The votes for the end of season awards have been cast and all we can do now is try to predict who’s going to run away with the NBA Defensive Player of Year award this season. The race for the D.P.O.Y. award this year has been very unexpected. First, 2X D.P.O.Y. Kawhi Leonard missed almost the entire regular season. Then, reigning D.P.O.Y. Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors chose to switch their priorities this season. All this has lead to the emergence of some new NBA defensive players you couldn’t have guessed just a season ago.
1. Joel Embiid
It was entirely clear from his rookie year that Embiid has what it takes to become a versatile big man in the NBA. He could post up, drain three balls, block shots and basically anything you want a rookie to do on the floor. This year, he increased his ceiling even more by becoming the best defenders in the paint and leading the Sixers to the 4th best defensive rating in the NBA.
In 63 games this season, Embiid had averages of 23 points, 11 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while leading Philadelphia to the 3rd best record in the eastern conference. Embiid’s presence on the floor ensures that the Sixers always have an edge on the other team on both ends. He’s so young and offensively talented that he most probably won’t get the D.P.O.Y honors but he sure makes a fun defensive mixtape.
2. Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert might be the only player in the NBA who’s wins games for his team from the defensive end. He is the anchor for the best defense in the league in Utah. Utah Jazz just made it to the playoffs with a home court advantage and a 48-34 record. That would not have been possible without Rudy Gobert. Jazz started the season 18-26 without Gobert and finished the season 30-8 with Gobert. That’s an awful lot of differential.
Above everything else, it is Gobert’s ability to do everything that his team needs from him. Whether its setting brick wall screens or getting a stop in crunch time, Gobert does it all. The Utah Jazz were able to keep their opponents restricted to below 100 points per game for the entire season. What’s scary is that he’s only played 56 games this season and yet he’s the most popular pick for the D.P.O.Y. If it helps his case, there is nobody who is that dominant defensively to break his case this year. He should be able to run away with it this year.
3. Anthony Davis
There’s a lot that Anthony Davis has had to do this season. First it was adjusting to play alongside another superstar big man DeMarcus Cousins. Then it was helping his team to the playoffs in the absence of Boogie Cousins. Now, Anthony Davis has always been known for his defense but this season his defense has finally led to fruition i.e. The Playoffs.
Anthony Davis has averaged 28 points (top 2), 11 rebounds (top 5) and 2.6 blocks (league high) per game this season. He had to fill in for Cousins when he went down with an injury. The New Orleans Pelicans don’t really depend on their offense and defense for winning games. They do whatever they can to win games and Anthony Davis has done exactly that and led them to a 48-34 record. He can defend switch to smaller, quicker guards and secure stops. Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough credit for his defense and it’s time to flip the status quo.