With the NBA regular season seemingly over with, due to the Covid-19 pandemic (you may have heard of it), it seems remiss of me to wait any longer before casting my votes on my imaginary NBA ballot. GIVE ME MY BALLOT, NBA! COWARDS! As well as nominating my winner, and acknowledging those in the conversation, we’ll also go back through my preseason and mid-season predictions, so we can see just how off the mark I was (which might go someway to explaining why I don’t have a ballot. Sorry for venting, NBA). Today, let’s have a look at the men who take pride in the less glamorous side of the sport and crown our NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Pre-season prediction: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
Mid-season prediction: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
In the mix: Ben Simmons, Rudy Gobert, Marcus Smart, Brook Lopez, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, Joel Embiid
As you might gather from the pre and mid season articles, the Defensive Player of the Year race has ebbed and flowed throughout the NBA season. At various times, there have been four or five players could conceivably have had their noses in front, although for all that the clear winner plainly has to be the most dominant defender on a historically stingy defensive team. But more on Giannis later.
As per usual, the DPOY field is dominated by the NBA's tall timber, with only Ben Simmons (a power forward masquerading as a point guard) and Marcus Smart (a genuine five position defensive dynamo) breaking up the cadre of centres. The single thing that those two have in common: versatility.
Simmons has been a defensive marvel all season long and has – even more so than his acclaimed teammate Embiid – emerged as the Sixers defensive leader. As good as Embiid is at protecting the rim and cleaning the glass, it's Simmons ability to slide around screens, stay in front of jitterbug guards, or bang bodies in the post that opens up so many lineup options for Coach Brett Brown. Check out the players that Simmons has guarded for the most minutes this season:
Adversaries ranging from play making guards, to bullocking wings, to sharp shooters, to genuine power forwards: basically all the types of players that Embiid can't defend. The other interesting thing to note is that all of these players are #1 options (amongst non centres) aside from Middleton; and he's a damn fine #2. Simmons was 5th in the NBA in defending the opponents #1 offensive option and the only players ahead of him are role players or defensive specialists.
His raw numbers are fantastic. Simmons leads the NBA in steals (2.1 per game), trails only Jrue Holiday in deflections with 4 per game. He's also 2nd in the league in loose ball recoveries with 1.7 per game. Simmons also passes the eye test. Watch how he slides around on ball screens and keeps his hands active in the video below.
Anthony Davis is the closest contender to Antetokounmpo for this seasons Defensive Player of the Year. His first season in Los Angeles was always going to tell us a lot about AD. In New Orleans he was The Man on – at best – middling squads. If he made a mistake, or took a few plays off, it didn't really matter. The Pelicans were not fighting for anything of great consequence. That's obviously not the case in Lakerland. Every play is analysed. Every move scrutinised. Every action judged.
To say Davis coped with the added pressure is quite the understatement. He displayed his usual excellence on offense, and proved transformative for the Lakers at the defensive end. In 2019, Los Angeles finished 13th in the league in defensive rating. This season: 3rd place.