As players and teams across the league start to settle in on their seasons, there has been plenty to talk about. By now, the rust has been knocked off from the offseason and players are starting to show just what we can expect from them this season. In just a couple of weeks of action there has already been plenty of great defensive performances as well as highlight-reel worthy blocks and steals.
Every week during the season, we’ll keep track of the top candidates for awards. We started by taking releasing our MVP Watch and Rookie of the Year Watch. Today, we’ll look at the frontrunners for Defensive Player of the Year:
5. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks – Similar to Andrew Bogut and the Golden State Warriors, Sanders and the Bucks have made significant improvements on defense. Sanders and the Bucks have improved to fourth in the league in defensive efficiency and are fifth in the league in points allowed at 94.7 per game. Finally healthy, Sanders is back to being a force down low as he ranks fifth in the league in blocks at 2.14 a game. The story last season was the team was significantly better with Sanders on the floor versus when he’s off and now that Sanders is healthy again, he should continue to be a big difference maker for them. Sanders ranks near the top of the league in opponents’ field goal percentage less than five feet from the rim at 51 percent. To compare, last season’s DPOY Joakim Noah held opponents to 50.8 percent from the same distance.
4. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets – No defensive watch list is complete without an appearance by the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year. So far this season, Howard ranks fourth in the league with 11.5 rebounds a game and is 11th in the league with 1.83 blocks per game. Howard has contributed on both sides of the ball this season and is currently helping anchor a defense that has yet to give up 100 points in any game. While it’s hard to see Howard getting back to the defensive player he was during his run of three-straight DPOY awards, Howard will still be the guy the Rockets count on to protect the paint and haul in loose balls.
3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – Cousins is leading the surprising run of the Sacramento Kings and his presence on defense is a huge part of the Kings’ early success. Cousins has benefited from a summer with Team USA and is also carrying that success into the regular season. Cousins is averaging 11.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game through the Kings’ first seven contests and has transformed the Kings into a top-10 defensive team as a result. Perhaps the most telling stat of how important Cousins is to his team is that when he steps off of the court the team’s defensive rating drops from 92.1 to 112.9. While the season is still very young, the Kings’ success rests on how much Cousins can play each night.
2. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors – Under new head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors have remained one of the league’s best defenses. The Warriors as a team rank sixth in the league in points allowed per game and is tops in the league in defensive efficiency at 94. The Warriors’ defensive attack is led by big man Andrew Bogut, who is off to a great start after reportedly battling an illness for the first couple of games. Bogut ranks fourth in the league in blocks at 2.17 per game and is tied for sixth in rebounds with 11.2 per game. Additionally, Bogut is holding opponents to 42.6 percent shooting at the rim. After missing him against the Clippers in the playoffs due to injury, Bogut is proving just how valuable he is to his team. Had Anthony Davis not started off this season on another level, Bogut could be the front runner thus far.
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – After playing in just five games thus far, Davis has skyrocketed to the top of many statistical categories in the league. Davis is currently ranked in the top five in points (fifth), rebounds (first), steals (fifth) and blocks (first). Davis has arguably been the best player to lace it up so far this season and is making his presence felt on both sides of the ball. His long arms and elite athleticism at his position enable him to knock balls loose and rise up for the contested shot as illustrated with his 4.17 blocks per game. It’s also those long arms and athleticism that allows him to patrol the floor at will, and with a more-traditional center on the court in Omer Asik, Davis now has the luxury of roaming around more.
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers – The fact that Jordan didn’t place on any All-Defensive teams last season still leaves many wondering what exactly happened during the voting, but the fact remains that Jordan is the Clippers’ best defensive weapon. Jordan led the league in rebounding last season and finished third in blocks, but was left out of every defensive category in a survey of the league’s 30 general managers that was released prior to the start of the season. He has admitted that he was upset with the lack of recognition and seems to be using it as motivation. He is off to another good start this season, averaging 10.7 rebounds, 1.83 steals and 1.67 blocks per game for the Clippers. Jordan is the defensive anchor for the Clippers and their success on that side of the ball rests largely on how he performs.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers – Paul has been one of the most consistent defensive players in the league over the last several seasons and has picked up where he left off last year when he was named to the All-Defensive First Team. Paul ranks third in the league with 2.67 steals per game. Paul’s lateral quickness and hands enable him to be a lock-down defender against some of the league’s elite players at his position. Paul and teammate DeAndre Jordan figure to set the tone on the defensive end of the floor for the Clippers each night and early indications are the two should be in the conversation among the league’s best defensive players.
K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers – In a season that won’t feature very many wins for the 76ers, McDaniels will certainly bring some excitement to the court on a nightly basis. Watching McDaniels play this season makes it hard to believe that the former Clemson player was taken in the second round of the draft, but he has proven to be a steal thus far for the 76ers. McDaniels is making an impact on both sides of the ball and has been sneaky good on defense. Through the 76ers’ first seven games, McDaniels leads all guards in total blocks, averaging 1.71 per game. According to NBA Stats, the former ACC Defensive Player of the Year is holding opponents to 44 percent shooting at the rim, which is among the league’s best. It’ll be tough for McDaniels to get the recognition he deserves by playing in Philadelphia, but if he can keep up this pace he could be a dark horse for some end-of-the-season awards.
Check back weekly all season long as we continue to keep you up to date on the race for the 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year award!
David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled
David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.
A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.
He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.
He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.
“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”
Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.
He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.
“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”
Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.
He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.
“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”
The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.
“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”
NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next
The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.
The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.
They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.
In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.
Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.
But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.
Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.
In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.
Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.
“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”
Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.
Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.
A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.
All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.
Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.
Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.
Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.
Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.
Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.
“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”
Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.
“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”
NBA All-Star Friday Recap
Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.
NBA All-Star Celebrity Game
The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.
Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.
Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.
Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.
NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.
Quavo was named MVP.
BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game
There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.
Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.
However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.
It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.
All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.
The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.
Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.