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50 Predictions For The 2020-21 NBA Season

Matt John revives Basketball Insiders’ classic 50 Predictions piece ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Matt John

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This article was an annual tradition hosted by Basketball Insiders penned by veteran Joel Brigham. Then our own Drew Maresca took the reins. This year, there’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Matt John. Fasten your seatbelts.

Now before I begin, I have two things to get off my chest. First, props to both Joel and Drew for writing these up because this is pretty darn difficult to do. When you’re trying to find the right balance between making a truly unique prediction and just spewing out nonsense to get the masses’ attention, it requires a lot of deep thought. Even if you’re trying to come off like Zach Lowe, you may come off like you’re doing your best impression of Skip Bayless.

Second, oh my goodness, this league is so freaking loaded! Most teams are so stockpiled with talent that even with Stephen Curry back and fully healthy, there is a solid chance Golden State doesn’t make the playoffs again. Think about that. Of course, Klay Thompson’s awful Achilles’ tear has something to do with that, but the Warriors still have a solid team around him and it might not matter.

And yes, that’s just the Western Conference being the Western Conference, but the East has a large pool of fantastic teams as well. So much so that Brooklyn could have a good enough offense to put them above the rest of the conference while also having a defense potentially so flawed that they could fall all the way down to the fifth seed at worst. Not because they would be that bad – but because their competition will be very unforgiving.

Anyway, enough dribble – no pun intended – let’s start this baby off! And what better way to start this off than with the award predictions?

Awards Predictions

1. I’m going to pick the bold-but-not-really choice with Luka Doncic as MVP. Admittingly, picking Luka to win is not really much of a hot take these days. He’s clearly one of the future faces of the league, while the NBA voting committee always loves MVP newcomers. With Dallas way ahead of schedule and Doncic leading the way, I fully anticipate this is going to be the first of multiple MVP winning campaigns for the boy wonder.

2. Jayson Tatum will lead the league in scoring. Over the course of the 2019-20 season, Tatum established himself as arguably the league’s best young scorer. Now, with Gordon Hayward gone and Kemba Walker’s knee being a major question mark, there should be even more scoring opportunities for Tatum. Expect Boston’s offense to take a noticeable step back this season, but Tatum’s scoring numbers should definitely make up for what they lost.

3. As crushed as Giannis Antetokounmpo will be to not three-peat as MVP, he will reign again as Defensive Player of the Year. Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, and Bam Adebayo will fight tooth and nail to get the honor, but Giannis’ build and IQ still make him the NBA’s golden goose on the defensive side.

4. The now financially-prosperous OG Anunoby rewards Toronto’s faith in him by winning the Most Improved Player award. His continued growth as a scorer and vaunted defense plays a huge role in keeping Raptors in the thick of the playoff race. The real shocker though is that the runner-up will be Marvin Bagley III now that he’s fully healthy again.

5. This is going to be the most intense race ever for Comeback Player of the Year with guys like Curry, Kevin Durant and John Wall, among others, gunning for it. Although others will have better performances than him, Wall gets the award. His season will go down as the most impressive seeing how he’s coming off of two consecutive serious injuries and hasn’t played in two years.

6. James Harden won’t make First-Team all-NBA. It sounds ridiculous, but star players do see their All-NBA chances drop when they get traded during the season. Look up Jimmy Butler, 2019. By the way, Harden’s competition is going to be as fierce as ever. Doncic, Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard will all out-shine Harden no matter where he goes.

7. Joining Harden on the All-NBA second team will be Jayson Tatum, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic. The third team will consist of Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

As a bonus, let’s go with Devin Booker, Trae Young, Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell among the biggest snubs. Kyrie Irving would be too but I just don’t trust his ability to stay on the floor. Is it too much to ask for a fourth All-NBA team?

8. Caris LeVert wins Sixth Man of the Year. It’s hard to envision LeVert putting up the same numbers he did in the bubble with Irving and Durant in the picture – but if he’s running the second unit’s offense, then he should kill it in that role. I would have put Danilo Gallinari on here, but I just don’t think he’s going to be Atlanta’s sixth man for that long.

9. Gordon Hayward makes it back to the All-Star game. As overpaid as he is, Hayward was the biggest name in free agency to change sides. Hayward’s diminished role in Boston made him underrated as an overqualified fourth option wasn’t good for his production. In Charlotte, he will see the ball a lot more – which should lead to a closer resemblance to Utah Hayward. That is, as long as his continued streak of freak injuries finally stops.

10. For maneuvering Philadelphia back on track, Daryl Morey will win Executive of the Year.

11. Morey’s case will be based on the improved cohesion with the team as a whole. That will be sparked by Ben Simmons, who will lead the league in assists.

Rookie of the Year Predictions

12. This will be the first Rookie of the Year race to not really have a clear frontrunner since 2016. This draft was supposedly filled with less overall superstar talent but more talents that can be vital rotation players on playoff teams.

13. I’m going to go with the surprise lottery pick this year, Patrick Williams. LaMelo Ball will make more highlight reels and has the highest upside, but Williams looks very NBA-ready on a team that will need him right away.

14. Tyrese Haliburton will get the nod over Anthony Edwards for NBA All-Rookie First-Team. That’s not a knock on Edwards. He’s got a good future ahead of him. Haliburton just looks like he has a better feel for the game right now.

Trade Predictions

15. The James Harden saga is going to drag on and on through this season. Houston has all the leverage in this situation because of what remains of his contract and the Antetokounmpo situation shockingly resolved. He will be traded mid-season but only after we all get a feel of the NBA landscape in 2021.

16. Who wins the Harden sweepstakes? Golden State. They have the assets. They have the contracts. They know Curry isn’t going to play forever. They know the Western Conference will be a free-for-all. They give up the farm for Harden – and they don’t think twice.

17. Oklahoma City will trade Al Horford without sacrificing any assets. Horford will look more like the player in OKC that he was originally paid to be in Philly as the full-time center. They won’t redeem his value as they did with Chris Paul, but they will get rid of him the first chance they get.

18. Boston will use their massive trade exception before the trade deadline. Hayward’s departure and Walker’s balky knee kills their playmaking in spite of bigger strides from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. At the deadline, they’ll trade for a player in the hopes of specifically aiding that department.

19. Atlanta will trade John Collins, a move which they both will come to realize is best for all parties.

20. Cleveland will not trade Kevin Love, even though they also know it would be best for all parties if they did.

21. Rumors about the Bulls will be splitting up that Lauri Markkanen/Wendell Carter frontcourt pairing – but the encouraging progress from both of them along with the chances of another high lottery pick will convince them to give the pair one more chance.

Team Predictions

22. Boston, Miami, Denver and the L.A. Lakers will all start the year sluggishly. Not because of anything they did wrong this offseason, but for the mere fact that their previous seasons all ended just two months ago! I expect them not to burst right out the gate though I also expect them to still be among their conference’s elite.

23. For that same reason, teams like Philadelphia, Dallas, Portland and Utah will be off to the best starts because they had an appropriately-sized time off between the end of their last season and the beginning of this one.

24. The Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder will be the worst teams record-wise in their respective conferences.

25. Minnesota and Charlotte will be the teams that most fans will think of when they hear not-good-but-fun.

26. Dallas will get the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference – and for more reasons than just Luka Doncic. Josh Richardson was exactly what the doctor ordered, ideally, Kristaps Porzingis will have a healthier season. With them in play, Dallas will be right at the top.

27. Milwaukee will get the No. 1 seed for the third consecutive year because it’s their postseason efforts in question – not their past regular season results.

28. Brooklyn’s going to struggle at first because while their offense will be top-3 in the league, their defense will be bottom-10 to start. But with the solid assets they have, they’ll trade them for defensive personnel as the season goes on, pushing them to the No. 2 seed.

29. Joining Milwaukee and Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference will be Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia and Indiana in that order.

30. Joining Dallas and the Lakers in the Western Conference will be the Clippers, Denver, Portland, Utah and Golden State in that order.

Playoff Predictions

31. Note that in both conferences, the previous two predictions total out to only seven teams each. I did that because we are in for some very fascinating play-in tournaments. In the East, we’ll get Charlotte, Atlanta and Washington duking it out for No. 8.

In the West, we’ll get Phoenix, New Orleans and Sacramento doing the same. Washington will snag that last spot in the East, while Phoenix gets the last spot in the West.

32. Even though things are going to look so much better than they did last year, both Philadelphia and Utah suffer yet another first-round exit. Although, no matter who they face, both of them will be the one team everyone in their conference will want to avoid in the playoffs for there will be a grueling seven-game series.

33. We are going to get the much-discussed Lakers-Warriors playoff matchup in the first round and it’s going to be one for the ages. Harden and Curry push the defending champs to the brink, but the Lakers prevail in Game 7.

34. Plus, the much-hyped Lakers-Clippers series not only happens in the second round, but the Lakers take it in five.

35. As hot as the Mavericks will look, the Nuggets will overtake them in an intense second round matchup, which will only serve as further proof that this is just another stepping stone for Dallas.

36. The Bucks will do much better than that abomination they put up in the bubble, but that’ll be because the playoff matchups will favor them more by avoiding Miami.

37. And they won’t have to play Miami when they make it back to the conference finals, as Brooklyn will be their opponent. However, the Nets will barely pull away in a tight seven-game series against the Bucks.

38. When L.A. faces off against Brooklyn, the Nets will do better than when those two faced off back in 2002, but the Lakers will repeat as champs as they take the series in five games.

Individual Predictions

39. Jamal Murray will prove his bubble dominance was not a fluke as he continues to shock audiences with his electrifying 25+ point performances that will spark not an all-star appearance, but all-NBA.

40. T.J. Warren sadly won’t do the same, but he will continue to prove that he’s one of the best bargain contracts in the NBA.

41. Joel Embiid will be only one of two players in the NBA to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. The other will not be Anthony Davis, but it will be a Nikola – Vucevic, that is.

42. Blake Griffin will barely play half the season in Detroit in spite of the numbers he’ll put up while he’s on the floor.

Coach Predictions

43. Even though Utah will look better than last year, the hot seat buzz will start kicking for Quin Snyder. He’s done a great job with the Jazz, but if Utah fails to get past the first round for the third straight year, it’s hard to see how Snyder avoids the lion’s share of the blame.

44. Drew predicted this the last two years, so I guess it’s going to be a tradition until further notice: Scott Brooks will lose his job. Not at any point during the regular season but after the Wizards get swept by the Bucks in the playoffs. He’s had the excuse of John Wall’s persistent injuries. Not anymore.

45. It’s for that same reason above that Steve Clifford avoids the boot. It’s true that Orlando will miss the playoffs but they’ll attribute that toward Jonathan Isaac blowing out his knee more than anything else. Management will give Clifford the benefit of the doubt. The question is for how long?

Miscellaneous Predictions

46. Atlanta will lead the league in starting lineup changes. Their roster is one big puzzle made up entirely of blue sky that will need the whole season to be put together. The only two players I expect to be mainstays in the starting lineup are Trae Young and Clint Capela, if healthy. That’s it.

47. We’re going to see teams ease up on the three-point shooting. They’ll still come at a high volume, but we saw the Lakers in the bottom-10 in both attempts and percentage from three-point land, and look where they are now. Milwaukee’s lived and died by the three for the last two years and they’ve only achieved regular-season success.

48. We won’t have any new All-Stars this year, barring injury.

49. COVID-19 is definitely going to leave its mark on this season and beyond. Both on the personnel and revenue. It’s happened to the other sports, but there’s no way anyone wanted another bubble.

50. Finally, for the first time possibly ever, San Antonio will intentionally tank their season based on inferior talent versus losing their star player to injury as they did in 1997. You’d have to go back to the days of President Reagan to think of the last time the Spurs were intentionally bad, but that’s the state they are in. If there was an NBA equivalent to 2020, it would be the Spurs waving the white flag after all these years.

And basketball is back! Let me know how I did or what you’re rooting for on Twitter, we’d be happy to hear how wrong these will all be.

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NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks

Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.

Drew Maresca

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Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.

So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.

Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.

But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.

Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.

Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.

But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.

So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.

He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.

Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans

The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.

Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.

But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.

Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.

Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets

Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.

Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.

That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.

But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.

But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.

The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.

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NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key

Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.

Ariel Pacheco

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The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure. 

Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders. 

Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.

Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them. 

Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll. 

Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.

Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well. 

Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.

The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA. 

Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.

As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.

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NBA Daily: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

An inside look-in at the early frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Dylan Thayer

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In this fresh edition for Basketball Insiders, there are a few players that should be finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Of course, this prestigious award is given to the contributor who makes the biggest impact on the floor for their team on the defensive side of the ball. In two out of the last three seasons, the award has gone to Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting center for the Utah Jazz. This past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won both the DPotY award, as well as Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Over the past few years, the trending group of finalists for the award has been consistent no matter what the order ends up being. 

Can anyone new break in this year?

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis will always be in the conversation for this award as he has shown throughout his career that he is one of the league’s most ferocious game-changers. Despite never winning the award before, he has made four NBA All-Defensive teams as well as being the NBA’s leader in blocks on three occasions. Davis’s block numbers are a little lower than they usually are at 1.9 blocks per game this season – compared to 2.4 for his career, per Basketball-Reference. This could be due to the addition of Marc Gasol to the Lakers’ frontcourt, a move that has boosted the team’s rim protection. If Davis can raise his numbers again, he should be in consideration for the award purely based on his defensive presence on the court – but he should still finish among the top five in voting.

Myles Turner

The center for the Indiana Pacers – the former potential centerpiece of a Gordon Hayward trade with the Boston Celtics – has continued to show why the team would not package another one of its top players with him. Turner is the current league leader in blocks with 4.2 blocks per game, elevating his game beyond any doubt in 2020-21. He is one of the more underrated rim protectors in basketball, as he has only one top-five finish in the DPotY voting in his career. Turner has also improved his steals metrics this season by averaging 1.5 per game, thus providing a strong defensive presence alongside All-Star frontcourt mate, Domantas Sabonis. Turner should be the frontrunner for the award as things stand right now, but that could change as the season progresses, especially as his injury impacts proceedings.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The reigning two-time MVP should always be in the conversation for the DPotY award as he revolutionizes the defensive side of the floor at an elite level. Currently, Antetokunmpo is averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game to go along with a 106.5 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. It goes without saying, but Antetokounmpo is a chase-down block artist, always there to contest shots around the rim with his long frame. The 6-foot-11 power forward is one of the league’s top five players due to his exceptional play on both sides of the ball and will always be considered for the DPotY award as long as he in the NBA.  

Kawhi Leonard

The Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar has been arguably the best defensive small forward in the game over the past few years. He first gained major recognition for his defense during the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. Since then, Leonard has racked up six All-Defensive team nominations to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year awards. This season, Leonard remains an elite defender for the championship-hopeful Clippers with 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game – but his defensive rating is the highest of his ten-year career at 107.8. 

Andre Drummond

The current league leader in rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers is having a monster season thus far. In a contract year, Andre Drummond is currently putting up 19.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He also has a very stellar defensive rating of 105.0, a culmination of points allowed per 100 possessions. Drummond is not on a very good team, but that should not take away from the impact he makes when he is on the floor. As a pure rim protector and rebounding machine, he should finish higher up in the voting results than usual, even if his season doesn’t end with Cleveland. 

Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris

The Philadelphia 76ers have started the season on a very high note at 9-5, all despite loads of COVID health and safety protocols preventing their full team from taking the floor. Tobias Harris has played a major part in their early-season success leading the NBA in defensive win shares among starters who have played at least 10 games with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. Along with that, Harris is also second in defensive rating among qualified starters at 99.6. The veteran forward has averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. So if the 76ers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, Harris’ overall play will be a huge reason for that success.

 As the old saying goes, defense wins championships – and these players are the type of players that can change the result of a game every night. Keep an eye on these players as the season moves along as they should garner consideration for both All-Defensive team nominations and the DPotY award.

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