in the NBA, averaging 7.9 a game! As the average sits right now, the Warriors as a team are 12th all-time in blocks per game, with potential to end up in the top 10. He’s also 2nd in defensive win shares on the Warriors right behind the guy we discussed earlier. If Durant can sustain this impact we’ve seen from him until the end of the season, it’ll be hard not to crown him the DPOY.
2.) Paul George:
Paul George has been a complete nightmare for opposing players this season. His on-ball defense has been remarkable and his ability to guard multiple positions makes you appreciate what he does on that end even further. He leads the league in steals per game with 2.2, and is 8th in the league in defensive win shares-3.0. Opponents have a difficult time taking care of the ball when George is in the area, he has hands on everything that comes in sight, his 4.4 deflections a night lead the NBA and forcing a league best 12.6 turnovers a game. Simply put, he’s a ball hawk.
His individual defense has also given the team a huge lift. Along with averaging the most steals as a team-9.2, the Thunder also have the 7th best defense in the NBA with a 103.9 defensive rating, they allow the 6th least amount of opponent points-103.2, and force teams into the highest number of turnovers per game-16.1. Without a doubt, Paul George has been a tenacious all-around individual and team defender, it’s no wonder he’s in the conversation for defensive player of the year and could very possibly walk away with the award when the season wraps up.
1. ) Joel Embiid:
Trust the process and the process will deliver. If there’s anyone in the NBA more deserving and fitting of the title of “Defensive Player of The Year” than any of the guys I just listed, it’s Joel Embiid. On the season, Embiid holds a defensive rating of 101.1, 4th best in the entire NBA and 2nd among centers. More importantly, opponents are shooting 43% when Embiid is the primary defender and it could be because he’s 4th in the NBA in contested two’s per game. Nothing comes easy when Embiid is on the floor.
As the rankings currently sit, the Sixers have the 2nd best defensive rating(102.6) in the East behind Boston, and 6th best overall when you compare them to all 30 other teams. The Sixers are also allowing the 3rd fewest points in the paint per game(41.4), and it’s no secret Embiid is already one of the league’s best rim protectors. Looking at the best 3-man defensive line ups, Joel Embiid is apart of 4 of the top 5 lineups, as well as the three best 2-man line ups in terms of opponent field goal percentage. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the graphic below, courtesy of NBA.com.
So there you have it, your 2017-18 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Joel ‘Trust The Process’ Embiid.