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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 7 Picks

Shane Rhodes checks out a decade’s worth of No. 7 overall picks in the NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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There is hope on the horizon: as more and more teams continue to re-open their facilities, the NBA would seem that much closer to a return.

That said, there is still a very long road ahead. And, in the meantime, Basketball Insiders has done our best to help mitigate the monotony of quarantine. Recently, we’ve taken a look at the last decade of the NBA draft, breaking down each player pick by pick.

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our analysis of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth overall picks. Today, we’ll be looking at the players taken with the seventh selection. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.

The Hits

Stephen Curry — Golden State Warriors — 2009

In the last 10 seasons, Curry, by far, is the best player to occupy the seventh draft slot. Arguably, he’s the best player to ever do so.

For a down-and-out franchise like the Warriors, Curry’s drop in 2009 was a franchise-altering stroke of luck. The Minnesota Timberwolves even doubled-dipped at the point guard position ahead of them, selecting Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, yet the sharpshooter out of Davidson, the future two-time Most Valuable Player and three-time champion, fell into their lap.

Would Curry have led the Timberwolves to their first Larry O’Brien trophy? It’s hard to say. What isn’t hard to say is the major impact Curry has had on the NBA would transcend almost any alternate reality where Minnesota, or any other team for the matter, draft him ahead of Golden State.

If the first unanimous MVP in league history doesn’t convince you of that fact, his career stats might: 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals and an NBA record (among players with at least 2000 attempts) 43.5 percent three-point percentage.

And if that doesn’t convince you, this might. Or this. Or this. Or…

You get it.

Harrison Barnes — Golden State Warriors — 2012

Barnes may not live up to his pick-mate, but he’s a solid pick in his own right.

As the Warriors third option to Curry and Klay Thompson, Barnes’ early numbers don’t impress. But the Warriors didn’t need him to do much, either — he may have been more a role player than bonafide “hit” for Golden State, but Barnes filled his role to the best of his ability and was a strong contributor on a championship roster.

And, with a move away from California, Barnes’ production took a major leap. In the four seasons post-Golden State, Barnes has averaged 17.4 points, on a 44.8 percent field goal percentage and a solid 37.4 percent from three, to go along with five rebounds per game.

Barnes averaged 14.2 shots per game, compared to the meager 8.5 he managed in his four seasons with the Warriors, and, while he may not carry an offense alone, he’d be a strong option on almost any squad.

If that’s not a hit, then I don’t know what is.

Jamal Murray — Denver Nuggets — 2016

The 2016 NBA Draft was often described as a “two-player” draft. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram were the superstars — beyond that, who cared?

Murray, as Jaylen Brown (No. 3) and Buddy Hield (No. 6) have, has seemingly proven everyone wrong just four seasons into his career.

After a promising rookie season, Murray took his game to a new level and hasn’t looked back. His scoring has improved year after year, while his percentages are strong and his penchant for success in the clutch would seem to be undeniable.

Alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray has pushed Denver into the Western Conference’s elite: Before the shutdown, Murray’s fourth season, the electric guard had averaged 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game with the Nuggets once again in position to claim one of the Western Conference’s top seeds.

As Denver’s success persists, Murray’s star should only shine brighter. He’s already flashed, but don’t be shocked if Murray, even in a packed Western Conference, plays his name into the All-Star conversation in the near future.

The Misses

Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings — 2013

It’s safe to say that any top-10 pick that’s had the career McLemore has should be categorized as a miss. He may not be a bust yet — he’s certainly redeemable, to a point, anyway — but McLemore just hasn’t lived up to his billing at this point in his career.

In seven seasons, McLemore has averaged nine points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. A career 42.1 percent shooter, he’s struggled with his shot and, more importantly, his confidence.

After four seasons in Sacramento, McLemore managed just one season with the Memphis Grizzlies, a year in which he bounced between the NBA and G League, before he was traded back to Sacramento and, later, waived.

Here’s something a bit more positive, however: Before the season had cut short, McLemore had seemingly found his footing with the Houston Rockets.

With Gerald Green and Eric Gordon injured, McLemore earned some playtime. And, alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the game seemed to have been simplified for him: in 63 games, McLemore played some of his best basketball as he averaged 9.8 points, shot 39.5 percent on 6.2 three-point attempts per game and played some strong defense.

As the seventh selection, it’s not the star he was made out to be. But it’s promising nonetheless. And, while McLemore isn’t there yet, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him play his way into the role player category in the near future.

Emmanuel Mudiay — Denver Nuggets — 2015

Mudiay, rather than joining the NCAA ranks, chose to play in China after graduating high school. His success there — 17.7 points, six rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.6 steals — saw his hype explode in the lead up to the 2015 NBA Draft.

But, in hindsight, it really shouldn’t have.

There was a lot to like about Mudiay as a prospect. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he certainly has the size and the athletic profile necessary to succeed in the NBA. But, unfortunately for the Nuggets, that’s about as good as it got.

From the jump, Mudiay struggled. And, while there were some games he would flash, those were few and far between. While his 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game looked strong, the 36.4 field goal percentage and suspect defense that accompanied them did not.

Handed the starting job as a rookie, Mudiay would cede the role to Jameer Nelson in his second season. Later, on Denver’s guard-rich roster, he eventually lost the backup job, too. In his third year, the Nuggets traded Mudiay to the New York Knicks, where he was once again given the starter role and averaged 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 82 games spread across two seasons. Now, in a reserve role with the Utah Jazz, he’s managed 7.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

His game has certainly improved since his time in Denver. Most notably, his field goal percentage had jumped to 47.1 percent before the league’s shutdown, albeit on only six shots per game. Still, Mudiay hasn’t lived up to his draft slot and, at this point, it’s hard to imagine he ever will.

The Middle of the Road

Julius Randle — Los Angeles Lakers — 2014

Early on, Randle looked destined to serve as a role player. But, in recent seasons, he’s shown to be capable of far more.

Of course, as with most lottery prospects, there was the occasional flash. But, with the Lakers, Randle didn’t “wow” anybody on a consistent basis. The 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds he averaged in his first four seasons didn’t exactly scream superstar, either.

Then, Randle made his way to the New Orleans Pelicans, and everything just seemed to click.

It’s just a two-season sample, but Randle has played near (if not at) an All-Star level in his post-Lakers career. In his lone season with the Pelicans, Randle blew up as he averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and shot 52.4 percent from the field. He was one of only seven that season to average at least 21 points and 8 rebounds while playing in at least 60 games.

The other six? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, Karl Anthony-Towns, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook.

Randle’s surge had continued into the 2019-20 regular season with the New York Knicks. Before the NBA’s hiatus, the forward managed an impressive 19.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists, and did so in arguably the most dysfunctional environment in the NBA, an achievement in and of itself.

After only two seasons of high-level play, it’s hard to justify Randle as a surefire “hit.” That said, he’s close, and that could change very quickly if he can continue to build on the progress he’s made in the last two seasons.

Lauri Markkanen — Chicago Bulls — 2017

Markkanen’s career trajectory would appear to be at a crossroads. And it’s not looking good.

The forward out of Arizona shined as a rookie, serving as Chicago fans’ light in the post-Jimmy Butler darkness. He averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds across 68 games. As a sophomore, Markkanen raised the bar despite the fact that he was limited due to injury — he averaged 18.7 and nine per game, respectively, in 52 contests.

No doubt, he had the look of a rising star.

But, in his third season, Markkanen has faced some significant regression. His output has either stagnated or worsened across the board — including career low scoring (14.7), rebounding (6.5) field goal (42.5) and three-point percentage (34.4) averages — and, having played 50 games, it’s unlikely he’ll see a marked improvement should the season resume.

Going forward, a change of scenery may do him some good. If not, or if he can’t get right some other way, Markkanen might slide further and further away from that “hit” moniker and toward that of a role player (or worse), an idea that would have been laughed at after such a promising start to his career.

Wendell Carter Jr. — Chicago Bulls — 2018

For Carter Jr., it’s just too early to call.

He’s certainly shown promise. In 84 games across his first two seasons, Carter has looked the part as he’s averaged 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, shot 50.8 percent from the floor while consistently playing hard on the defensive end.

But it’s that number: 84. With so few games played, it’s hard to say one way or the other what Carter’s future could look like. Could this be his best? Unlikely. But is it a possibility? Certainly. We just don’t know.

As he gets more games under his belt, that future should come further into focus. He certainly has the tools to put it together, it’s just a matter of whether or not Carter can effectively make use of them.

Coby White — Chicago Bulls — 2019

Yes, another Bull.

Like Carter, there just isn’t enough to go on to make a solid declaration on White. Yes, the talent would seem to be there — White averaged 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists in 65 games — but the North Carolina product struggled in a number of categories, namely field goal percentage (39.4 percent).

He certainly has the potential to blossom. But the NBA has seen far too many promising rookie seasons followed up by sub-par careers. For White, at this point, it’s just a wait-and-see.

The Role Players

Greg Monroe — Detroit Pistons — 2010

Over the course of his career, Monroe was atrocious on defense. But, and despite the fact that he’s not currently under contract, his offensive game has saved him from “miss” status.

Monroe made an instant impact as a rookie, as he posted 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Over the next four seasons, Monroe averaged a strong 15.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on 49.9 percent shooting. It was more of the same in the first of a three-year, $50 million deal he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks: 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds on 52.2 percent from the field.

But, after that? It’s not pretty.

It’d be hard for any team to keep a center that doesn’t block many shots on the floor for extended stretches. Monroe, being such a center (with a career average of .6 blocks per game), saw a dip in minutes, from 29.3 to 22.5 per game. His scoring and rebounding averages, 11.7 and 6.6, respectively, suffered.

In the final year of his deal, Milwaukee traded Monroe to the Phoenix Suns, who later released him.

Despite that ugly turn, Monroe proved a desired commodity as a potential offensive sparkplug off the bench. He finished the 2018-19 season with the Boston Celtics before splitting last season between the Toronto Raptors, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

Bismack Biyombo — Charlotte Bobcats — 2011

Were it not for his defensive acumen, Biyombo would have certainly gone down as a miss.

The 6-foot-8 center, over the course of his career, has brought almost nothing on offense. For his career, the center has managed a, to say the least, underwhelming 5.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The 52.1 percent two-point field goal percentage he’s sported over nine seasons is 67th in the NBA in that span — not great when the majority of your shots come within three feet of the basket.

And yet, in one season with the Toronto Raptors, Biyombo parlayed his biggest strength, his defense, into a four-year, $72 million deal with the Orlando Magic in 2016.

The merit of that deal could certainly be argued, but that’s neither here nor there. In reality, Biyombo earned that deal as a defensive specialist and, despite inconsistent minutes, has continued to play much of the same role since.

The draft, ultimately, is a crapshoot. You can only analyze so much tape, run so many workouts before giving way to blind luck. That said, over the last 10 seasons, the NBA, collectively, has made great use of the seventh selection. Who could be the pick’s next success story?

Again, if you haven’t already, make sure to check out our analysis of the first six picks. And stay tuned for the rest of our draft lookback series.

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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.

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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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