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NBA Power Rankings – 12/23/16

Even without Blake Griffin, the Clippers are surging while the Wizards appear to be finding their way.

Moke Hamilton

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We have officially arrived at the first flagpole of the NBA season – Christmas!

Based on how things have shaken out thus far, you can bet your bottom dollar that a few of your favorite NBA superstars are wishing for a few things from jolly old Saint Nicholas.

The Golden State Warriors, it would seem, are wishing for someone to challenge them and their team’s amazing efficiency and selfless basketball. Aside from turning JaVale McGee back into an NBA player, the ball sharing we have seen from the club has been beautiful.

On the other hand, the Brooklyn Nets are probably hoping that Santa brings them back their 2017 first round draft pick. That pick is heading to the Boston Celtics in a pick exchange that dates back to the trade that saw Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce get sent to Brooklyn back in 2013. And the Nets have been terrible.

The New York Knicks are wishing for Derrick Rose to stay on the court (the team is 15-9 with him in the lineup), while the Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to rediscover the mojo that they had closer to the beginning of the season.

And us? We’re simply wishing you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season. Enjoy the Christmas Day hoops!

 



stockdown4530. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 8-21, Last Week: 26)

By virtue of the tiebreaker, the Suns have overtaken the Mavs as the worst team in the Western Conference, so congratulations are in order. The most juicy tidbit related to the Suns? Of their eight wins, only one of them came against a team that currently has a winning record, and that would be the Knicks. We do remain certain, however, that the Sun will rise in Phoenix. Just not today.


stockdown4529. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 7-21, Last Week: 27)

Now seems a fine time to remind fans of the Nets that the Boston Celtics own the right to swap first round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft. Some scouts are calling the draft the best one over the past 10 years. So yeah.


stockup4528. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 7-21, Last Week: 29)

Sunday’s 108-107 win at the Nets gave the Sixers just their second road win of the season. Even better? Joel Embiid hung 33 points and 10 rebounds on Brook Lopez’s head. As the franchise sifts through their options as they relate to Nerlens Noel, Sixers fans can rest easy knowing that the franchise (Embiid) has arrived.


stockup4527. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 8-21, Last Week: 30)

Winners of two of their last three, the Mavs get a (temporary?) reprieve from bringing up the rear in our power rankings. The club will spend Christmas Eve in New Orleans, and we’re not sure what they’ve done to deserve such good fortune. If you live in Dallas, look at the bright side… At least the Cowboys have got a shot this season.


stockup4526. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 9-19, Last Week: 28)

Believe it or not, this past week’s wins over the Suns (Dec. 19) and Hawks (Dec. 21) marked the first time the entire season that the T-Wolves won back-to-back games. They lost a narrow decision to the Rockets back on Dec. 17, though, which means they were awfully close to carrying a four-game win streak into Christmas weekend. Perhaps Tom Thibodeau’s troops are figuring some things out.


stockdown4525. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 11-21, Last Week: 23)

It seems like so long ago the Lakers were 7-5. Amazingly, they’re just 4-16 since! They’ve lost five of the first six games on their seven-game road trip and their only win for the entire month of December came at the Sixers. The bright side? Their draft pick this season is protected for the top three picks, otherwise it goes to Philly. Can you say “conspiracy”?


stockup4524. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 10-21, Last Week: 25)

The question of the day is whether someone who is the best player on such a terrible team can be an MVP candidate. We think the answer is no, despite Anthony Davis’ 29.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. At 11 games under .500, it’s almost time to throw in the towel on this season, and maybe Alvin Gentry’s tenure in the Big Easy as well.


stockup4523. Miami Heat (Overall: 10-20, Last Week: 24)

With Pat Riley’s team entering a rebuilding phase, it came as no surprise to hear that Goran Dragic and the HEAT have decided to at least explore trade scenarios. Dragic is 30 years old and is in the prime of his career and as great as Hassan Whiteside is, he’s no Shaquille O’Neal (whose number 32 jersey was retired by the club in Thursday night’s win over the Lakers).


stockdown4522. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 12-17, Last Week: 21)

The Nuggets ruined Carmelo Anthony’s homecoming on Dec. 17, as all five starters and seven players scored double figures. Amazingly, despite being five games under .500, the Nuggets enter play on Dec. 23 in a three-way tie (with the Blazers and Kings) for eighth out West.


stockdown4521. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 13-18, Last Week: 18)

Losers of eight of their last nine, it’s fair to say that the Blazers are in the midst of a free fall. Bad went to worse with Wednesday’s 121-126 loss to the lowly Mavericks. Like the Atlanta Hawks, what began as a promising season seems to have gone up in smoke. Who would have thought they’d be battling the Kings and Nuggets for the eighth seed?


stockup4520. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 12-17, Last Week: 22)

Only the Kings could beat the Grizzlies, Blazers and Jazz but lose to the Mavericks. Winners of three of their past four (and beating some stellar competition in that stretch) is a sight for sore eyes, but unfortunately, these guys enter play on Dec. 23 still five games below .500. Somehow, with the struggles of the lower half of the conference, they remain in the playoff hunt, though.


stockdown4519. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 14-17, Last Week: 11)

Wednesday began a stretch for the Pistons that has the team playing six of eight games at home before embarking on a five-game road trip out West. The bad news? They began with the Grizzlies on Wednesday (a loss) and will see the Warriors, Cavs and Bucks. Anything less than 5-3 over the eight-game span spells trouble, as Stan’s team may very well find themselves five or six games under .500 by MLK Weekend.


stockup4518. Orlando Magic (Overall: 13-18, Last Week: 20)

Tuesday’s 136-130 double-overtime win at the HEAT saw four different players score at least 20 points and two others in double figures. They followed it up with a listless loss at the Knicks on Thursday, though. We questioned the wisdom of bringing the likes of Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton and even Jeff Green off the bench, but we should point out that the team is 7-8 with Payton as a reserve, so maybe coach Frank Vogel deserves the benefit of the doubt.


stockdown4517. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 13-14, Last Week: 13)

After suffering back-to-back losses at the hands of the champs, the Bucks are suddenly 3-6 over their last nine and begin Week 8 one game under .500. The bright side is that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are proving capable of flourishing together. The duo is combining for 45 points per game over their last 10 (and shooting better than 50 percent).


stocknochanges4516. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 14-15, Last Week: 16)

Since beginning the season at 9-2, the Hawks are just 5-13. Safe to say all that Dwight Howard wants for Christmas is an opportunity to test free agency again this summer. Okay, maybe it’s a tad soon for such a declaration, but we’ve run out of answers for these Hawks.


stockup4515. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 15-16, Last Week: 17)

Truth is, we’re almost out of words for the Pacers, too. Along with the Wizards, they are probably the most disappointing team in the Eastern Conference. The only pro is that over the past 10 games, Jeff Teague’s production has been trending upward: 17.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists. The con? They’re just 5-5. But we’ll try to stay positive. At least 5-5 is an improvement on their full season win percentage.


stocknochanges4514. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 14-14, Last Week: 14)

The Bulls have lost four of five, with the latest loss occurring at the hands of the Wizards on Dec. 21. We thought they’d be better than a .500 team, and of the team’s rotation players only Dwyane Wade’s production is trending upward over the past 10 games. In the words of George Karl, these guys are a bit of a conundrum.


stockup4513. Washington Wizards (Overall: 13-15, Last Week: 19)

Don’t look now, but all of a sudden, the Wiz kids are 7-3 over their last 10 games. Bradley Beal has scored 24.1 points per game over that stretch while the pass-first John Wall is scoring 26 (while dropping 9.6 assists). Everything these guys hope to be is on them, so perhaps Scotty Brooks is figuring things out in the nation’s capital.


stockdown4512. Utah Jazz (Overall: 18-12, Last Week: 8)

If the playoffs began today, the Jazz would be sixth in the conference and would be hosted by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Even better? We can’t say for certainty that they wouldn’t be able to push Team CP3. Utah is still first in the league in points allowed (94.9) and fourth in defensive efficiency.


stockup4511. Boston Celtics (Overall: 17-12, Last Week: 15)

Winners of four in a row, the Celts remain ahead of the Knicks out in the Atlantic, but barely. Among those wins was the Dec. 20 victory over the Grizzlies. Isaiah Thomas’ 44 points were quite impressive, but not more than his 17-for-17 shooting from the free-throw line. Despite being undersized, the little guy (on his way to another All-Star berth) isn’t afraid to mix it up. Respect due.


stockup4510. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 16-13, Last Week: 12)

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that Kemba Walker (who’s averaging a career-high 22.9 points per game) is a good player, or that Steve Clifford is a pretty good coach. The Hornets are where we expected them to be, meaning that the major question we have about these guys is whether it’s all enough to finally get Walker the All-Star nod that has eluded him.


stockup459. New York Knicks (Overall: 16-13, Last Week: 10)

Derrick Rose returned to the lineup in the Dec. 20 matchup against the Pacers and the Knicks responded with back-to-back wins. Porzingis has been great, but the team is 15-9 when Rose plays and 1-4 when he hasn’t. He’s also shooting 50 percent from the field over his last 10. Also, quick shout to Kyle O’Quinn and his 16-point, 18-rebound double-double in Thursday’s win over the Magic.


stockup458. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 17-12, Last Week: 9)

In case you’re wondering, yes, Russell Westbrook is STILL averaging a triple-double, but we would argue that none were as impressive as the Dec. 17 line against the Suns: 26 points, 22 assists and 11 rebounds. It was the first time in 18 years that a player turned in a 20-20 triple-double. Monday’s 110-108 home loss to the Hawks is one that might hurt later, but they remain in the thick of things for now.


stocknochanges457. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 19-12, Last Week: 7)

After beating the Cavs to improve to a season-high nine games over .500, the Grizzlies lost all three games in a home stand to the lowly Kings, Jazz and Celtics. Interestingly enough, Mike Conley returned before that Kings game – a full three weeks earlier than projected. The team will be better off in the long run with Conley, but for now, they are obviously experiencing growing pains. By the way, Marc Gasol is a baller.


stocknochanges456. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 20-8, Last Week: 6)

Beginning on Dec. 23, the Raptors will embark on a six-game road trip that spans Christmas and New Year’s. They’ll spend Christmas night in Portland and New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles before eventually ending the trip in San Antonio. They have a comfy lead over the Celts and Knicks in the Atlantic but need a good showing to keep pace with the Cavs.


stockdown455. Houston Rockets (Overall: 22-8, Last Week: 4)

The Rockets are 12-2 over their last 14 games with the only losses coming to the Jazz and Spurs. In that stretch, they’ve beaten the Warriors, Celtics and Thunder and did knock off the Spurs earlier this season. They’re destroying every three-point record in the books and may not NEED to be better than 16th in the league in defensive efficiency to enter the title chase. The best stat for the Rockets, though, is this: ZERO. That’s the amount of TOTAL games missed by James Harden, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.


stockdown454. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 21-6, Last Week: 3)

That three-game losing streak seems like a distant memory now, huh? The Cavs won eight of nine since then, but will have to make due with a limited Kevin Love and without J.R. Smith (for a while). So long as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are available, though, no other team out East can touch the Cavs. Our only regret is that the club won’t be 100 percent healthy for the Christmas Day battle with the Dubs. But we’ll still be watching.


stockdown453. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 23-6, Last Week: 2)

The Spurs couldn’t get to 16-1 on the road. Thursday night’s 106-101 loss as the Clippers ended the club’s five-game win streak and also gave them their second road loss of the season. It’s amazing that they own the second-best record in the league despite playing 17 of their 29 games on the road.


stockup452. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 22-8, Last Week: 5)

At a certain point, one has to begin to wonder whether Blake Griffin will ever be able stay healthy for an entire season. The Clips have won six of seven, with the last win catapulting them back in second, considering they beat the Spurs without Blake. Still, they’ll never be better than third best without him. He’s missed 47 games last year and 15 games the year prior, so we’re watching closely. Fortunately, the Clips have a deep enough team to hold the fort until his return in three to six weeks.


stocknochanges451. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 26-4, Last Week: 1)

It took a whole half of lazy basketball for the Warriors to decide to actually try against the Nets on Thursday night. Despite trailing by 16 at the half, the Dubs won the second half 68-36 and won by 16. They’re on pace to win 71 games and quietly are seeing magnificent shot distribution. Durant (16.9) is averaging the fewest shot attempts of he, Klay Thompsn (17.4) and Stephen Curry (17.0), but is averaging the most points (25.7). Not even General Petraeus could stop these guys.

 



As we head in 2017 and into the All-Star break, it will be interesting to see whether your favorite team can improve their stock of continue their dominance. Check back next week for the final power rankings of 2016.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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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.

Tristan Tucker

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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.

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.

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.

Since Basketball Insiders’ last rookie ladder, Tate averaged 12.9 points and upped his offensive production to 3.9 assists per game.

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.

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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.

Chad Smith

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

Dylan Thayer

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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.

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.

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!

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