In the heat of one of the most fueled NBA MVP races of the modern era, the defensive player of the year award has flown under the radar. After a dominating defensive campaign by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in which he got 89 out of the 101 DPOY votes in 2017-18, this year figures to be significantly more controversial. In deciding the DPOY the candidates had to be narrowed down to the four main contenders that have the best and most deserved chance of winning. Before deciding these four, players that should also be at least mentioned are Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, Jrue Holiday, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Draymond Green, and Paul Millsap. With that said, the four best defenders this season and the ones that have earned the most recognition in the race are Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, and Myles Turner. No other defenders have had the combined level of defensive impact, statistics, talent, and success this year. In determining who deserves the award out of those four this year we will be looking at those exact criteria while doing our analysis for each. Without further to do let’s get right into it.
Defensive On/Off -How Many Points The Opposing Team Scores When The Player Is On The Floor vs Off (Lower Number The Better).
DFG% VS FG%- How Much Better/Worse A Player Shoots Vs An Opposing Player Than Usual (Lower Number The Better).
- Rudy Gobert- Utah Jazz
1.6 Deflections Per Game
7.7 Contested Shots At The Rim
Defensive On/Off: -1.8 Per 100 Possessions (Per Cleaning The Glass)
-4.0 DFG vs FG%
Utah Jazz Defensive Rating: 105.2-2nd In The NBA
When looking at Gobert’s argument for DPOY, the most valuable argument for him is his impact. At first glance, his defensive on/off statistic doesn’t look as good as the other candidates, however, when you take a deeper dive you notice that this is a result of team’s shooting significantly better from long midrange (+5.2 %) and three pointers (+2.1% ) (Per Cleaning The Glass) when Gobert is on. Of course, with Gobert’s play coming at the rim and high post, he doesn’t have much control of these shooting splits. Furthermore, three point shooting and long mid range shooting has a huge luck effect and it’s impossible for one player to really affect distance shooting as a whole anyways. In fact, last year when the opponents distance shooting stats were closer to neutral with him on the court, his defensive on/off was -8.8 per 100 possessions. Nevermore, we are not here to talk about last year, we are here to talk about this year, and regardless, his impact has been the best out of any defensive player in the NBA. For starters, the best shot in the NBA for an offense to take by many accounts is the shot at the rim. Gobert’s post presence is so strong that when he’s on the court this shot is virtually taken away due to elite rim protecting skills. These skills are arguably league-best when looking at his footwork and his ability to defend the post anywhere and at anytime when on the court. His ability to defend shots closer to the rim than possibly any player in the NBA makes shooters have less time for decision when close to the rim. The fact that he contests the second most shots in the NBA speaks for itself. When you consider this post presence ability it’s no surprise that teams attempt 5.4 less shots at the rim per 100 possessions when Gobert is on the court (Per Cleaning The Glass). With Gobert closing lanes it’s also no surprise that teams take a significant amount more long mid-range shots which are considered to be the worst shot an offense can take. Despite all of this post success, many still question his perimeter defense. However, this questioning has become gradually less justified as Gobert has proven this year that he can guard the mid range area fairly well as shown by his nearly 1 steal per game and his ability to transition into post up defense out of the perimeter. All of this impact culminates into the Jazz having the second best defense in the NBA despite not having a boatload of defensive stalwarts on the roster, leading to Gobert showing his worth as the DPOY for the second consecutive year.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo- Milwaukee Bucks
2.1 Deflections Per Game
3.3 Contested Shots At The Rim
Defensive On/Off: -5.4 Per 100 Possessions (Per Cleaning The Glass)
-6.7 DFG% vs FG%
Milwaukee Bucks Defensive Rating: 104.9-1st in NBA
Arguably the most versatile defender in the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ability to take advantage of his athleticism and length allows him to either play the perimeter or contest shots at the rim. This shot contesting has proven to be elite as he currently allows only 52.5% of shots at the rim to go in against him. In comparison, the same stat for defensive stalwarts Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, and Myles Turner average out to be at 54%. On the perimeter, Giannis’ athleticism allows him to be switchable defensively and close out on players similar to how a guard would. His length allows him to steal and deflect balls that are within his proximity, primarily while playing a free safety type position that allows him to switch onto anyone on the court. In fact, the premise of Budenholzer’s successful defense is somewhat built off of this free safety position that Giannis plays so successfully. In this position he is mostly slotted on the opposing team’s weakest shooter that plays on the perimeter, in which allows him to both contest shots at the rim and take advantage of his perimeter defensive ability. However, with all of this defensive switch-ability and versatility, he isn’t always the player you want guarding the opposing team’s strongest threat 1 v 1. He is also often slow to the help due to a bad habit of ball watching. Needless to say, his athleticism does allow him to recover defensively in many situations. All of the positives I mentioned is a large part of why Giannis is the best defender on the best defensive team the NBA, and the reason why he has become one of the most feared defenders in the NBA.
- Myles Turner- Indiana Pacers
1.4 Deflections Per Game
7.6 Contested Shots At The Rim
Defensive On/Off: -2.2 Per 100 Possessions (Per Cleaning The Glass)
-3.0 DFG% vs FG%
Indiana Pacers Defensive Rating: 105.9-3rd in NBA
The case for Myles Turner is similar to the case for Gobert. Both’s defensive impacts are huge in clogging the lanes for opposing teams and making sure shots don’t get into the rim. Also just like Gobert, his impact numbers don’t look as good simply because teams shoot significantly better from three when he’s on the court, which he doesn’t have much control over. Turner’s defensive play was a huge reason in Indiana not falling completely off the map after Oladipo’s injury as well as their league 3rd best defensive rating. His athleticism and length makes him the front runner for the best player in the NBA at blocking shots. Additionally, Turner is more athletic and a better defender in transition and arguably in the perimeter than Gobert. In the post however, Gobert has an advantage. Turner is better at getting a shot blocked but when it comes to denying a basket the advantage must be given to Gobert. Part of this is due to the fact of Gobert’s composure and footwork at the rim, while Turner plays a more spontaneous style that is more effective in transition situations, but not as effective in post ups and overall post battles. This can be shown in the fact that Gobert allows 53.2% of the shots he contests to go into the rim while Turner allows 55.5%. Teams also drove more on Turner (1.5 times) per 100 possessions when he was on versus when he was off (Per Cleaning The Glass). However, while they shot more at the rim, they shot worse as when he was on the court, teams shot 6.5% worse at the rim (Per Cleaning The Glass). Now while I may not have him as my DPOY this year, the previous stat and his raw ability indicate that he may be the front runner for next year’s DPOY race.
- Paul George- Oklahoma City Thunder SF
3.8 Deflections Per Game
3.8 Contested Shots At The Rim
Defensive On/Off: -5.7 Per 100 Possessions (Per Cleaning The Glass)
-1.1 DFG% vs FG%
Thunder Defensive Rating (Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions): 106.4- 4th in NBA
As shown by the metrics, Paul George is extremely impactful on the defensive end of the court. With OKC missing defensive linchpin Andre Roberson throughout the whole season they have still managed to boast the fourth best defense in the NBA with Paul George as the key to their defensive identity. His aggressive play has led to many high reward situations for the Thunder including momentum shifters. His aggressive play also isn’t as risky as some may imagine due to his athletic ability to get back on defense after a failed deflection attempt. For the most part, Paul George is an extremely high IQ defender capable of making some of the greatest defensive reads. However, what has to be factored in is the fact that Paul George is able to be so aggressive with such a low risk in part due to the fact that he has two of the best post defenders in the NBA (Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams) controlling the paint for him as well as other uber athletic switchable defensive players around him (ie. Terrance Ferguson and Russell Westbrook). When surrounded by these players that can cover for him if he makes a mistake it’s easy to see why he gets so many steals and deflections. When either Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel are on the court with Paul George the Thunder defensive rating improves significantly (105.6 with Adams and George. 101.6 with Noel and George) vs when George is on the court without either of the two (107.7) (Per Cleaning The Glass). His post defense is also a bit iffy at times as he struggles against bigger defenders. His man to man perimeter defense makes up for this though as his athleticism allows him to close out any shot and stay with anybody. Overall, his statistical impact and the Thunder’s defensive success this year are the reasons for his high finish in the DPOY race.