NBA Awards Rankings: Defensive Player of the Year

Mar 8, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts next to Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Up next are the contenders for the Defensive Player of the Year award. They say defense wins championships, and that sentiment makes this award coveted around the NBA.

These five candidates have had the greatest effect on the defensive end of the floor for their respective teams, and they’re all in contention for the DPOY award.

Honorable mentions for this list include Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Brook Lopez. 

No. 5 | Hassan Whiteside – Portland Trail Blazers 

Hassan Whiteside has stepped up for the Portland Trail Blazers following injuries to various members of their frontcourt. In July of 2019, Whiteside was traded to the Blazers to fill their hole at the center position with Jusuf Nurkic out for the season. While the Blazers aren’t regarded as being a top defensive team in the league, Whiteside has been able to mask many of their defensive issues.

This season, Whiteside leads the leagues in blocks with 187 and blocks per game with 3.1. It’s clear Whiteside is one of the league’s best rim protectors, making it difficult for opposing big men and guards alike to score in the paint. Along with his blocks, Whiteside prevents teams from receiving second chances to score by gobbling up defensive rebounds. He recorded the third-most defensive rebounds this season, and he averaged just over 10 defensive rebounds per game.

Whiteside has put together one of the best defensive seasons of his career for the Blazers. However, a lack of team success on the defensive side prevents Whiteside’s chance to be even higher on this list. Still, he has carried his weight and the Blazers’ defense should improve once Nurkic and Zach Collins return from their injuries.

No. 4 | Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers

Though the Philadelphia 76ers’ offense struggled throughout the season, their defense led the way and is still the key to their success. Despite Joel Embiid missing significant time to injuries and Al Horford struggling to mesh the team, Ben Simmons displayed his versatility by leading the way on both ends of the floor.

During the regular season, Simmons led the league in steals with 115 and had the highest steals per game average with 2.1. In addition, he’s third in the league in deflections per game with four.  Due to his height and athleticism, the 6-foot-10 point guard is able to guard multiple positions and be a menace on the defensive end. While the 76ers’ offensive rating is only 18th-best in the league, Simmons has boosted the defense enough to give them the sixth-best defensive rating.

Simmons clearly impacts the game on the defensive end for the 76ers. The season being suspended also gave him time to rest and heal from his injury. If Philadelphia can find an answer to their offensive problems, they’d be poised for postseason success.

No. 3 | Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Rudy Gobert’s name is once again being mentioned as one of the favorites for taking home the DPOY award. The two-time winner of this award is looking to make it three straight for his terrific defensive presence and instincts. This season, Gobert was named an All-Star for the first time in his career.

As the anchor of the defense for the Utah Jazz, Gobert has blocked 124 shots this season, the fourth-most in the NBA. Though his blocks per game average dropped during the last two seasons, Gobert has still managed to frustrate his opponents to the tune of two blocks per game. He has also collected the second-most defensive rebounds in the league with 639.

Gobert is averaging more rebounds (13.7) this season than he did in the two seasons in which he won this award. That number is a career high for the Jazz’s center, who continues to assert himself as one of the best defensive players in the game today.

While no one is counting out Gobert, the top three may be as far as he gets in this year’s voting. His individual numbers are dominant, but the Jazz’s defensive rating is down to  the 11th-best in the league. This is much lower than last season, when they had the second-highest defensive rating in the NBA and Gobert won his second DPOY Award.

No. 2 | Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

After winning 60 games last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were on pace to win even more this year. They improved thanks to their defense, though their offense took a small hit over the off-season. At the center of their success is Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the best players in the NBA today. Antetokounmpo produces at a high level on both ends of the floor, and he’s able to make life easier for the rest of the team.

This season, Antetokounmpo is averaging one block and one steal per game. This is lower than his 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per game last season, but the Bucks are exhibiting more team success on the defensive end. They have finished first in the league in defensive rating the past two seasons, though that mark fell this year.

Antetokounmpo deserves credit for the Bucks’ success, but the Bucks have been able to surround him with complimentary pieces like Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe. Antetokounmpo also leads the league in total defensive rebounds with 653 on the season. He averages 11.5 defensive rebounds per game, which limits the number of defensive possessions for the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has led the way for the Bucks defensively this season, but it appears as though he’s headed toward another second place finish in the DPOY award voting. That being said, no one would blame voters for choosing him as their winner.

No. 1 | Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers

What a difference Anthony Davis has made for the Los Angeles Lakers. Davis has been a game changer on both ends of the floor, and the effect he’s had on the Lakers’ defense has been massive. Prior to the start of the season, Davis put pressure on himself and his teammates to improve a defense that was average last season. The whole team has stepped up, and the Lakers have had one of the NBA’s best defenses this year.

Davis has shown off his versatility on the defensive end this year. He ranks third in the league in total blocks with 134 and is tied for second in blocks per game with 2.4. He also averages 1.5 steals per game and 7.1 defensive rebounds per game. Davis is even more valuable as a big man because he is able to guard multiple positions.

The Lakers finished last season with the 12th-best defensive rating, and Davis has helped them jump all the way up to having the third-best this year. This vast improvement on the defensive end has helped the team snag the first seed in the Western Conference.

When the season was suspended, Davis was in the midst of a tremendous campaign. His defensive play set the tone for the entire team. After leading the league in blocks and being named to an All-Defensive Team three times, Davis appears ready to capture his first DPOY Award.

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