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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 2/16/18

Spencer Davies updates the DPOY watch as the first half of the NBA season comes to a close and the All-Star break approaches.

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It’s mid-February and the NBA is officially at the All-Star break. The race for the playoffs heating up and things are tight in both conferences.

Basketball Insiders continues its Defensive Player of the Year Watch with six candidates to keep an eye on as we head into the second half of the season.

6. Kevin Durant

The Golden State Warriors fell into a mid-season funk before the All-Star break as a team defensively, but that doesn’t eliminate Durant’s contention in the competition for DPOY. He’s still averaging almost two blocks and close to a steal per game as a part of the league’s sixth-best team in defensive rating.

While the individual defensive rating statistics don’t exactly support his case, the numbers in isolation certainly do. Seeing at least one scenario in a one-on-one situation per game, Durant ranks fifth in the NBA in yielding just 0.74 points per possession. He’s also still the top dog in fourth quarter defense, with a defended field goal percentage of 30.4.

5. Anthony Davis

With DeMarcus Cousins going down with a devastating season-ending Achilles injury, it’s going to be up to Davis and new frontcourt partner Nikola Mirotic to hold down the fort for the New Orleans Pelicans. Along with Jrue Holiday, the All-Star big man has been the anchor of that defense all year long.

What was once a bottom of the barrel team in the league in that category is now a respectable group. The Pelicans rank 15th among their peers with a 108.2 defensive rating. Davis has taken on the brunt of the load especially over the last 15 games, seeing nearly 17 shot attempts per game against him and only allowing 42.2 percent of those to be successful. It’s a rate of tries that’s the second highest in the league over that span. He’s blocking two shots and recording at least one steal per game, making him the only player in the NBA who has done so thus far.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo

This is the first time that Antetokounmpo has made this list, and it’s for good reason. He’s always been on the fringe, but with the Milwaukee Bucks holding their opponents to the lowest points per game total (95.4) in the month of February to this point, he has to be mentioned in the DPOY conversation.

“The Greek Freak” has created all sorts of problems for his matchups. Over the last 12 games, his defended field goal percentage of 32.2 is by far the lowest on the list regarding the last 15 games. He’s seeing over 12 attempts per game and yielding less than four of them to be converted. Overall that number is 40.4 percent, which is still an impressive figure. The Bucks are a minus-9.2 and allow 115 points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo off the floor, putting him in the 97th percentile up against the rest of the league.

3. Paul George

If you look at the identity of the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s all about hustle. They’re constantly on the floor for loose balls, always looking for extra possessions, and not afraid to be physical with their opposition. That all starts with leadership from Russell Westbrook and, of course, George.

“PG-13” is relentless as an individual defender. His 33 deflections in eight February games lead the NBA, and taking it a step further, he has a league-high 247 on the year. All season long, George has been disruptive in passing lanes, with 2.2 steals per game, and has forced teams into making poor decisions, as the Thunder turnover 17.2 percent of opponent’s possessions with him on the floor. If George continues to play the way he has, Oklahoma City will make life hell for whatever team encounters them in the postseason.

2. Joel Embiid

Don’t look now, but the Philadelphia 76ers have a top-five defense in the NBA. The potential has always been there with the versatility of their team, but Embiid is the heart of their commitment to making it difficult for others to score. As a shot blocker and stout presence inside and out, it’s not easy to break through.

Second to only Kristaps Porzingis—who we unfortunately lost to an ACL injury—“The Process” is allowing less than 54 percent of attempts at the rim to be successful, according to NBA.com. He ranks second in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus among those playing at least 30 minutes per game as well. The Sixers’ defensive rating with Embiid on the floor is 100.4. When sitting, they are a minus 9.4 points per 100 possessions. Both statistics are at least in the 97th percentile.

1. Rudy Gobert

It’s about time Gobert made his way back here. A real contender for DPOY honors last year, he’s been hampered by nagging injuries over the season and didn’t really have a chance to be himself. Now at the center of an 11-game winning streak as the Utah Jazz burrow their way back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference, he’s been an integral part of the turnaround.

All the numbers check out for “The Stifle Tower.” In February, he stands atop the NBA in contested shots (127) and screen assists (65). He’s behind only Porzingis with 2.4 blocks per game, and despite having basically half of most other big men’s minutes, he ranks seventh in Defensive Points Saved (80.75), per NBAMath.com.

In both ESPN’s DRPM and Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus minimum 30 minutes per game, Gobert places second with positive 4.32 and 4.1 ratings, respectively. In addition, the Jazz are allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions with him off as opposed to 100.9 with him on.

The argument against Gobert is simply the short 31-game sample size, though if he stays healthy and Utah continues this amazing stretch past the All-Star break, it might be enough to solidify his chances for DPOY.

All DTRG numbers are cited from Cleaning The Glass unless noted otherwise.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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