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The Shop: Porzingis, Posers & Posters

Jabari Davis and Lang Greene are joined by BBallBreakdown’s James Holas for this week’s barbershop conversation.

Jabari Davis

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Alright folks, thanks for joining us back in The ‘Shop for another discussion. Allow us to welcome in James Holas, a writer, podcaster and analyst for BBALLBreakdown, Blazers Edge and PressBasketball.com.

Jabari: Thanks for joining us today, James. Having finally gotten the chance to see and appreciate what Kristaps Porzingis looks like in person, I think it’s necessary to start things off with him. I’ve kept tabs on his progress and watched a quarter or half here and there, but last Sunday night was really something else. Not to be a prisoner of the moment, because I would like to see D’Angelo Russell at full strength when they square off at MSG on February 6, but Porzingis was the best player on the court (26 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks) at Staples Center for at least that night.

The Knicks are rolling right now (11-5 in their last 15), Porzingis is continuing to develop and impress, Derrick Rose is back in the mix and looking as good as he’s looked in years, Carmelo Anthony is at least buying into positive run they’re on… so why is Uncle Phil ruffling feathers and seemingly poking the bear with his readdressing of previous comments at LeBron, while seemingly taking jabs at Carmelo and his offense?

James: Man, I’m just glad I got invited to the big boy’s table today! First of all, let’s pump the brakes on New York “rolling.” Looking inside the numbers gives us a different perspective. Wins are wins and 11-5 looks dandy, but over the last 15 games, the Knickerbockers sit at a decent ninth in offensive rating, but a gross 24th in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Their -1.6 net rating over that span would be 18th in the league for the season. Good wins over the likes of Detroit and Charlotte are diminished by losses to the woeful Wiz and lowly Suns. They haven’t exactly faced a Murderer’s Row: beating up on the Timberwolves (27th in defensive rating the last 15 games) and this iteration of the Hawks (26th in offensive rating over this same 15-game span) ain’t “rolling.”

Now, on to Phil Jackson. The Zen Master is adding another layer of drama to the always tumultuous Knicks saga. The franchise is like a VH1 celebrity; even when things are going well, they somehow have to get themselves in the headlines for some nonsense. Phil Jackson has a long history of stirring the pot. It’s mind boggling- the guy JUST SAID how wrong he was for speaking on other teams’ players, but he can’t help himself.

Phil is known as a Machiavellian manipulator, a strategist who’ll needle even his own guys to gain an advantage. But in the case of LeBron, the Cavs are miles ahead of the Knicks; there’s no advantage to poking at the King unless he thinks getting his squad drubbed by 32 at the Garden could be some sadistic motivation for NY. The only answer I have for why Phil is stirring the pot is “Because he’s Phil.”

Lang: My man J-Holla is in the building. We’ve both been at this for a minute now, but this is the first I believe we’re linking on a project – directly. Welcome and respect to you my brother.

Let’s get to it. Kristaps Porzingis, in my opinion, has a higher career trajectory than D’Angelo Russell at this point; a seven-foot guy pulling off crossover pull-up jumpers from outside the three-point line? Check. Three-point range. Check. Handles? Check. Ability to grab 15+ boards on any given night? Check. He is plain ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I think Russell has high growth potential, as I’ve said countless times, but despite being more gifted than Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams or Nick Young he hasn’t done much to truly separate himself from them this season. This would be equivalent to Porzingis splitting time with Lance Thomas in New York. We’ll see if D’Angelo can change my mind when the Lakers invade MSG.

James nailed Phil Jackson. I just can’t get behind Phil’s statements on LeBron’s crew. The comments had too many undertones from an ugly era in our nation’s history for my taste. But let me add this about his needling of Carmelo Anthony. I absolutely love it. The Knicks haven’t beaten many elite teams and his meddling is just a way to ensure guys are staying humble. Phil is needling Carmelo because he wants his franchise player to change his game for two reasons:

1. To start compensating for the effects of Father Time because, make no mistake, Carmelo has lost a bit of zip off his fastball.

2. He understands the Knicks’ future truly rests on the shoulders of Porzingis. Period. By the time the Knicks are title contenders, if it happens, Carmelo will be the face of the franchise, but Porzingis will be the actual workhorse.

Yes, Phil is setting up the Knicks to be destroyed by the Cavs in a potential playoff series. But I also think he’s trying to light a fire under Carmelo, who has typically bought his “can” when going head to head versus Bron-Bron.

Jabari: I can’t even lie, while I have absolutely NO dog in the fight, part of me is pulling for the Knicks to somehow stay healthy enough to make a deep run so that we can get some type of showdown in order to make things a bit more interesting come April and May. Speaking of fun matchups, how good did that come-from-behind win by Minnesota on the road in Chicago feel to Tom Thibodeau? Not just because it must be nice to get a win your first time back into a building as a coach after being fired 16 months earlier, but also because his team really needed to start finding a way to win ball games in general.

Was this all about winning one in a big moment for your coach, or do you guys think a game like that can be the springboard this young group has needed in order to get going?

James: If this was a CBS special I’d say it was both, and the Wolves would rip off a crazy win streak and all would be well in Minnesota. But I’m gonna be the Darryl Downer by pointing out how the Timber Pups threw up on their shoes the very next game by letting the Rockets erase a 12-point lead in a little over two minutes to hang an L on them.

Reality is, the Bulls aren’t very good. Since the nice 8-4 start, Chicago is 5-9 in its last 14. If you’re a believer in net rating (the difference between a team’s offensive rating and defensive rating) being a bellwether of team performance, well, Chi-Town’s -3.6 net rating is good (bad?) for 20th in the league in that 14-game span.

And there’s no magic formula that will lower Thibs’ blood pressure over these Wolves; young teams take time. Not days or months, but teams need years to gel and learn. I was swimming against the grain all summer about Minnesota; I respect Thibs as a coach, but he stepped into a fully formed playoff team in his start with Chicago, this Wolves team still is learning to totter around and you can’t expect them to run with the big dogs yet.

So yeah, I’m sure nabbing a win over Chicago might have earned a smirk from Coach Thibs and some strutting in the Wolves locker room, but now it’s back to the grind for Minnesota

Lang: After years of talking to guys around the league, one narrative holds true and that’s how much trust is gained when guys overcome adversity together. Everyone can high five, wave towels and make dance moves together when you’re winning by 20 points a night, but it’s when you have to dig deep, go into that dark place and overcome adversity when you look at the guys next to you in the foxhole and start believing in them. I’m not sure the Chicago game does it alone, but it is games like those where guys typically gain that belief, that trust and that needed cohesion to get to the next level.

Jabari: Fair enough, and I tend to agree with each of your points on the Wolves, although I will openly acknowledge that my prediction of them winning more games than OKC is looking dumber and dumber with each passing week, so, perhaps, I was doing a bit of wishful thinking!

Alright, just a couple more topics before we get out of here for the day. Let me get your “They LIED to us” leaders in the paint at this point. So far, I have the Pacers (is the George Hill for Jeff Teague swap the actual culprit?), Blazers (with the Western Conference being a bit down so far to start the year, their slippage is even more suspect), Wizards (are they turning it around or setting their fans up for further heartbreak?) and Minnesota (we’ve covered this). Which teams do you guys have and in what order?

Lang: You know who lied to me, man? The Miami HEAT. They’re not on your list, but I have to include them here. When you turn your nose up at TWO future Hall of Famers, you better believe in what you’re doing. I get Chris Bosh’s health situation, but letting Dwyane Wade walk in free agency over a couple lousy million dollars is haunting the team. I love Pat Riley and the “mafia” he’s built down on South Beach over the years. He consistently gets mentally tough and high-character guys – dudes willing to leave it all on the court, dudes who put it all on the line. But Riley haggled D-Wade over a few million then turned around and matched the Brooklyn Nets’ $50 million offer sheet on Tyler Johnson.

Factor in Wade’s departure with Bosh’s absence due to his health and it elevated Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside into leading role positions neither were equipped to handle – as of now. Whiteside has the potential to be a franchise-leading man, but he’s still pretty green … playing behind Bosh and Wade provides air cover during tough times.

Remember, this team was one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals last season. One. Game. Away. Now they’re headed to the lottery with a first class ticket.

James: Can we get the Orlando in there too? Toss big bills at Bismack Biyombo, bring in Serge Ibaka, still scraping the bottom of the barrel.

But from this list, I think the Pacers are at the top, at least for me. I have a lot of faith in Paul George’s talents, and while I knew that essentially swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague was a downgrade, I underestimated how much Hill’s defensive chops masked Monta Ellis’ ineptitude.

After that, it’s Portland; this is my “I told y’all” moment. The Blazers are a victim of their own moderate success last season, and their front office made the egregious mistake of actually wanting Evan Turner.

Ah, the Wizards. I figured John Wall’s pride, the signing of “boards & blocks” Ian Mahinmi and the more modern thinking of head coach Scott Brooks would elevate Washington back into the Eastern Conference’s upper-middle class. They’ve been a little better of late, but everything I listed doesn’t matter if your guys can barely stand to be on the court together, and your bench stinks.

And lastly, the Wolves are another of my “told ya” teams. I spent the summer shaking my head at “Minny should win 50” talk.

And let’s throw the Bulls, Lakers and Knicks in the mix for their fraudulent first couple of weeks; they had their fan bases all amped up like they were, y’know, GOOD.

Jabari: Ha! Only thing about the Lakers is while they had the unrealistic folks thinking they would automatically jump into being “back” after, like, 20 games, an overwhelming majority of the folks I interact with on Twitter understood it wasn’t going to be as simple as the old “easy button” when it comes to learning how to win. You simply don’t go from zero to 100, no matter what the song says.

Last one and it involves the dunk contest. Accepting the fact that it wouldn’t happen because of liability and injury concerns, but I’ve argued for a minute that adding a dude beneath the rim to contest the dunk for one attempt per round would take it up another level. You’d get all the stylistic dunks and all that, but then you’d also have the opportunity for some ridiculous poster shots similar to the ones recently given to each of the Lopez brothers by Jabari Parker and Larry Nance Jr.

I want a field of Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine, Larry Nance Jr. and Terrence Ross. Big men contesting options are Rudy Gobert (because I equally enjoy him swatting cats and getting dunked on) and Hassan Whiteside (because I think he’d legit take it seriously). Tell me why it’s a crazy idea.

Lang: Jabari, you’ve been on that West Coast moonshine I see. Ha. I like the originality of the concept, but in this social media era, there’s no way these guys are going to risk their respective reputations by getting dunked on during All-Star weekend. Could you imagine the memes? Could you imagine the Vines? Could you imagine the Twitter mentions? Could you imagine the Facebook shares? The posters, the YouTube highlight packages? I could go on and on. Why risk it? Why risk getting 720’d by Zach LaVine? The fans wouldn’t want Whiteside to be successful and actually get a clean block. I can’t see it.

But what I can see …

I’ve been saying this for some time now. I would love to see old school versus new school. Take the rookies and have them go against some of the recently retired guys. I’m talking about some of the players who can still move, but can no longer put together an 82-game season. Or, splice some of the old school guys with the rookies/sophomores. Could you imagine Allen Iverson running the break with Karl-Anthony Towns? But old school versus new school is probably the better option. Some old school who may still be able to get a few buckets: Derek Fisher, Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, Danny Granger, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Jason Richardson immediately come to mind.

James: I legitimately laughed out loud at this dunk idea; me and my boys always bring up how dope it would be if they added a defender to the dunk contest.

But Jabari, why is it a bad idea? YOU’RE TRYNA GET SOMEONE KILLED. It’s one thing to get caught slippin’ in-game: 10 men on the court, the crowd “OOOOHs,” but the game keeps rolling.

In a dunk contest? No seven-foot NBA player worth his contract is gonna stand there, one-on-one, with the world watching and Shaq, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley waiting to clown, and let Zach LaVine embarrass them! You might see the first Belly-to-Belly Suplex during an All Star event, the big men would go to any means necessary to shut a dunk down.

Jabari: Lang, you need to come out here more often, because it AIN’T the ‘shine that we’re known for out here! Like I said, I know it won’t happen…but I’d certainly be ALL about it if they did. Just like I want them to bring back the ‘old timer’s game’ they’ve had variations of. But that’s another conversation for another week. We definitely appreciate James (@jholashoops) for joining us this week. I can assure you this won’t be his last time joining the discussion.

As always, you can tweet your thoughts to Jabari (@JabariDavisNBA) and Lang (@LangGreene).

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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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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