Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, the NBA’s top linebacker, believes he is Defensive Player of the Year. So does Mikal Bridges, the Phoenix Suns’ fourth-year wing and the franchise’s NBA All-Defensive front-runner.
However, based on the history of the award, it’s unlikely that one of the league’s top defensive backstops will win it.
Of the 39 times awarded Defensive Player of the Year since its inception during the 1982-83 season, a single point defender has won it: Hall of Famer Gary Payton, in 1996, topped the league with 2, 9 steals per game.
The shooting defenders have won it five more times, but none since Michael Jordan in 1988, as that position claimed the award five of the first six years it was awarded.
Centers have won the colossal award 25 times, while three paint patrol powerhouses – Kevin Garnett, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green – have received the honor. Tiny forward Kawhi Leonard won the award in 2015 and 2016, but he and Ron Artest in 2004 are the only non-big men to win the award in the past 25 years.
Those stats don’t sit well with a player like Smart, who feels the league, instead of honoring the best defensive player, rewards the best. Kind of defensive players.
“I don’t take anything from the adults,” Smart told ESPN. “An important part of the game is protecting the paint. However, as guardians, we can do more than before. [our man] to paint. … Compete number 3, compete to pull people, make sure he will not reach his position. “
Smart is among the nominees for this year’s award. And while Bridges are also being considered, most options – as is the case every year – are the big boys, from Antetokounmpo to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert to Memphis Grizzlies forwarding Jaren Jackson Jr to Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, to name a few.
All of that raises a few questions: Can the outfielders win Defensive Player of the Year in today’s NBA? And, more importantly, should they?
‘The most important place on the floor’
Gobert had just folded his 7-foot-1 frame into a flirting chair inside the TD Garden in Boston when his favorite topic of conversation came up.
Gobert has won Defensive Player of the Year three times over the past four seasons and if he wins a fourth, it would put him in a tie with Hall of Famers Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace the most of all time. So, naturally, his ears perked up when he was asked if the bodyguards should be considered for the league’s most prestigious defensive title.
“I think the little balls are going to impact who has the most impact on their team,” Gobert said before his Jazz face the Celtics on March 23.
“There are a lot of very good defenders, very good defenders. … Sometimes it can be hard to understand for people, but when I go into the game, I worry for the team. I think that sometimes we get too focused on each game.”
Another big man who spoke of his desire to win Defensive Player of the Year, Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, made a similar argument.
“[Centers] call out all the averages. They know what’s going on. They call out the plays and content. That’s the way it has always been, Embiid said last week.
Teams with elite centers, such as Utah and Philadelphia, do funnel players towards their player in the middle. And having an effective stopping force at the perimeter is crucial in a team’s ability to stop opponents.
The stats support that. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information and tracking Second Spectrum, 139 players have contested at least 500 shots as closest defenders this season. In that group, Gobert is second in allowable effective field goal ratio, behind Celtics center Robert Williams III, who will be absent for at least four weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Gobert is also second in goal percentage among players defending at least 200 shots, and opponents take 19.2% of their shots in the penalty area when Gobert is on the floor, a low percentage. best in the league. When he was on the bench, that percentage increased to 24.3%, ranked 19th.
Embiid, meanwhile, is the helping defender with 20.8 drives per game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information and Spectrum second, the NBA’s most; a big part of why he thinks the center is the center of the defence.
“It’s the most important position on the court, in defence,” said Embiid. “Because you see the whole floor.”
‘They’ll put someone in the butt 40’
Perimeter-area players like Smart and Bridges have the winner of the Defensive Player of the Year: Centers debate that doesn’t chase the NBA’s best scorers around the field.
It’s not that Gobert is testing the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic or the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, the all-time great 3-point shooter, for 30 or 40 minutes. That responsibility lies mainly with stoppers like Smart and Bridges.
In their mind, that was just as important as the paint patrol.
“You just have to give more love and more recognition to your ability to defend on the ball,” said Bridges. “Protecting tough guys like [James] Arrest, [Kevin Durant]Kyrie [Irving]Steph, Luka, the list goes on.
“[Award voters] must have no idea how hard it is to keep a guy in front of you and not be able to really touch him as much as they would call foul, and these guardians as well as others in the wings and perimeter to what extent. “
The bridges will know. He spends as much time defending elite wingers as anyone.
According to ESPN stats & info, Bridges ranks in the league’s top 5 in the league’s top half-court games in terms of defense with 2022.
“You must give [the defender] Credit as much as you credit them when they’re going to give someone 40 – because they can do it every night,” Bridges said.
‘Rudy can’t defend all five positions’
When Smart was informed of Gobert’s argument in favor of the big man, the 28-year-old became an all-defensive First Team in 2019 and 2020 and has been public about his desire to be seen as a top defensive player of the tournament, immediately countered.
For Smart, the best defender in the NBA needs to be versatile.
“Think about it,” Smart said. “As a keeper, especially on a team that changes a lot, especially in the No. 1 defense, you worry about every single player. And here’s the problem: When you see Defensive Player of the Year. , which means he can defend all five points.
“Nothing against Rudy, but Rudy couldn’t defend all five positions. I could defend all five positions and I did it. I did very well.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Smart has converted 409 times as a defender in front of the ball this season, the third most in the NBA. In those plays, the Celtics have allowed 0.87 points per chance in these plays – well below the league average of 0.94 points per chance.
“Look at what he’s been doing since I’ve been in the league,” Williams said of Smart last week. “Have played with him my whole career in the league. My energy is based on his defensive presence. When I see him attacking another team, I want to follow that. I want to follow that routine.
“So he got my vote, 100 percent.”
Smart also received praise from Jazz coach Quin Snyder when presented with the question of whether a circumference is likely to win an award.
Snyder, who knows Gobert’s impact on a team and has led a Utah team built on the Frenchman’s particular strengths – including having a squad full of first offensive players and the result is Gobert’s ability to wipe out subsequent mistakes — said the prize should be given to whoever had the “most consistent and effective” impact on the game.
And he said a player like Smart, while 7 inches shorter and nearly 40 pounds lighter than Gobert, is more likely to impact the game in a similar way.
“You look at [Smart’s] His strength, his size and his quickness,” Snyder said last week. He’s not a stopper, but in an ironic way he can do the ball equivalents because he’s a stopper.
“It’s almost like [Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen] Ramsey in the Super Bowl. You don’t want to throw to that side of the field. … So his versatility is really what makes him unique. “
In the end, whether Smart, Bridges or another outfielder take center and power forward to claim the Defensive Player of the Year award, or Gobert or another big man continues the tradition, that will not change the fundamental disagreement of both sides.
“As an adult,” says Gobert, “you can influence multiple players at once. As a defender, it’s harder to do that.”
“I mean, if we just look at the simple effect, [perimeter players] should definitely be in any conversation when it comes to that award. “
ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this story.
https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/33632157/marcus-smart-mikal-bridges-rudy-gobert-fueling-nba-defensive-player-year-debate Marcus Smart, Mikal Bridges, Rudy Gobert and What’s Fueling the NBA’s Best Defensive Player Debate