Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.
This week, the interns discuss the player who most needed a trade before the deadline.
The 2013-14 NBA trade deadline has come and gone. In the days leading up to the deadline there were rumors about deals gaining traction, such as the Grizzlies’ pursuit of the Timberwolves’ Chase Budinger and J.J. Barea. By the deadline, small moves were made, but no blockbuster deals. However, the trade of Danny Granger for the 76ers’ Evan Turner was an unexpected and strong move by the Pacers. Upon review of the deadline, there were obvious winners and losers, but perhaps no one player could have benefited from a change of scenery more than Iman Shumpert of the Knicks.
One rumored deal involved the Clippers and the Knicks. The deal had moving parts, but the main players were Clippers’ backup point guard Darren Collison and Shumpert. It made sense. The Knicks currently rely on Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih (who had demanded a trade out of New York) at the point guard position, and the Clippers are desperately looking for depth on the wing with J.J. Redick sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, and with Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley struggling mightily.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were also rumored to be after Shumpert, though it is not clear what exactly they were offering in exchange for the Knicks guard. Shumpert’s size and tenacity on the defensive side of the ball would have bolstered the Thunder’s strong team defense, and complemented other solid individual defenders like Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka.
Neither deal went through however, and Shumpert remains in New York. Unfortunately Shumpert sprained his MCL against the Pelicans the night before the deadline, and New York wanted to include Felton in the deal, whose inclusion likely helped kill the deal. Additionally, Rivers realized that buyout players that would soon be available, and wouldn’t require surrendering solid players like Collison, or assets like a draft pick or promising rookie Reggie Bullock. Some names on that list include Danny Granger, Metta World Peace, Glen Davis and Ben Gordon. Whatever the deciding factor, Shumpert is the loser in this failed deal.
The Knicks currently stand at 21-34, the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks continue to underachieve, and even worse for the Knicks, superstar Carmelo Anthony is rumored to be considering other teams after this season. Coach Mike Woodson has been on the hot seat all season, and the team is currently in buyout negotiations with Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih. It is an uneasy situation in New York. Furthermore, Shumpert is currently lumped into a packed shooting guard/wing position with the controversial J.R. Smith, who has struggled this year after winning Sixth Man of the Year last season, and promising rookie Tim Hardaway, Jr. With Shumpert’s offensive struggles this season, and the uncertainty in New York, Shumpert would have benefited short-term and long-term from a move out West.
Shumpert has struggled offensively, averaging 6.9 points a game on 37% shooting from the field, but he continues to excel as an on-ball defender. After going scoreless against Portland earlier this month, Anthony said, “If we have to do a better job of getting him the ball in his spots, then we have to do that. I don’t think it’s just on him … Does he have to be more aggressive? I think so. But for the most part, we have to help him out in that category.” However, Shumpert’s stock has fallen to the point that New York was willing to give him up for a rental of Collison, who is solid, but has struggled as the lead point guard in both Indiana and Dallas. For reference, Mike James won the starting position from Collison in Dallas last season.
The Clippers boast the league’s third most efficient offense, but its team defense has struggled recently. Inserting Shumpert would have given Doc Rivers a young wing defender to slow down elite wing players. Shumpert is the size of a prototypical shooting guard, but is more than capable of guarding small forwards. Shumpert could have been a Tony Allen type player for the Clippers, but with a better offensive game, despite his struggles. He also plays small forward on the most efficient lineup the Knicks play, which includes Felton, Prigioni, Anthony and Tyson Chandler, which boasts an 18.8 net rating. Clearly Shumpert’s inclusion doesn’t preclude a team from being effective on offense, and the Clippers’ offense is already elite. Shumpert would have been featured as the Clippers’ elite wing defender in the playoffs and could have reestablished his reputation as a valuable player.
With the Thunder, Shumpert could have come off the bench to take over for Thabo Sefolosha and to fill in for the inexperienced Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder have enough offensive talent that Shumpert could have filled in as a wing defender, allowing Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka to carry the load on offense. Players such as Jeremy Lamb and Kendrick Perkins are asked to do only a few things well, while letting the star players carry the load. With the Knicks, Coach Woodson looks for Shumpert to do more than just defend at this point, stating in late January “he’s still playing the minutes and he’s got the freedom to play. I don’t know if he’s down on his confidence or what. But that’s something we gotta sit down and talk about here in the next couple of days, because I need Iman to not only defend, but I need him to just play all-around.” Shumpert would have been a valuable addition, and made the Thunder even more dangerous.
In fact, a trade to Thunder may have been the best scenario for Shumpert long-term. Since Harden was traded to Houston, and Kevin Martin left to Minnesota, the Thunder have relied on Sefolosha and Lamb to man the shooting guard position. Together, the two have done an adequate job at shooting guard, but it is not an area of strength for the Thunder. Shumpert could have entered the shooting guard slot, competed at a high level in the playoffs and earned himself a long-term deal to take over the position. With elite stars like Westbrook and Durant, Shumpert could have continued his strong work on defense and developed his offensive game further. This same long term opportunity may not have existed with the Clippers, who gave J.J. Redick a four-year contract this year, and who has exceeded expectations when he has been healthy this season.
Instead, Shumpert remains in New York, and will be sidelined for at least two weeks. When his MCL heals, he will return to the Knicks’ lineup and help them try to fight for a playoff spot in the East. But if last night’s loss to the Orlando Magic was any indication, the Knicks are still a long way from overcoming their poor play, and Shumpert will continue to feel the weight of a disappointed New York fan base. The Clippers will likely fill the void that Shumpert could have with a player who was bought out of his contract, perhaps Granger, World Peace or Gordon.
The Thunder will push forward with Sefolosha and Lamb as their shooting guards. Neither team needed this deal, even if it potentially was beneficial for them, but Shumpert did. After spending the first half of the season hearing his name in trade rumors, maybe now Shumpert can focus on things like getting healthy, finding his offense and working on the parts of his game that made him a fan favorite in New York. Though that might have been a much easier task in Los Angeles or Oklahoma City.
– Jesse Blancarte
On July 12th, 2013, the Boston Celtics agreed to trade Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and three future first-round picks with the option to swap first-round picks in the 2017 draft. This trade made it clear what direction Celtics GM Danny Ainge planned to take the team. The legendary franchise shipped off three players who were who were substantial pieces in the team’s most recent NBA title. Couple that with the fact that future Hall of Famer, Ray Allen, had already decided to jump ship and join the rival Miami HEAT, the Celtics were left with a roster of Rajon Rondo and a collection of journeymen veterans along with a few young players sprinkled in. The writing was on the wall; Ainge and the Celtics were looking toward the future and were willing to sacrifice their 2013-14 season under the belief that doing so would better position the team for long-term success.
With the Celtics in the early stages of a rebuild it leaves Rondo, who is coming off an injury but is in the prime of his career, in a very tough spot. For this season and the next Rondo is under contract with the Celtics, a very reasonable contract for a player of his caliber earning just under $12 million this season and just under $13 million in 2014-15. Rondo was offered a contract extension from the Celtics earlier this season but declined.
“In the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are limits on what can and can’t be done,” Ainge told CBS Boston. “Really it’s not that Rondo doesn’t want to accept an extension, but it’s just not financially smart for him to accept it right now. We didn’t think he would [sign], but we did try.”
“I like to stick to the script,” Rondo told Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe. “I don’t like change much. I wouldn’t mind staying here the rest of my career.
“Things don’t always seem to go that way, but like I said before, it’s just a business. I wouldn’t mind extending another 10 years in Boston.”
Both parties seem to be stuck in wait-and-see mode at the moment. The Celtics appear to have a tempered interest in signing Rondo long term if the price is right but the question remains, what is the right price for both sides? Rondo will more than likely be offered a max extension when he enters free agency following the 2015 season and while the Celtics would be able offer an extra year on that contract, the deciding factor will inevitably be the potential of the team.
The next few years, presuming he stays healthy, will be some of the most productive years of Rondo’s impressive career and it would be a failure for both sides if those years were wasted on team stuck in the middle of a rebuild. Of course the Celtics could turn things around quicker than expected through the draft and or free agency, but generally the process doesn’t occur overnight. There were some rumblings regarding Rondo and possible trades this week as the trade deadline came and went but after all was said and done, Rondo still remains with the Celtics. The most notable deal discussed would have sent him to the Houston Rockets, but the asking price for Rondo was just too high and in the end both sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.
It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Rondo, being signed through 2015, allows both him and the Celtics some time to weigh their decision and consider what the best course of action may be. For Rondo, who will be 29 after his current contract expires, making the most of his time left in the NBA should be priority number one. He is an exceptionally gifted point guard (averaging over 11 assists per game the last three seasons) and can be a maestro with the ball in his hands. He has proven in the past that when surrounded with a talented supporting cast he can win big games, championship games. Rondo is the type of player who could transform a playoff caliber team into a championship caliber team if the fit is right. Granted the NBA could look very different in a couple of years but it is difficult to imagine a situation in the near future where the Celtics are back competing deep into the playoffs, with or without Rondo. If Rondo has aspirations of another title run, he and the Celtics may need to part ways.
– John Zitzler
The Los Angeles Lakers made a little bit of noise at the NBA trade deadline, but it wasn’t the noise everyone expected. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, rumors were spreading like wild fire that the Lakers would trade Pau Gasol in order to rid themselves of his $19 million contract. Instead, the Lakers opted to trade off Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore.
The reasoning behind the Blake trade was justified — to save $4 million from salary and luxury tax – but trading Gasol in addition to Blake could have really helped the Lakers. Trading Jordan Hill also could’ve helped the Lakers, as it would’ve gotten them out of the luxury tax. But neither happened.
By trading Gasol, the team could have saved money and acquired some assets in the process. The longstanding rumor was that the Lakers and Phoenix Suns were discussing a Gasol deal, with the Suns interested in acquiring a proven veteran to aid in a playoff run. The Suns’ front office was content with trading one of their four first-round draft picks if it meant help for the playoffs. The Lakers would benefit in adding another first-round draft pick in addition to their own pick in this year’s talent-heavy draft.
The reported snag in the deal was the Suns were unsure how Gasol would play upon returning from an injured groin. There was also some belief that the Suns could have gambled on Gasol returning by giving up a draft pick since they have four total picks as of now. If the Suns acquired Gasol at the deadline, the team could have used the final couple of months to show Gasol what kind of team they have, essentially using a playoff run to persuade him to opt to sign a new deal there this summer when he becomes a free agent. The Suns are a team led by veteran guys like Goran Dragic and Gerald Green with younger talent like Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee. If the team holds on to their upcoming draft picks, younger guys will be brought in as well to give the team a bright outlook for the future.
For what it’s worth, Gasol returned on Friday night against the Boston Celtics and scored 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting and pulled in seven rebounds.
By dumping Gasol’s remaining salary this season, the Lakers would have gotten under the luxury tax threshold due to the $4 million that was removed by trading Blake. Moving out of the luxury tax bracket would have allowed the Lakers to become more financially flexible, which the team could use in the upcoming free agency class. It also would’ve helped the Lakers avoid the repeater tax in the future.
The Lakers seem content with letting Gasol walk in the summer if they aren’t able to re-sign him to a deal, so acquiring a draft pick would have helped the team tremendously. By not trading Gasol, the Lakers passed up on the possibility of incoming assets – which they don’t have a lot of – and are now exclusively relying on free agency to fill their roster out. While Los Angeles is undoubtedly an attractive place to play, the team is banking that Carmelo Anthony leaves money on the table in New York and guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh leave an established system just to change scenery.
– Cody Taylor
NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – May 6
With the regular season winding down, Tristan Tucker offers his latest Rookie of the Year ladder, with three outstanding freshman performances leading the pack.
With the NBA season winding down, there is limited left time for rookies to make their cases for the Rookie of the Year award. In all, three rookies are leading the charge and will likely be named the top three rookies of the season. Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the race has changed over the last few weeks.
1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous: 1)
Rookies shouldn’t be able to do what Anthony Edwards can do. Edwards is still just a teenager, but he possesses some of the best natural talent the NBA has seen. Furthermore, there aren’t many rookies that have quite seen the game-by-game improvement that Edwards has shown.
On the year, Edwards is averaging 18.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from three. But to take a look at his improvement, Edwards’ numbers before and after the All-Star break paint the picture.
Before the All-Star break, Edwards averaged 14.9 points and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from the floor and 30.2 percent from deep in 36 games. In the 30 games since then, Edwards is shooting a much better line of 44.7/35.2/75.2 and is averaging 23.7 points and 3.2 assists per game.
In his most recent 42-point outburst, which tied his career-high, Edwards broke the franchise record for most threes made in a game by a rookie. There’s a consensus in Minnesota that this won’t be the last record the rookie breaks.
Anthony Edwards tonight:
42 PTS (franchise record)
8 3PT (franchise record)
He is the first rookie in NBA history with 40+ points, 8+ threes on 75%+ shooting in a game. pic.twitter.com/NidZhAppNo
— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 6, 2021
2. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Previous: Not Ranked)
Ball’s previous “not ranked” placement wasn’t a dig at him but instead an unfortunate testament to when the league thought he was out for the season with an injury. And then, miraculously, Ball returned just in time for a likely Charlotte postseason appearance. Because of his return and ensuing excellent play, Ball is penciled into one of the top two slots to end the year.
LaMelo Ball, friends. pic.twitter.com/OqNtaxwus6
— Nuh-KY-us Duncan (@NekiasNBA) May 1, 2021
Although he likely missed too much time to be named Rookie of the Year, Ball’s first season is something to behold. On the year, Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals and is a team leader for an exciting Hornets squad. Furthermore, Ball proved to be a much better three-point shooter than most thought he would be, connecting at 37.3 percent.
Ball is still over 100 days from turning 20-years-old and he’s already one of Charlotte’s best players.
3. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings (Previous: 2)
The timing of Haliburton’s injury is unfortunate, as it quickly followed the loss of De’Aaron Fox that all but sealed Sacramento’s postseason hopes. However, Haliburton showed that the franchise has much to look forward to with his explosive and competent play.
While Haliburton had some up-and-down moments and didn’t get the starting opportunities of Ball and Edwards, he still had a fantastic year. Since his injury will likely take him out for the remainder of the regular season, Haliburton finished the year averaging 13 points per game. To go along with his fantastic scoring, Haliburton blossomed as a polished playmaker, averaging 5.3 assists per night.
In the five games he started at point guard without Fox in the rotation, Haliburton averaged a fantastic 17 points, 8.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Once they reach their respective peaks, Fox and Haliburton have the talent to hang with the best of the backcourts in the NBA.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Haliburton showed a great shooting form with fantastic results. The guard out of Iowa State shot 47.2 percent from the floor to go along with a 40.9 percent clip from three on over five attempts per game. While Haliburton isn’t likely to come away with the award, he certainly showed that several teams made mistakes in passing on him.
4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 3)
Bey won’t end up in the top three of voting for the Rookie of the Year award, but he still set his name in the record books. Bey’s been a historically good three-point shooter, currently connecting at a 37.9 percent clip from deep on 6.4 attempts per game.
The rookie out Villanova currently sits at 11th all-time for three-pointers made as a rookie, tied with Edwards, with 155. However, Bey needs just 14 more threes to jump all the way up to third all-time. With six games remaining in Detroit’s schedule, there’s even more opportunity for Bey to make history.
5. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: 4)
While there weren’t many bright spots for a Rockets season filled with turmoil, the team’s rookies and sophomores looked impressive. From Kevin Porter Jr. to Kenyon Martin Jr. to Tate, this team boasts some of the most underrated young talent in the league.
Tate in particular had an outstanding rookie season that is now likely over due to his entry into the health and safety protocols. If this truly is the end of the year for Tate, he wrapped up the year averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.
Tate is the ultimate hustle player and is a glue guy that championship contenders need to take it to the next level. Look for the Rockets to be much more competitive next season under a good coach in Stephen Silas and a potential top pick to join a talented young corps.
6. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: NR)
Like Bey, Quickley quickly became one of the best shooters in the draft class, but also offered promising guard play for a competitive Knicks squad. Because of stellar performances up and down the roster, the Knicks look likely to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13.
While Quickley stagnated a bit toward the middle and end of his rookie season, he still held down the backup guard spot for New York. On the year, Quickley is averaging 11.7 points and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 39.7 percent from downtown.
Ultimately, the Rookie of the Year race is going to come down to the wire between Edwards and Ball. For a 2020 rookie class that originally looked bleak, these rookies have vastly altered that perspective. Even though much is left to be determined for the eventual award winner, one thing is certain: the league is in good hands.
NBA Daily: Torrey Craig Relishing Role in Phoenix
The NBA trade deadline was busy as a number of high-profile players were moved. One name that went under the radar was Torrey Craig, who is making a major impact in his new home as the Phoenix Suns battle for the best record in the league.
The last time the Phoenix Suns played in a playoff game, Deandre Ayton was 11 years old. Not only is Phoenix back in the postseason, but they will also be one of the top seeds in the loaded Western Conference.
The emergence of the Suns as a championship contender may have started in the Orlando bubble last season. Chris Paul saw something he liked and has mentioned that numerous times as to why he wanted to play in Phoenix. His arrival solidified their aspirations, but this team is much more than just the future Hall-of-Fame point guard.
The pieces in Phoenix fit like a puzzle. Devin Booker is still the key player that opposing teams have at the top of their scouting report. Ayton has continued his development, which has been aided by Paul’s tutelage. Mikal Bridges has exploded onto the scene as one of the best young, two-way players in the league. Like every championship-contending team, there are valuable role players that fill out the roster.
Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky have been excellent additions throughout the season. Cameron Johnson continues to play a solid role and reclamation projects like Cameron Payne and Jevon Carter have given this team a much-needed boost of energy off the bench. They have made it difficult for Monty Williams to even find minutes for solid veterans such as E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway.
Jae Crowder has been one of the best offseason acquisitions in the league. He has missed the last eight games with a sprained right ankle, which has opened the door of opportunity for others. Torrey Craig has taken this opportunity and flourished.
Crowder has always played for winning teams over the course of his career, and Craig appears to be following suit. After going undrafted out of USC Upstate, he signed a two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets in the summer of 2017. That turned into a multi-year contract before he joined the Milwaukee Bucks as a free agent this past offseason. On March 18, the Bucks traded Craig to the Suns in exchange for cash and a trade exception.
James Jones trading cash for Torrey Craig has to be one of the most underrated midseason acquisitions this season.
An instant impact player from day one in Suns uniform. His hustle and energy allow him to play alongside anyone on the court, fits the way this Suns team plays.
— Cody Cunningham (@Cody_Cunningham) May 3, 2021
Denver’s defense suffered when Craig left and for whatever reason, he did not see the floor much in Milwaukee. Given ample opportunity, he seemed like he would be a perfect fit in their system. Even after battling through a groin injury and a broken nose, it just didn’t work out in Milwaukee.
Since joining the Suns, Craig is getting plenty of minutes and making the most of them. In April, he averaged more than 18 minutes per game and shot the ball with high efficiency. Not known as a great shooter, he hit 39 percent of his three-pointers and shot 51 percent overall from the floor. Against the Brooklyn Nets, he scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. On Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Craig poured in 18 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in a starting role where he went 8-10 from the floor.
Craig’s greatest strength is his defense, and he is well aware of that. One thing Phoenix has been lacking is the wing player that can defend the premier players in the league. It takes a special skill set to defend the likes of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, etc. He has the size, athleticism and the little things that can’t be taught. With Crowder out and Bridges still needing to add more muscle, Craig’s role is crystal clear.
Torrey Craig’s value: Only big wing on Suns who can size up Julius Randle. Then he switches and covers Jordan Clarkson for about 10 straight seconds.
— Kevin Zimmerman (@KZimmermanAZ) May 1, 2021
It often takes players time to get acclimated to new situations. They have new teammates and learning the ins and outs of the system can be a tough task. Meeting the demands of leaders like Paul can be tantalizing as well. To his credit, Craig has fit like a glove, doing everything asked of him and doing it well. This seemingly small transaction at the trade deadline could pay major dividends for the Suns.
Six regular-season games remain for Phoenix, who will have one of the top two seeds in the Western Conference. Playoff basketball is much different than the regular season, as the defensive temperature goes up a few notches. Game planning and defensive schemes play a large role in the outcome of playoff games, which makes Craig even more valuable.
While the Suns are capable of scoring with anyone, it is their defense that makes them elite. They currently have the second-best net rating in the league, the sixth-best defensive rating and are seventh in opponents scoring. Their team defense is incredible but individually, they have sensational defenders at every position. Phoenix currently has four players in the top 30 of Defensive RPM with Ayton and Paul both inside the top ten.
Another thing this Suns team lacks is playoff experience. Aside from Paul and Crowder, none of the players on this roster have many postseason games under their belt. Craig has played in 33 postseason games in his career and brings valuable experience to this young team. With his improved shooting, he is another weapon that Monty Williams can use in these high-pressure games.
Craig wasn’t drafted when he finished his college career. He played overseas for three years, waiting on his next opportunity. He joined the G-League and finally got called up to help the Nuggets. In his first career game, Denver put him on Jrue Holiday in the closing seconds of the game. Craig blocked his potential game-winning shot and Denver won the game in overtime.
Sometimes it takes people more time to notice the blessings they have been given. Phoenix is fully cognizant of the player they have in Craig. Monty knows, Paul and Booker know and, soon, the rest of the league will realize just how good he is.
It’s been a long journey for Craig, but he could reach the top of the mountain very soon. The Suns have some big plans, and he is a key part of them.
NBA AM: Defensive Player Of The Year Watch
Rudy Gobert would appear to be the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year. But should he be? A few players have made it quite the interesting race — and Dylan Thayer lays out exactly who.
The postseason is almost here as the NBA regular season winds down to its last couple of weeks. At this point, it is obvious to tell whether a team is going to make the playoffs or head for an appearance in the NBA draft lottery. What hasn’t been obvious thus far though is who is going to win the MVP award, but it looks to be between Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid. The DPotY award has been one that most could agree belongs to Rudy Gobert for the season he is having. The official site of the NBA however does not agree with this notion. Anyways, let’s jump right into our eighth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Watch for Basketball Insiders!
1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Previous: 1)
It’s too late to displace Rudy Gobert from this position in these rankings because his season has been that good. While the Utah Jazz are destined to finish amongst the top of the Western Conference, Gobert will also finish at the top of this award’s final tally, even if he somehow isn’t the winner. Without the center from France, the Jazz defense would be out of sorts, as just his presence around the rim is enough to ward off the opposing offense. Just ask the Spurs.
This is why Rudy Gobert is the DPOY. pic.twitter.com/5A6omPhAwV
— Slam Studios (@SlamStudios) May 4, 2021
And while he did get completely crossed out of his shoes by Devin Booker recently, it is a season-long award, so don’t hold that against him. For the majority of the season, he has held firm in key defensive stats such as defensive rating, defensive win shares and blocks per game. He ranks second in all three categories, per NBA Advanced Stats 𑁋 101.4 defensive rating, 0.181 defensive win shares and 2.8 blocks per game. These are key indicators that he has been having a monster season, along with the Jazz being one of the best teams in the league. As things continue to unfold, expect Gobert to come out of the season as the DPotY.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 2)
The seven-foot-three center for the Philadelphia 76ers has had a memorable season under Doc Rivers. The hiring of the new coach made a big impact on the Sixers’ future and helped Embiid take his game to even higher levels. The Sixers have looked like a title contender throughout the season, thanks to great defense from their two stars. Embiid holding down the paint and Simmons being a pest on and off the ball around the perimeter. His defensive rating is fifth among qualified starters with a rating of 105.6, to go along with 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. Averaging more than a block and steal per game puts Embiid in elite company defensively, as P.J. Washington and Bam Adebayo are the only other centers putting up similar numbers. Embiid should be a finalist for this award for the impact and effect he leaves on the defensive end of the floor for the Sixers every game.
3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: N/A)
Simmons has been severely disrespected on this list many times, so now is the time to give him the recognition he deserves. As the number two offensive option for the Sixers, the defensive end is a different story, as Simmons brings a lot of energy to the defensive unit. Statistics aside, he has been a complete machine on defense wreaking havoc on his opponents. Whether it’s sending a Charlie Brown three flying into the stands or picking off an inbound pass intended for Coby White and taking it to the basket to ice the game, he has been having one of the best defensive seasons across the NBA. The advanced stats back up the claim as he ranks fifth in defensive win shares with 0.142. He’s also third in the league in steals per game with 1.7 per game to go along with 0.6 blocks per game. His play on defense has raised eyebrows everywhere, and he should be in the running for the DPotY award.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 27, 2021
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: 5)
The Greek Freak has been having another historical season, even though he hasn’t gotten the credit he truly deserves. This happens when you have insane statistical seasons the past few years though, some people stop paying attention. Antetokounmpo should be recognized for the impact he has on winning for the Milwaukee Bucks, especially on the defensive end. Antetokounmpo averages 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game at the power forward position and is always someone opposing players have to think about when they’re on offense. He also ranks seventh in defensive win shares (0.139) and eighth in defensive rating (106.3), so the advanced metrics also show just how valuable he is to have. While he may not win the award this year, even though he is the reigning DPotY, he should still be in the conversation as one of the game’s elite defenders.
5. Jimmy Butler, Miami HEAT (Previous: Honorable Mention)
The leader of the Miami HEAT has been having another phenomenal season on defense as the HEAT gear up for the playoff run. He has been a thief on defense as he leads the league in steals with 2.1 per game. Butler is so quick to display his elite defensive IQ as he is always there to jump the passing lane or attack a ballhandler at his vulnerable dribbling moments. Butler also ranks in the top 10 in defensive win shares with 0.138. It is clear that with him, Bam Adebayo, and the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo, that the HEAT are going to be a defensive nightmare for opposing teams this postseason.
Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Utah Jazz (Previous: 4)
The game tape doesn’t jump off the screen to represent Conley’s case for the award, but as the season comes to an end, it is clear that Conley has played a huge role on the Jazz defense. Opposing teams not only have to worry about the Stifle Tower in the middle of the Jazz defense, but they also have to worry about the pesky point guard looking to steal the ball at any moment. Conley’s season has been remarkable as his improved play has been a catalyst of the improved play out of Utah. The advanced statistics give Conley a big lift and vaulted him into these rankings, as they are just too hard to ignore when he’s been at the top all season. Conley leads the league in both defensive rating (99.9) and defensive win shares (0.181), as well as the 1.4 steals per game he posts for the season.
The running for the DPotY is coming to an end. It looks like the center for the Utah Jazz, Gobert, is going to be the winner, but anything is possible. The Simmons for DPotY movement has begun to make waves on Twitter, so maybe he comes up and wins the award. It is the NBA and nothing is completely assured, so don’t be surprised if the winner isn’t who you thought it would be. Here’s to another great NBA regular season despite all of the obstacles that were faced during the pandemic. Stay tuned for the next edition of the rankings!