2016-17 NBA Awards Season: Top 10 Defensive Player Of The Year Candidates


Defensive Player Of The Year

Apr 10, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) passes the ball out against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2016-17 NBA regular season over, it’s time to review the top candidates for awards season. Here are the top 10 Defensive Player of the Year candidates.

The 2016-17 NBA regular season is over and the 2017 NBA Playoffs are already underway. But even with the postseason getting started, there’s still one thing that needs to be taken care of: NBA awards season!

Though a Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers Finals battle seems inevitable for the third straight year, basketball fans were treated to a truly exceptional regular season.

From one of the greatest MVP races ever to the year of the triple-double, there were plenty of awe-inspiring performances and juicy story lines for NBA fans to digest this season. Unfortunately, that also makes it much harder to decide between all the candidates for award season.

With the regular season over, it’s time to review the top candidates for each individual award and reveal our picks for Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP.

We’ve already covered Coach of the Year candidates, the top 10 for Rookie of the Year, the best Most Improved Player of the Year options, and the Sixth Man of the Year frontrunners, so today we’ll be moving on to the 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year Award. Here are the top 10 candidates.

Honorable Mentions:  Danny Green, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Robert Covington, Jimmy Butler, Dwight HowardAvery Bradley, Hassan Whiteside, Ricky Rubio, Marcus Smart, P.J. Tucker, Jae Crowder, Steven Adams

Defensive Player Of The Year

Dec 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) blocks the shot attempt by Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) during the second half at Verizon Center. Washington Wizards won 110-105. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo got the most attention this season for being a Most Improved Player frontrunner, for his breakout All-Star year, for leading the Milwaukee Bucks back to the playoffs despite their injury woes and for being the fifth player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals AND blocks per game.

However, his progress on the defensive end of the floor shouldn’t be lost among all those impressive feats. The Greek Freak is not only a point forward on the offensive end of the floor, but on defense as well, where he uses his length to swarm opponents no matter what position he’s guarding.

Though he’s not quite a Draymond Green, 1-5 type of defender yet, he’s getting pretty darn close at only 22 years old. From guarding wing players to switching on pick and rolls to banging down low with centers, every day Giannis grows closer to being a two-way terror.

His 41.5 Defensive Field Goal Percentage held opponents 4.8 percent below their normal efficiency, and around the basket, he was one of the NBA’s best rim protectors, limiting opponents to 51 percent on shots inside of six feet — 11.2 percent worse than they’d normally shoot, per NBA.com.

Danny Green deserves a shout-out for being the hardest omission, especially as the second-best defender on the NBA’s stingiest defense, but Giannis being the only player this season to average at least 1.9 blocks and 1.6 steals per game this year gives him the edge.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Dec 7, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) steals the ball from Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. (7) in the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

9. Patrick Beverley

With the Houston Rockets ranked 18th in defensive rating, this is probably as high as we can justify ranking Patrick Beverley. But there’s no question the Rockets are a different animal on the defensive end when Beverley is healthy and swarming opposing point guards.

Houston was only 0.8 points per 100 possessions stingier on the defensive end with Beverley on the floor, but the numbers are a bit noisy since he missed 15 games and since the team’s defense is a bit porous no matter who’s on the floor.

However, there’s no question Beverley is one of the NBA’s best defensive point guards, and he’s more than deserving of the NBA’s All-Defensive Team this year. His 1.5 steals per game ranked him in the top 20 in the league, but once again, Beverley’s impact on that end of the floor can’t quite be captured in the stat column.

From covering for James Harden‘s deficiencies to his tenacious on-ball defense at one of the league’s hardest positions to defend, Beverley is an intrinsic part of Houston’s success this season. The focus may be on the Rockets’ high-powered offense, and rightfully so, but they’ll need Beverley’s defensive contributions if they want to make a deep playoff run.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Apr 5, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Taj Gibson (22) fight for the rebound during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

8. Tony Allen

It’s too bad the Memphis Grizzlies might be missing Tony Allen for their first round playoff series against the Spurs, but even at age 35, the “Grindfather” continues to do what he does best.

Averaging 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, Allen is hardly known for his offensive contributions. But the reason he continues to find minutes for the NBA’s seventh-ranked defense is his positional versatility and eternally suffocating defense.

Allen remains the Grizzlies’ designated defensive stopper, and Mr. “FIRST TEAM ALL-DEFENSE” should at least earn Second Team honors this season.

Most people enjoy his unpredictable fast breaks and the hectic side effects that arise in a playoff series when defenses give him all the room in the world to shoot, but Tony Allen remains in the NBA because of his incredible defensive ability.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Mar 29, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center. The Clippers won 133-124. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

7. Chris Paul

Chris Paul missed 21 games this season, and because the Los Angeles Clippers only ranked 13th in defensive efficiency, it’s hard to see him coming close to anyone in the top half of this list.

But because he’s been so good/underrated for so long, and because he once again averaged 2.0 steals per game for an entire season, we have to give something of a lifetime achievement shout-out to CP3 in this category, especially since he’s never won Defensive Player of the Year despite making the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team six times.

Paul’s brilliance on the offensive end often makes it easy to overlook his year-in, year-out greatness on the defensive end, which extends far beyond his historic steal numbers. Not only can CP3 control games with his ball handling, court vision and playmaking, but he can also mitigate the production of one of the league’s most loaded positions on the defensive end.

At age 31, it’s highly unlikely Chris Paul ever seriously throws his name into the ring for DPOY, but he deserves a spot in the top 10 nonetheless.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Feb 9, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) fights for position with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Andre Roberson (21) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

6. Andre Roberson

It’s too bad Andre Roberson can’t shoot worth a damn, because casual NBA fans would absolutely know his name otherwise. Unfortunately, all people ever see are his bricked, wide open jumpers, while completely ignoring his stellar, versatile defending on the other end.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder come up, so does Russell Westbrook, his MVP case and his historic triple-double season. But what should come up next is the fact that OKC earned its 47 wins by the power of its top-10 defense, rather than its 17th-ranked offense. In that respect, Roberson is far more important to the Thunder than people realize.

Roberson, who has never made an All-Defensive team but should earn his first honors this season, also averaged 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, making him one of eight players to average those numbers. The others? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington. Pretty elite company.

Roberson’s inability to shoot undoubtedly hampers OKC’s spacing and their offensive ceiling, but his defense makes him a far more vital part of this team than people understand.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Dec 30, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) blocks a shot by New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

5. Anthony Davis

Aside from being on that elite list of players to average at least 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game,  Anthony Davis has the shot-blocking numbers you typically like to see from a leading Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

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Averaging 28.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game, there’s no question about the Brow’s place among the league’s top superstars. But he’s also slowly but surely transforming into a rock on the defensive end, where the New Orleans Pelicans improved from 28th to ninth in defensive rating compared to last year.

That’s a massive single-season leap, and though the additions of players like Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore certainly helped in that regard, AD’s progression as a future defensive anchor was a huge factor as well. It’s no coincidence he finished fifth in defensive win shares, per Basketball-Reference, and according to NBA.com, he held opponents to 6.3 percent worse shooting on shots he defended.

Davis is not a perfect defensive big, since he sometimes finds himself out of position and doesn’t post the elite rim protection numbers you’d expect. But from rebounding to steals to shot-blocking, Anthony Davis is clearly on the right track to becoming a terrifying, two-way force.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Apr 6, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) reacts after a play during their game against the Boston Celtics at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 123-116. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

4. Paul Millsap

Surprise, surprise! Paul Millsap is overlooked once again when the conversation of elite NBA players comes up, especially as it pertains to the defensive end. It doesn’t help that our top three contenders for this award are in another stratosphere, but Millsap is once again on the outside looking in.

From his positional versatility to his ability to switch on pick and rolls out on the perimeter, Millsap’s defensive contributions are as overlooked as the Atlanta Hawks ranking fourth in the NBA this season in defensive rating.

By this point, most people understand how truly underrated Millsap is in this league, though the outcry over his All-Star selection this year might indicate otherwise. However, if it weren’t for the next three players on this list, he’d deserve serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.

Dwight Howard’s arrival helped bolster Atlanta’s defense and rebounding despite Al Horford‘s departure, but once again, Millsap was the best defender on a top-five NBA defense. We need to start giving this guy more love before his prime is over.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Dec 18, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (right) steals the ball from New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (23) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

3. Kawhi Leonard

The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year is the most imposing individual wing defender this league has seen since Scottie Pippen. It’d be hard to blame people for voting for him for the third straight year by the eye test alone.

But as CBS Sports’ Matt Moore pointed out earlier in the season, the San Antonio Spurs‘ defense is much better statistically with Kawhi Leonard off the floor, mostly because opponents are content taking whichever player Kawhi is guarding away from the action and letting the rest of the team go four-on-four. That trend held up the entire season, with the Spurs’ defense being eight points per 100 possessions better when their MVP sat.

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That statistical anomaly shouldn’t be the main reason to vote for Rudy Gobert or Draymond Green over Kawhi by itself, but the Claw’s defense has taken an ever-so-slight step backward this season with his responsibilities at an all-time high on the offensive end.

Combine that with what we’ve seen from Gobert and Green, plus some voter fatigue setting in after he won the award the last two seasons, and Leonard should finish a respectable third in the Defensive Player of the Year race.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Dec 6, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) blocks a shot by Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) in the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Phoenix Suns 112-105. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

2. Rudy Gobert

The only race that’s closer than the 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year award is the four-way grand prix for MVP. There are exceedingly strong cases for both Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green, and either candidate would be 100 percent deserving.

This season saw Gobert break through not only as one of the game’s elite rim protectors (which he already was), but also as an All-NBA talent. Per Basketball-Reference, he led the league in blocks (2.6 per game), block percentage (6.4) and defensive win shares (6.0). Those numbers give him a decided edge over Draymond Green, who finished 12th in blocks (1.4 per game), 20th in block percentage (3.4) and second in defensive win shares (5.4).

The Stifle Tower was also elite on the boards, finishing fourth in rebounds (12.8 per game) and fifth in total rebounding percentage. Combine that with his third-ranked defensive rating and third-ranked Defensive Box Plus-Minus, and his case for DPOY is pretty clear.

As the NBA’s most imposing rim protector, Gobert posted a Defensive Field Goal Percentage of 43.3 percent, 4.9 percent less than opponents would normally shoot, per NBA.com. On shots inside of six feet, the French Rejection once again finished near the top of the charts, holding opponents to 49.2 percent shooting — a whopping 12.5 percent worse than they’d normally shoot.

He’s become much more effective in defending away from the basket as well, smothering ball handlers out of pick and rolls and even stepping out to defend stretch-4s and stretch-5s in a pinch.

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By nearly every statistical measure, Gobert would normally be the clear frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s the best and most impactful defender on the NBA’s fourth-ranked defense, and the Utah Jazz are 6.9 points per 100 possessions stingier with him on the floor.

But as much as Gobert is one of the league’s most intimidating rim protectors, most improved players and quite possibly the best all-around player on a 51-win Jazz team, his DPOY case falls just a bit short of Draymond’s.

Defensive Player Of The Year

April 16, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) celebrates with guard Shaun Livingston (34) against the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Trail Blazers 121-109. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

1. Draymond Green

Draymond Green is not the rebounder or shot-blocker that Rudy Gobert is. He finished 12th in blocks per game, 20th in block percentage and wasn’t even in the top-20 for rebounds per game. However, there’s more to defense than simple rebounding and block numbers, and that’s where Green’s DPOY case takes the advantage.

Though Gobert (first) finished ahead of Draymond (second) in defensive win shares, Green was second in defensive rating, just ahead of the French Rejection. If we’re sticking with basic stats, Draymond also holds a major edge in steals (2.0 per game), ranking him second in the league in that category.

Green also finished first in Defensive Box Plus-Minus, fourth in steal percentage and 20th in block percentage, while also being the only player in the NBA to average at least 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game this season. The fact that he was able to accomplish that as a 6’7″ power forward is truly impressive.

That goes double for his rim protection numbers, which actually compare favorably to even Gobert. Green held opponents to 39.9 percent shooting overall, per NBA.com, which was a 6.3 percent decrease compared to what they’d normally shoot. On shots inside of six feet, however, Green held opponents to 48.2 percent shooting — one percent better than Gobert, and a staggering 13.2 percent worse than those players would normally shoot.

Draymond also deserves praise for keeping the Golden State Warriors‘ elite defense intact when Kevin Durant missed more than a month due to injury. Despite missing their leading rebounder and shot-blocker for those 19 games, the Warriors actually ranked clamped down without him, boasting the best defensive rating in that span — mostly thanks to Green picking up the slack.

Covering for Durant’s absence, when KD was playing at an All-Defensive level this season, is no small feat. Gobert advocates could make a similar case considering how many games were missed by Utah starters due to injury, but Golden State finished the season as the NBA’s second-best defense with rim protector Andrew Bogut gone and KD missing 20 games.

The advantage there goes to Draymond, even if you ignore that he’s a force around the rim at 6’7″, compared to Gobert’s 7’1″ frame. The Warriors are 4.8 points per 100 possessions stingier with Draymond on the floor, which doesn’t come close to Utah’s 6.9-point gap with Gobert on the court, but is still significant nonetheless.

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The biggest advantage Draymond Green has in the Defensive Player of the Year race is his versatility, however. While Gobert has improved defending ball handlers in pick and roll situations, pulling him out to the perimeter can sometimes minimize his impact.

Not so with Draymond, who is capable of throwing a wrench into an offense no matter where he is on the floor. There aren’t many players in this league capable of guarding both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul on the same possession, and there are none who do so as effectively as Green.

His helpside defense is exceptional, his rim protection is jaw-dropping and his ability to guard positions 1-5 makes him the centerpiece of a defense that was stingier than Utah’s this year.

It’s been driven into the ground at this point, but because Green can guard anyone on the floor, the Dubs have the freedom to switch pick and rolls and allow their defensive ace to smother ball-handlers on the perimeter. His capacity for recovering to alter shots around the rim, pull down rebounds and ignite fast breaks all by himself is just an added bonus.

Even without factoring in his Game 1 performance that won Golden State its playoff opener (this is a regular season award, and voting for awards closed already anyway), it was just another example of what he’s been doing all season for the Dubs: winning games by making monumental plays on the defensive end in the fourth quarter.

Green is only the ninth player in NBA history to average at least 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, per Basketball-Reference. He’s the best defender on the NBA’s second-best defense, and to be perfectly honest, he should’ve won this award once already in 2014-15, when he finished with the most first place votes but lost to Kawhi Leonard because he was inexplicably left off several ballots.

Rudy Gobert is the NBA’s best shot-blocker, and as we mentioned before, he’s certainly deserving of this award. But Draymond Green’s versatility makes him impossible to plan against, and as we’ve seen too many times this season, when the Warriors need a stop late in close games, he’s usually the one who provides it. Give this man his first and long-awaited DPOY already.

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Source: Fox Sports

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