As we approach the unveiling of the NBA Awards recipients of the 2016-’17 season, we take a look at one of the more important awards of the year; the Defensive Player award. In the past, this award was often given to the best rim-protecting big man in the league, yet as the years have passed and the game has evolved, the DPOY award is now simply being given to the best defender the league has to offer.
The 2016-’17 DPOY candidates fit perfectly into this category, as the finalists boast a two-time DPOY winner, a guy who can guard all five positions on the top team in the league, and a quick footed shot-blocking beast in the paint. One of these defensive-gurus is taking home hardware this summer, the only question is who? Lets take an in-depth look at the finalists.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: If you would have told me two years ago that Rudy Gobert would be an All-NBA Second Team player and a possible DPOY candidate four years into his career, I wouldn’t have believed you. Well here we are in 2017, and Rudy Gobert is setting this league ablaze, becoming and solidifying himself as one of the five best centers in the NBA with his stellar campaign this past season. Looking at Gobert’s all around performance in ’16-’17, he averaged career highs in almost every major statistical category; Gobert put up 14 points, 13 rebounds, nearly two assists, and 2.6 blocks a night, while shooting 66% from the field. Gobert was also able to raise his free-throw percentage from 57% to 65% this year, while maintaining his health and being ready for 81 of the Jazz’s 82 regular season games, a huge leap from only playing 61 games in 2015-’16. Focusing in on the “Stifle Tower’s” defense in ’16-’17, Gobert was astonishing; Gobert lead the league in defensive win shares (6.0), boasted the leagues third best defensive rating at 99.2, lead the league in both blocks per game as well as total blocks, and was crucial in preventing second chance points against the Jazz as Gobert finished the year fifth in defensive rebounds. A candidate for the award last year, Gobert was a different player in 2016-’17, a defensive beast that shut down offenses and anchored the Jazz on both ends of the floor, resulting in a much-needed Playoff berth for Salt Lake City. While Rudy Gobert may not yet be a household name, his dominant defensive ability will eventually get him there, making him a perennial contender for DPOY for years to come.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: The second finalist for the DPOY award is none other than Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. Green is one of the more polarizing players in todays game, you either love him or hate him, regardless of where you stand on that subject, Draymond is in fact one of the premier defenders in the NBA. In 2016-’17, Green averaged 10 points, eight rebounds, a team high seven assists, a block, and two steals. Green was Mr. do-it-all for the Warriors once again this year, but it was his improved defense that should really be recognized. This past season, Draymond Green led the league in steals, boasted the fourth highest steal percentage in the league at 3.0, held the second highest defensive rating in the NBA (99.1), and was number one in the NBA in defensive plus/minus. The Warriors also en
ded the year with the best record in the league, thanks in large part to Green’s contributions on the defensive end, a fact I think will garner the Warriors forward some votes.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: NBA fans are particularly blessed in this day and age, as we have been able to see many forms of greatness over the past few years; from the otherworldly abilities of LeBron James to the farewell of an all-time great like Kobe Bryant, we as fans of this game should feel very fortunate. Another gift brought to us by the NBA, the meteoric rise of what looks to be a possible Hall of Fame player in Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, the second best all-around player in the NBA in my opinion, had a fantastic 2016-’17 season averaging a career high 25 points a night, six rebounds, a career best three and a half assists, while shooting 48% from the field and making 88% of his free-throws, another career high. The “Claw” also maintained his reputation as lockdown defender number one in the NBA, as Leonard grabbed nearly two steals a game (was eighth in the NBA in steals as well as steal percentage), was among the top ten in the NBA in defensive rating, and contributed the sixth most defensive win shares in the Association at 4.7. Kawhi also posted a 27.62 player efficiency rating for the season, a personal best for the young forward as well as the third best in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Kawhi Leonard had a year for the ages this past season, embracing his role as go-to-guy for the Spurs while simultaneously maintaining his title of elite defender. I believe that this year, like the past two years Leonard won the award, is going to continue the trend of Kawhi being, a finalist for DPOY, and who knows, Kawhi may be taking home his third trophy come late June.
Prediction: While I expect Draymond Green to edge out the others for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, I hope voters note the tremendous impact Rudy Gobert had this season.
All stats via ESPN.com/Basketball-Reference.com
All images via Google.com