About two weeks into the NBA season, there have been plenty of players who have made their mark defensively. Some of the faces have been familiar, but the others are stepping their games up.
Otto Porter Jr. is leading the league in steals per game. Rookie forwards Jonathan Isaac and O.G. Anunoby are causing opponents trouble with their length. Backups such as Kyle O’Quinn, Lucas Nogueira, and Josh Huestis have done a tremendous job making their presences felt.
It’s obviously too early to pick an actual winner for the Defensive Player of the Year award, but there are some names to keep an eye on throughout the year that have a legitimate chance at contending for it.
Here’s a list of six players who are in the picture as of now.
6) Draymond Green
The reigning Defensive Player of The Year has to be on this list, right?
Green’s impact on the Golden State Warriors on both ends is well known. His ability to get stops game-in and game-out is what makes his presence so valuable for them. If you want evidence, go back and see what happened on opening night against the Houston Rockets.
At the tail end of the third quarter, the Warriors were ahead 101-88 when Green suffered a knee strain and had to exit. Houston outscored Golden State 34-20 in the fourth and spoiled one for the home team at Oracle Arena.
It’s one of eight games, but it shows what he means to his squad. Statistically, he’s still averaging a block and a steal per game despite not having the best defensive rating early on.
5) Kevin Durant
Green has plenty of competition in defending his honor, including on his own team.
We’re all aware of how great Durant is with the ball in his hands, but in the last couple of years, he’s truly been a menace on the other side of the floor. He’s got the length and reach to pester every player he guards, which usually results in an errant pass or an ill-advised shot attempt.
Allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions, Golden State hasn’t hung their hat defensively as much as usual so far. But when Durant has been off the floor, they’ve given up a team-high 112.6 points using the same scale. Among starters, he’s the only one that statistically betters the Warriors’ overall defensive rating while on the court.
Durant ranks second in the NBA in blocks per game (2.4) and has contested the fourth-most amount of shots (107) to this point. If this keeps up, he could have another accolade to add to his collection.
4) Al-Farouq Aminu
As one of the more surprising defensively sound teams in the NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers are off to a good start. They rank ninth in defensive rating (100.3), fifth in opponent three-point field goal percentage (32.1) and fourth in opponent fast break points per game (7.7).
A vital reason for their success is the outstanding play of Aminu. With a wingspan stretching to almost seven feet and three inches, the veteran forward has length and size that bothers every player he faces. He’s able to guard one through four and that versatility is huge for Terry Stotts, especially in today’s type of league.
Through eight games, the veteran forward is averaging 1.3 blocks and nearly a steal per game. In those, Aminu is seeing over five attempts per game against him coming six feet or less—only 46.3 percent of those shots have been successful.
Without Aminu on the floor, Portland suffers significantly, allowing up 15.4 more points per 100 possessions and a team-high defensive rating of 108.9. Unfortunately for them, they’re going to have to figure out how to survive on that end without him for a couple of weeks, because he just went down with an ankle sprain.
3) Al Horford
With brand new pieces and a slew of young talent leading the charge, the Boston Celtics are one of the top defensive teams in basketball.
Collectively, Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Horford have done an excellent job of forcing their opponents to take tough shots and haven’t budged on individual challenges.
Horford has arguably been the most important piece of this puzzle. As the most experienced player of the bunch, his leadership on the floor and impact defensively is translating to the rest of the team.
Averaging close to a block and a steal per game, Horford is making an all-around difference on that end. He’s tied for the fifth-most contested shots in the NBA with 99 and has prioritized crashing the glass with more aggressiveness to make sure nobody gets extra opportunities.
Without Horford, the Celtics’ defensive rating skyrockets to 105.4 as opposed to 90 when he’s playing. The discrepancy is by far the highest on the team, which is why he deserves more credit than he’s gotten.
2) DeMarcus Cousins
It’s been a treat to watch Boogie go to work this season. Over the summer he slimmed down and worked on getting in better shape. You’re seeing the results of that in front of your very eyes.
Let’s just forget the dominance as a scoring threat and his strength as a whole. Let’s not focus on the ridiculous ball-handling skills for a man his size. Instead, how about we dive into the season he’s having as a lockdown defender?
The New Orleans Pelicans are not the best in that department. Aside from Cousins and Anthony Davis being the twin towers underneath, they don’t have much size to stop the outside threats. They run a three-guard set—in which Jrue Holiday is absolutely paramount—that is often a mismatch most opponents take advantage of.
Bigs are then forced to take the one-on-one challenge often with players that are quicker than them. Cousins has accepted that challenge and is passing the test with flying colors.
In protecting the paint, Cousins is not only contesting these shots, but he’s picking his opponents’ pockets at the same time. He’s stolen the ball 17 times, which is tied with Andre Drummond for most in the league among big men.
According to NBA.com, only 46.9 percent of attempts against Cousins in the paint are successful. Ranking among players that have seen at least 40 such shots this season, that is the lowest conversion percentage in the league. Oh, and he’s also swatted 18 of those.
In the early going, Cousins is the lone player in the NBA who is averaging two steals and two blocks per game. As far as the league’s concerned, he’s playing like an MVP candidate right now. Davis is usually the one who gets the rightful attention as a defensive threat, but currently, it’s Boogie’s world in The Big Easy.
1) Rudy Gobert
Last year was so close. It was a neck-and-neck battle with Green through the entire season for the NBA’s most prestigious award as a defender. After just missing out on the honor in 2016-17, it’s Gobert’s time to shine.
When Gordon Hayward signed with the Celtics, many believed the Utah Jazz would have trouble staying afloat in an upgraded and heavily crowded Western Conference. Losing the scoring and effort on both ends of the floor was a huge blow.
But Gobert has continued to lead this team as not only an efficient scorer inside but also as the most intimidating interior defender in the NBA. It’s no surprise considering how dominant he’s been for the past few years, but he is constantly getting better with each season.
According to Basketball-Reference, Gobert ranks first in defensive win shares (0.7) and second in the NBA in defensive box plus-minus (5.8). Among starters and players averaging over 30 minutes per game, he’s at the top of the DBPM list.
He’s denying everything in sight as per usual, leading the league in blocks with 23 in eight games. That’s the highest average (2.9 per game) in the game. Because of Gobert’s presence down low, the Jazz are allowing 37.5 points in the paint per game, which is the third-least in the league.
The 7-foot-1 Frenchman’s leadership has Utah only allowing 96.3 points per 100 possessions as a team. It’s good for the third-best defensive rating in the NBA. They’ve held their opponents to a 43.2 field goal percentage as well.
The numbers tell the story, but Gobert’s influence on this Jazz ball club goes beyond the box score. If he keeps this up—and his reputation wouldn’t indicate anything otherwise—the Jazz could be in a position to make the postseason for the second straight year.
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17
Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.
We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.
A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.
Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.
While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.
6) Joel Embiid
Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.
One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.
5) Kristaps Porzingis
Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.
4) Nikola Jokic
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.
Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.
3) Draymond Green
In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.
Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.
2) Al Horford
The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.
He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.
1) DeMarcus Cousins
Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.
Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.
The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.
Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.
Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.
Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.
That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.
Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.
Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.
“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.
“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”
In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.
What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.
From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.
There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.
So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.
Instead, he did the opposite.
“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.
“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”
Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.
Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.
Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.
Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.
I think not.
Death, taxes and the Spurs.
So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.
But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.
NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly
Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.
The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.
“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”
Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.
At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.
“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.
Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.
“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”
Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.
His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.
“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”
“Yep,” Bazemore replied.
“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”
Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.
“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”
With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.
Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.