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Deadline Watch — Northwest Division

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Deadline Watch series by taking a look at who in the Northwest Division is the most likely to make a trade.

Matt John

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Welcome back to another edition of Deadline Watch. The trade deadline is less than a week away folks. We’ve had a few trades over the past several days that, while they may be inconsequential, it has been fun to see a few swaps go down. However, with the lack of movement that’s gone on since the blockbuster James Harden trade, nobody knows if those recent moves are just the calm before the storm or a sign of what’s to come at the deadline.

We’ve taken a look at the Central Division and Pacific Division. Today, we’re taking a gander at the Northwest Division. We’ll go over who would be the buyers and who would be the sellers.

Be warned: some teams are going to get a little more shine than others because their situations are built as more likely to harbor a trade. Let’s get to it.

Oklahoma City Thunder

When the topic of Northwest Division sellers comes up, it’s downright impossible to have the next three letters that come to mind not be O-K-C.

While the future may not be now, it’s pretty much set for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the face of the franchise, Luguentz Dort is a future perennial All-NBA defender and they’ve got serious draft capital to bolster the roster, via the draft itself or trades down the line.

Let’s face it though: as of now, Oklahoma City has no use for veterans Al Horford or George Hill.

Not factoring in their current salaries, Horford and Hill have been about as good as the Thunder could have realistically hoped for. Having Horford back at center, as opposed to the power forward spot where he spent much of his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, has rejuvenated his play and efficiency. Hill, likewise, had been doing about as well as you’d want from a seasoned floor general until he injured his thumb last month. The Thunder’s overall play this season might not be deemed “good,” but they’re far from terrible and those two have played a serious part in that.

Still, it would seem trading the two veterans that don’t really fit with this team’s timeline would be the logical move. Then again, Oklahoma City had the opportunity to do the same last year with Chirs Paul and they passed. Of course, they were much better last year, so they could afford to both have their cake and eat it more so than this season.

Hill is adequately paid for his services, while there are plenty of playoff teams on the lookout for a reliable playmaking guard. Philadelphia, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers are among those that could use him to boost their bench. Horford, though, would be a bit more difficult to move.

Yes, he’s rejuvenated himself as the jack of all-trades big, is a strong, positive locker room presence and does the little things that should help any team win. But he’s on the wrong side of 30 and is set to earn $26 million or more in each of the next two seasons — while his play has improved, that deal should only get worse as time goes on. That said, Oklahoma City has said that they’re not trading Horford without getting an asset back.

Good luck with that.

Here’s a crazy thought: with how well-constructed their future is, who’s to say they wouldn’t be sneaky buyers? Not for any win-now veterans, but how about the very young and talented John Collins? There seems to still be no feel as to his future with the Atlanta Hawks and Oklahoma City would have more than enough flexibility to pry him loose.

This would have likely been more plausible before Atlanta replaced Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan and won eight-straight. But, until Collins’ name is on the dotted line, it’s still within the realm of possibility.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are in an odd position. They didn’t come into this season intent to lose, but they’ve somehow managed the worst record in the league, somehow surprising everyone and absolutely no one. Some of that isn’t their fault, of course: D’Angelo Russell has spent a good chunk of the season on the shelf and Karl-Anthony Towns’ COVID-19 diagnosis sidelined him for some time.

It’s not like things have gotten any better since his return, however.

There would be no reason for Minnesota to buy at the deadline. But what do they have to sell? Obviously they wouldn’t trade Russell because of what they gave up to get him the irreparable damage his departure could do to the relationship between the team and Towns.

Despite whatever he’s dealing with off the court, teams would almost certainly love to get their hands on Malik Beasley. He’s having a career year on a team-friendly deal and is just 24-years-old. Of course, if that’s the case, why would the Timberwolves trade him?

Then there’s Ricky Rubio, but is anyone knocking down the door to acquire his services? He’s done fine in his return to Minnesota, but his numbers have dipped from last year. He’s also set to earn nearly $18 million next season.

The real reason as to why Minnesota will probably stay as is, though? Anthony Edwards. As we’ve seen more and more of Edwards this season, it’s clear to see that he’s a fixture in the future of Timberwolves basketball.

A team like the Timberwolves would usually look to sell the expendable parts, but with how exciting Edwards has been — and with things hopefully getting back to normal next season — Minnesota’s best move is to keep it together and see what they can do when the roster’s 100 percent. Warts and all, the Timberwolves might actually have something here — and they owe it to Towns and the team’s fans to see it through.

Portland Trail Blazers

Now to the buyers, with the most likely at the top. The Trail Blazers haven’t gotten nearly enough credit for how solid they’ve been in spite of what’s been thrown at them this season.

In a shortened year, with every extended injury counting more than ever before, Portland miraculously stands at 25-16 and is only half a game back of the fourth seed in the West. Damian Lillard has been on an MVP-warpath, once again placing the team on his shoulders through the absences of both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. And, just when you think he can’t add any more, he somehow goes further above and beyond.

And the Trail Blazers cannot afford to waste his efforts.

Portland is good, certainly capable of competing in the Western Conference. But just how good remains the question. Do they have what it takes to make a push to the NBA Finals and, if not, what move could get them there? Unlike the Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers, the Trail Blazers are not completely bankrupt of any assets so, if a move must be made, they’re certainly in the position to do so.

After this season, the team owns all of their draft picks, while they retain the services of Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins; that’s not going to net them a superstar, but should fetch a nice piece that can push Portland into the next tier of contenders.

If they are to make a move, they also can’t simply look at it as “will this win us a championship?” but, rather, “could this even get us there?” with LeBron James and the reigning champion Lakers set to stand in their path.

Their trump card could be to trade CJ McCollum and additional assets for a significant upgrade, but that move is unlikely to be available. If it does present itself, however, Portland, while they may consider the risk and reward of such a move, must act. Because as sweet as “Dame Time” is, it won’t last forever.

Denver Nuggets

It wasn’t pretty for Denver right out of the gate but, thanks to the play of Nikola Jokic, they are right back on track. Now 25-16, the Nuggets have won nine of their last 10 games while their featured lineup — Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, Will Barton, Gary Harris – has improved significantly with more time on the court together.

Denver likely has better assets than Portland at their disposal in Michael Porter Jr. alone. However, unless a superstar were to magically become available — and assuming he would be good enough to willingly relinquish Porter — he’s likely not going anywhere.

What the Nuggets really need, however, is to find their Jerami Grant replacement. Denver, eventually, found their footing after Grant’s unexpected offseason departure, but that shouldn’t preclude the team from addressing his absence. In fact, filling the hole he’s left in their frontcourt should remain a priority — and seemingly has, if their interest in the Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon is anything to go by.

It’s much more likely, however, that the Nuggets stand pat or stick to more minor additions; given the few assets the team has that they’d be willing to move, it’s just difficult to see them adding a true difference-maker.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have come back to earth a bit after what was probably as perfect a start as they could have asked for. That was to be expected, of course, once teams become more familiar with their gameplan, but, even after an uneven March, Utah is still the top seed in the Western Conference with the best record in the NBA. That said, they could most certainly use an upgrade or two to bolster their excellent play to this point.

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem like any realistic deal is out there for them.

Bojan Bogdanovic has had a pretty down year after being possibly the Jazz only uplifting side plot in last year’s postseason disaster. March has been even less kind to him, as he’s averaging 14.4 points on 37/34/93 splits. Of course, there’s likely no need to panic — even the best shooters have their slumps — but the Jazz can’t afford to wait on him to come around. Further, it wouldn’t them to upgrade at the position behind him, either.

But where could they even find such an upgrade without surrendering a significant asset or, even, Bogdanovic himself?

Of all the teams in the Northwest, Utah would seem the least likely to do make a play at the trade deadline. They’ve already proven that they’re not to be messed with — and rough stretches like these and Bogdanovic’s should pass. Better yet, they help teams like Utah for when it matters most. This stretch of March Madness, unlike last season, hasn’t been troubling enough that a major shuffle is in order. And, even if things don’t work out, they’ve got a deservedly longer offseason to mull it over.

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NBA Daily: The Play-In Game — East

With the play-in tournament just around the corner, Matt John previews who in the Eastern Conference might qualify for it.

Matt John

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It’s official: we’re entering the regular season’s endgame. Every game from here on out will have much bigger consequences, a statement even truer in 2021 than perhaps any other season thanks to the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

If you’re not familiar, the play-in tournament will consist of two matchups within each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds of both conferences will face off against one another, while the ninth and 10th seeds shall do the same. The winner of the seven-eight matchup will take their conference’s seventh seed, while the winner of the nine-10 game will face the aforementioned match’s loser for the eighth and final spot in the postseason. It’ll serve as a nice appetizer before the playoffs get underway.

So, now that we have 15 games left give or take, it’s time to get a full scope of who we’re most likely to see in this year’s play-in, starting with the Eastern Conference. There’s really no need to go over teams that have all but clinched their playoff spots like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee. Just like there’s no need to mention teams that are way too out of a reach for a playoff spot like Detroit and Orlando.

But that does leave ten teams in the Eastern Conference that we could potentially see in the play-in. At first glance, it would sound ridiculous to say that Boston and Cleveland could be in the play-in seeing how they are separated by ten and a half games, but Boston is only two and a half games ahead of Miami for that seventh seed while Cleveland is only three games behind Chicago for the tenth seed.

The best way to evaluate is to divide these into tiers. One for playoff teams who are likely to avoid the play-in, one for teams that are most likely to be in the play-in, and those that are likely to miss out on the play-in.

Likely to Avoid

Atlanta Hawks (30-26)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Six
Games Against East: 13

Replacing Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan proved to be a genius move by Atlanta’s front office, as the Hawks have won 16 of their last 23 games. They may have had that stretch where they lost four of five, but that was on a West Coast Trip. Seeing how almost 75 percent of their remaining games will be at home, it’s hard to see Atlanta collapsing. They may be decimated by injuries right now, but the schedule seems a little too easy for them to blow this.

Boston Celtics (31-26)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Four
Games Against East: 10

Much like Atlanta, Boston’s really hit their stride over the past few weeks. Getting healthy and making a few roster changes have helped them rediscover the team that started out so well at the beginning of the season. It’s hard seeing Boston folding down the stretch primarily because they won’t be facing too many strong opponents from here until the regular season’s end. Given their recent strong play, don’t expect an appearance at the play-in tournament.

Likely Play-In Teams

New York Knicks (30-27)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: Six

Give credit where credit is due. The Knickerbockers are not going away. They’ve stayed the course when many thought this was going to be another wasted year for them. They’ve given no reason to indicate that they’re stopping now. The reason they’re not as sure of a thing as Atlanta or Boston is because, over this last stretch, they’re going to face off against several Western Conference contenders looking for the highest seeding possible. As tough as that’s going to be, the Knicks are going to make each one of them earn those wins, guaranteed.

Miami HEAT (28-28)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East: 11

It’s been difficult to get a read on the reigning Eastern Conference champions. They go on stretches that basically even out each other. After starting out 11-17, they win 12 of their next 13, then follow that up by losing their next six games, then win six of their next seven, then finally and most recently, they lose their next three games. No one really knows what Miami’s ceiling is right now. Odds are, the HEAT will probably be in the play-in. It’s just a matter of where. Also, why have we still not gotten any updates on Victor Oladipo?

Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: 13

What’s happened to the Hornets over the past few weeks is just straight up not fair. If LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were playing, they’d solidly be in the same tier as Boston and Atlanta. With their squad fully healthy, Charlotte’s a playoff team, but being down their two best players definitely takes them down a peg. They deserve props that they haven’t rolled over since losing those two, but sadly they’re nowhere near as good as they were with their whole squad. Their schedule is easy enough that it shouldn’t knock them out of the play-in. If LaMelo and Hayward are back by then, then it’s hard not seeing the Hornets get into the postseason.

Indiana Pacers (26-29)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East Teams: 11

It hasn’t been talked about enough how injuries have really shaken up Indiana’s season. TJ Warren’s foot injury was a substantial season-long setback and Caris Levert’s cancer, as miraculous of a story as that was, was another prolonged absence. Overall, Indiana’s injuries have led to a rather underachieving season compared to past results. Luckily their schedule for the rest of the season shouldn’t be too tough, so making the play-in seems realistic.

Outside Looking In

*One of these teams will get the play-in as the 10th seed.

Toronto Raptors (23-34)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: Seven

That’s right, the same Raptors, who only weeks ago were in serious talks to trade Kyle Lowry to the highest bidder, have suddenly found themselves in the fight for the final spot for the play-in. It’s not that they’ve suddenly turned it all around. It’s that the competition is too weak for them to bow out completely. Their schedule may allow them to go all-in on the tank, but maybe one last hurrah with the franchise’s greatest player isn’t the worst way to go.

Chicago Bulls (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Seven
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: 16

Good news: Nikola Vucevic looks like he’s fitting in splendidly. Bad news: The team has been on a downward spiral since his (and others) acquisition. Chicago has only won four of their last 13 games since the trade deadline and their remaining schedule is not going to be a breeze. On paper, they should be a shoo-in for the 10th seed, but the roster holes right now appear to be too glaring for Chicago to take the next step. If they don’t at the very least make the play-in, that’s not going to be a good look after all the moves they made.

Washington Wizards (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Five
Games Against East Teams: 10

Remember when Washington was one of the worst teams in the league record-wise? And how they managed to only slightly improve themselves over the course of the season? Well, apparently that was enough to get them into the conversation for the play-in because, lo and behold, they’re now tied with Chicago for that 10th seed. It gets better too. They only face two tough challenges from here on out – Lakers and Bucks – but after that, it’s honestly easy enough that they might be the favorite to get that last play-in spot.

Cleveland Cavaliers (20-36)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams over .500: Six
Games Against East Teams: 12

This sounds the most ludicrous seeing how the Cavs are currently the East’s 13th seed, but being three games behind Chicago while facing only six teams over .500 gives them a fighting chance. If the Cavaliers are actually able to get the play-in, that’s a big stepping stone for their future. It’s an accomplishment to build off of in an era with no LeBron James to speak of, which they haven’t been able to do since Friends was on the air.

As you can see, the play-in has, in a way, brought a new dimension to the NBA season. In any previous season (excluding the last one) no one would bat an eye at the 10 through 13 seeds. Their season at this point would be all but done and no one would care, but because of the possibility of going to a play-in tournament, teams suddenly have the chance to make something of what usually would have been a lost season.

Some teams may get annoyed by it because their time is coming to a close and there’s no need to delay the inevitable. For others, the play-in signifies that it could just be the beginning.

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NBA Daily: Can the Hawks Keep Up Their Strong Play?

Drew Maresca analyzes the Atlanta Hawks strong play and looks ahead at how they’ll fare in the final 16 games of the season.

Drew Maresca

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This season’s condensed schedule has resulted in less time to assess teams and the transactions they made at the trade deadline or in the buyout market. So it’s understandable if you wrote off the Atlanta Hawks as the bust of 2020-21 – but make no mistake about it, the Hawks are surging.

As alluded to above, Atlanta began the year slowly. They started off 11-16. Trae Young played relatively well through that stretch, averaging 26.6 points, 9.3 assists per game and shooting 37.1% on three-point attempts – but the results just weren’t there.

And while you can debate if Young was a catalyst for or a victim of his team’s poor start, he bore the brunt of it. After he was named an All-Star in the 2019-20 season, he was left off the team this season, as the narrative around him has shifted to that of someone hunting for fouls who could be hurting the game more than he’s helping it.

Surprisingly, Atlanta decided to keep its core group together, opting to hang onto John Collins despite his butting heads on offensive philosophy with coach Lloyd Pierce and Young, separately. According to The Athletic’s  Chris Kirschner and Sam Amick, Collins voiced displeasure in a January film session over the timing of certain shot attempts and a needed to get settled into offensive sets more quickly.

Rather than succumb to the trade rumors, the Hawks decided that Pierce was at fault and or lost the locker room. Per The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, Sam Amick and David Aldridge, Young, Cam Reddish and other Hawks were reportedly on board with a potential change and so a move was made.

At the time it appeared shortsighted. But in hindsight, it was exactly what the Hawks needed.

While there are still questions to be answered around Collins and his long-term fit in Atlanta, especially since he’ll become a restricted free agent this Summer and little progress was made in negotiations last offseason, the Hawks are 16-6 under interim head coach Nate McMillian.

In fairness to Pierce, the Hawks are just beginning to get healthy. Danilo Gallinari and 2020 lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu recently returned from injuries, with the former playing a key role, averaging 13.4 points on 40.7% shooting from deep; Gallinari is back on the mend, though, with foot soreness.

But the Hawks were also without guard Bogdan Bogdanovic from mid-January until early March. And they are still without Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, both of whom are instrumental to the Hawks success.

Still, the Hawks have pushed through. Lou Williams, who was added via trade for Rajon Rondo at the deadline, should definitely help. Williams is a walking bucket and he’s matched his Clippers output through nine games with Atlanta (12 points, 3.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game.)

A significant result of their strong play is that Atlanta is currently tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference, meaning that the Hawks could realistically secure home-court for the first-round of the playoffs. But before the Hawks do so, there are some questions that need to be answered.

First up, how do the Hawks manage their rotation when they haven’t even seen lots of combinations of their best players on the floor together?

When healthy, the Hawks are incredibly deep. There are the presumed starters: Young, Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Gallinari and Capela. And there’s the bench: Collins, Gallinari, Reddish, Hunter, Williams, Solomon Hill and Okongwu.

Remember, McMillian has only been the coach since March 2, Williams was just added in late March and Hunter hasn’t played since late January.

Coach McMillian has been around long enough to know that 12-man rotations simply don’t work in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they haven’t had nearly enough time to land on a starting lineup, let alone which players work best together.

Atlanta has just 16 games remaining to figure it out. And they can’t waste a single game.

And that brings us to a second challenge: while it is nearly impossible for the Hawks to overtake the 3rd-place Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta is far from guaranteed the fourth seed. As previously mentioned they are tied with the Celtics, meaning they could just as easily find themselves in the fifth spot. And while the Hawks have the tenth-easiest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.com, the Celtics possess the eleventh-easiest.  And the Celtics are surging, too, having won seven of their last 10 contests.

But it’s not just Boston. the New York Knicks, Miami HEAT and Charlotte Hornets are all within striking distance, too. While Charlotte and New York have their own challenges ahead that make them less-than-likely to pass Atlanta, Miami’s fate is closely aligned with that of Victor Oladipo and his recently reinjured knee. If Oladipo returns quickly with little to no effects, the HEAT could surpass be problematic for the Hawks and a number of other Eastern Conference opponents.

And if you’re really cynical, you can focus on who Atlanta has beaten in its time under McMillan. Over the course of the 22 games in which McMillian has been interim head coach, 11 of the team’s 16 wins have come against sub-.500 opponents – and another three were against teams that are exactly .500.

Looked at differently, the McMillian-led Hawks have defeated just two winning teams, one of which was against the Anthony Davis-less Lakers in a contest in which LeBron James exited after just 11 minutes due to injury.

So kudos to Atlanta for turning around a season that easily could have went sideways. But there is much left for the Hawks, an untested team who’s beaten mostly teams that they should, to prove.

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NBA

NBA PM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

It’s clear at this point in the season that Rudy Gobert should be the Defensive Player of the Year. But is there any way another player could unseat him for the award?

Dylan Thayer

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The seventh edition of The Defensive Player of the Year Watch for Basketball Insiders is here! In this week’s ranking, there’s not much change beyond the addition of the formerly-injured Philadelphia 76ers star, Joel Embiid. It’s impossible to leave him off of this list and it should come as no surprise if he ends the year as both a contender for this award as MVP. Sure, he’d have to outplay Rudy Gobert, but he’s only a streak of lockdown games away.

As the last full month of games for the NBA season gets underway, it’s time to see who else’s elite defensive play has kept them in the running.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 1)

The Utah Jazz center has been the clear frontrunner for a third career Defensive Player of the Year award, as well as his third in the last four seasons. There is no denying the fact that the Stifle Tower has been the focal point of the defense throughout their unprecedented run with the best record in the NBA. When Gobert is on the floor, it’s going to be hard for an opposing player to get an uncontested shot around the rim, and his presence is a factor night-in and night-out.

Coming off a strong month of March where he averaged 3.5 blocks per game, the Frenchman has tailed off a bit, averaging only 1.6 blocks per game midway through April. While this recent downward trend isn’t lessening his case, Gobert still holds the No. 2 spot with 2.8 blocks per game.

Diving deeper into the numbers is where Gobert really shines, however. His defensive rating is 102.3 this season, second to only Jazz teammate Mike Conley, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also finds himself third in defensive win shares with 0.166. It’s clear that Gobert is the leading candidate for another DPotY, even the likely winner barring any significant setbacks to his season.

Even the center is our clear frontrunner, Ben Simmons may say otherwise.

2. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Returning from a left knee bone bruise, the 7-foot center has gotten right back to the elite level few others can match. In a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Embiid showed the NBA that he is back and out for blood. Over 27 minutes, Embiid totaled 27 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks. The star took over in a short amount of time as the 76ers trounced the Thunder 117-93 – but his defensive impact should not be taken for granted.

Stacking up against the rest of the league, Embiid ranks in the top five in three major defensive categories: defensive win shares, defensive rating and blocks per game. Embiid is just behind Julius Randle in the defensive win shares statistic with 0.149, good enough for fifth in the NBA, per NBA Advanced Stats. In defensive rating, Embiid is also fifth with a rating of 104.6, just .1 off Marc Gasol. 

If Embiid can raise these numbers more in line with Gobert, he may be able to steal the award. Think about it. Giannis Antetokoumpo was able to win the award after an unbelievable season in which he won the MVP – why can’t Embiid do it too?

3. Myles Turner (Previous: 2)

If not for the elite defensive play from Gobert and Embiid, Turner would be the de facto leader in the race. After being a rumored name on the trade market this past offseason, the decision to keep Turner in the fold has paid off for the Indiana Pacers. The league leader in blocks has managed to put together a great season on defense but the Pacers, and specifically Turner himself, have been hurt by injuries.

Where things stand right now, Turner has a sizeable lead in blocks per game with 3.5, 0.7 more than Rudy Gobert. It’s looking more and more likely by the day that Turner will once again be the leader in blocks in the NBA, a feat he also achieved in 2018-19.

While this is an outstanding feat for the young center, it won’t be enough to get him this coveted award – there’s always next season though.

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 3)

The Jazz floor general has made his impact felt this season on both ends of the floor following a down season. Many had written off Conley and bashed the Jazz for the trade as he just didn’t look like the same player, but he has completely turned that around. Needless to say, without Conley, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz having the success they have had this season. Together, Conley and Gobert have been a nightmare for opposing offenses as they constantly apply pressure to the ball. 

But the advanced statistics are what truly put Conley’s season in perspective. In the defensive rating category, Conley has been the league leader for some time now. While it has fluctuated throughout the season, he has still managed to keep an incredible 100.9 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also ranks second in DWS with 0.171, just .02 off the league leader, LeBron James. Conley has also been very efficient in stealing the ball as he is tied for seventh with 1.3 steals per game. 

If a guard were deserving enough for this award it would be Conley, but due to the play of the guys ahead of him, it doesn’t look like he will have the strength to win it. 

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: 4)

The Greek Freak has a had very underrated season on defense, if not overall. He hasn’t been the topic of the MVP conversation as he was the past two seasons, but his defensive presence in the paint is undeniable. 

Antetokounmpo has averaged a stellar 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, all thanks to those incredible athletic abilities and length. He also ranks seventh in defensive win shares with a DWS of 0.139, per NBA Advanced Stats. His defensive rating of 106.6 also ranks in the top 15. 

While the Bucks have looked like a contender out of the Eastern Conference this season – their franchise cornerstone won’t be named the winner of any awards this year.

Honorable Mention: Jimmy Butler (Previous: 5)

The leader of the Miami HEAT is putting together another elite defensive season. Currently, he is the league leader in steals per game with 2.1, a lead he has held steady for weeks now. Butler ranks seventh in defensive rating with a mark of 105.4, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also ranks sixth with a DWS of 0.148. But if the HEAT surge through the last stretch of the season, Butler could earn more consideration for this prestigious award.

As the last full month of the regular season takes off, it has been clear that the Utah Jazz have the frontrunner for the DPotY award – plus another major runner-up contender to boot.

Will anyone else be able to top Gobert’s defensive output this season? It doesn’t seem likely, but anything is possible in this crazy, ever-changing landscape.

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