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NBA Saturday: The Development of Avery Bradley

This has been a career-year for Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley, who opens up about his success … The Indiana Pacers got a signature win on Friday

Alex Kennedy

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Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo talks about participating in the Three-Point Contest during the 2014 All-Star Weekend.

The Development of Avery Bradley

Not that long ago, when Avery Bradley was a rookie on the Boston Celtics, he was completely star struck and nervous around the team’s veteran players. At the time, Bradley was only 20 years old and understandably shy since he was playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Shaquille O’Neal. Bradley was scared of being subbed in during practices because he didn’t want to mess up. He was content sitting on the sidelines, so that he wouldn’t get yelled at by Garnett or embarrass himself in front of the stars that he had watched on television for years.

Now, just three years later, Bradley is one of Boston’s most important players. The team has ushered in a youth movement, and the 23-year-old guard is their most productive, experienced youngster. Early in his career, Bradley earned a reputation for being an excellent perimeter defender, capable of terrorizing guards from one end of the court to the other. But this season, Bradley’s role has expanded and he has the opportunity to show that he’s a two-way player.

While this is Bradley’s third season as a starter with the Celtics, it’s his first campaign as one of the team’s focal points. He’s no longer just the lockdown defender who was a complementary piece to Garnett, Pierce and Allen. Now, in addition to playing his tenacious defense, he’s also leading the Celtics in shot attempts per game and handling the ball much more than ever before.

Entering this season, Bradley realized that he needed to step up and do more for the Celtics. While he has battled an ankle sprain throughout the year, he has furthered his development this season and put together a career-year. He’s currently averaging a career-high in points (14.6), rebounds (4.0) and efficiency rating (12.81). In his first three seasons in the NBA (playoffs included), Bradley played in 161 games, but scored 20 or more points just six times. This season, he has already had 10 games with 20 or more points through 45 contests.

“I think [I’ve developed] a lot because I have worked on my game and I got a chance to learn from a lot of great players,” Bradley told Basketball Insiders. “Even though I didn’t play as much, it was big for me to get a chance to learn from Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] and all of those guys. I feel like that helped my development a lot. I would watch everything they did, every single day. Like, literally. The days that I didn’t want to work out, those guys would motivate me. The stuff that I would see them do, it’s no coincidence why they are who they are.”

While Bradley has had some games where he has struggled to shoot the ball, he has also had a number of impressive outings that were incredibly efficient. He had 21 points on 9-11 shooting against the Cleveland Cavaliers in late November, 26 points on 11-19 shooting versus the Washington Wizards in December, and 24 points on 10-15 shooting against the Orlando Magic in November. While Bradley’s offense has been on display this season, he stresses that he still considers himself a defensive-minded player.

“First, I’m a defensive player,” Bradley said. “I’ve always known that if I got a chance I would be able to make shots for my team, but that wasn’t my role. Defense was my role, and that’s still my role now. But now I also get a chance to be able to show both ends of the floor and that means a lot, for my teammates to have confidence in me and for my hard work to pay off.”

Boston’s new head coach, Brad Stevens, is the one who has given more responsibilities to Bradley. Stevens, who spent the last six years coaching at Butler University, is adjusting to the NBA game in his first season as an NBA coach. Bradley believes he has done an incredible job with the young Celtics, and says Stevens’ NCAA-to-NBA transition has been very smooth.

“It’s been amazing,” Bradley said of playing for Coach Stevens. “I feel like he’s done a great job. Obviously this is a different game, but I feel like he has adjusted so well, and he gives us all confidence. To have a coach that believes in you and wants to see you do well and succeed, that’s big and important, especially for a young team.”

When Rajon Rondo and Bradley have started together in the backcourt for Boston, the team is 2-0. Stevens hopes the duo can stay healthy going forward because he loves playing them together.

“It’s huge,” Stevens said of being able to play Bradley and Rondo together. “It’s a huge priority for me. They seem to be on paper really good fits, but it’s even better to see them in person. Their strengths fit each other well on both ends of the floor, and so hopefully that can continue to be accentuated as we get further along.”

Bradley enjoys playing alongside Rondo as well. The Celtics started the season without Rondo, who was recovering from a torn ACL, and it made Bradley and others realize just how important the veteran point guard is to the team.

“I feel like it changed things for everybody,” Bradley said of having Rondo back in the lineup. “He brings a different look to the game, and he’s a very smart player on both ends of the floor. He makes it easier on everybody because of how smart he is and how much he knows the game.”

Earlier this season, the Celtics and Bradley’s camp weren’t able to agree to an extension, which means that Bradley will become a restricted free agent this summer once Boston extends a $3,581,302 qualifying offer to him. Bradley will likely receive interest from a number of teams, and it remains to be seen how much Boston is willing to spend to retain him. Bradley is trying not to focus on any of that, just like he didn’t pay attention to the extension negotiations when they were taking place.

“Just like any other process, you try not to worry about it – it’s just like the trade deadline and all that stuff,” Bradley said. “You just don’t worry about it. You can only control your play and your attitude, and that’s all I am focused on.”

The biggest question about Bradley is how much more will he improve in the years to come? He’s only 23 years old, so it’s safe to say that his best basketball is ahead of him. Coming out of high school, Bradley was considered the top recruit in the country because of his potential, ranked ahead of players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, John Henson, Lance Stephenson and Kawhi Leonard among others. How much more room for development does he have?

“A lot,” Bradley said, without hesitation. “I continue to learn every single day. I learn from Coach Stevens every day. I learn from Rondo every day. I learn from all my teammates. I know that if I continue to work, I can continue to improve. Like this summer already, I have some things that I know I need to work on, that I’m going to put in my game. I’m starting to work on those things already. I’m not going to get specific, but every part of my game I feel like I can improve – defense and offense.”

The sky seems like the limit for Bradley. He has come a long way from the kid who was scared to participate in an NBA practice, and he’s just getting started.

Pacers Over Blazers is Signature Win

The Indiana Pacers got a signature win on Friday night, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in overtime, 118-113. A win over Portland is nice, but this Pacers victory was even more impressive for several reasons: Indiana was without Lance Stephenson, Paul George struggled throughout the evening (17 points on 5-23 shooting) and the Pacers had to come back from down eight with a little over six minutes remaining in the game.

Even when Indiana isn’t at full strength, they’re a very scary team, which is why it isn’t hard to imagine them hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy behind their balanced attack and great defense. George Hill had the best game of his career with 37 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals and David West chipped in 30 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks as well.

“That was a heck of a basketball game, very intense,” head coach Frank Vogel said following the win over Portland. “Our guys exhibited great will.”

“This was a big win for us,” West said. “Against the top teams, you’ve got to get wins throughout the year. This is a good win for us. We talked about finishing strong before the All-star break. We prepared well yesterday for this and just came in and had an overall good game.”

“Regardless of the circumstances in the game, I’ll take a win anytime,” George said. “They are a great team, a great organization. It was a great team win. They really battled. We had to gut it down. We really just manned up defensively, and offensively I thought we made huge plays. It was fun. Those are the games you want to be a part of, playing against the highest competition in a game where you’ve got to grind it out. It’s the most fun games in this league.”

The Pacers overcame the eight-point deficit thanks to big shots from Hill and West. The duo scored 28 of Indiana’s final 37 points.

“We were just making sure we stayed in it and stayed aggressive,” West said. “Ultimately we made enough plays defensively against the top offense in the NBA to come up with a big win at home.”

“We always say it’s a long game and we’re never out of it with the defense we play,” Hill said. “Even with the deficit we had, we knew we’d continue to keep grinding. It was fun. We knew Lance was out. He’s a big part of our energy and things like that. We always say when a guy is down, the next guy has to step up. I just tried to be as aggressive as I could tonight.”

Hill was extremely productive, and drew praise from his coach after the game.

“He’s a special player, probably our most underrated guy,” Vogel said of Hill. “To have a break out game like that offensively with Lance out was good to see. It was his individual mind set. He gets slack because his assists and rebound totals aren’t all that high. But he’s capable of doing what he did tonight.”

“When I first walked in here I was yelling at everybody that I had a lot of energy today,” Hill said. “From 5 o’clock when we came here to start shooting, I don’t know what it was, I just felt different today.”

The Pacers are 39-10, which is the NBA’s best record.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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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