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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Rankings

The Utah Jazz have had immense success this season, so two of their best players find themselves at the top of the latest rankings.

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In the third edition of the Defensive Player of the Year rankings for Basketball Insiders, the players who have continued to excel on defense will be highlighted. These lockdown defenders have made huge impacts for their teams so far, and look to continue to do so. With the loss of Anthony Davis due to a right calf strain he suffered this past Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers lost their defensive anchor and their second-best player. Davis will be re-evaluated in two to three weeks, but for the time being, his chances at winning this award have taken a hit. With all of that being said, let’s take a look at the third edition of the DPotY rankings. 

1. Mike Conley (Previous: 3)

Mike Conley should be the frontrunner for this award at this point because his improved play has elevated the team to another level. The Utah Jazz are currently the best team in the NBA, and Conley has been a huge factor on the defensive side of the ball. The point guard continues to be a pest for opposing guards whenever he steps foot on the court.

Among starters who have played at least 20 games this season, Conley continues to lead the way in defensive win shares with 0.183, per NBA Advanced Stats. Combine this notable stat with the fact that he also leads the league in defensive rating at 98.9. He also averages a very solid 1.4 steals per game.

Conley has missed the last five games with soreness in his right hamstring, but he may return for a pivotal matchup with the Clippers tonight. 

2. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 4)

The centerpiece of the Jazz defense has been having yet another elite defensive season as of yet. Gobert is having the best defensive season for big men once again thus far, and he, just like Conley, has been a big factor in the success of the Jazz. 

Gobert continues to rank second in the NBA in blocks–behind only Myles Turner– with 2.8 blocks per game. If he can continue to protect the rim at this level, he would beat his previous career-high of 2.6 blocks per game.

The Jazz center ranks third in the league among starters in defensive rating at 102.9, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also leads all centers in defensive win shares with 0.153 showing how valuable he is to the Jazz. Expect Gobert to be a frontrunner for the award amid the unexpected Jazz improvement this year.

3. Myles Turner (Previous: 1)

Previously regarded as the leading player to win this award, Myles Turner has slipped a bit due to the Indiana Pacers’ recent struggles. The Pacers are 3-7 in their last ten games and while it is not solely Turner’s fault, it still factors into his ranking.

Turner continues to be an elite rim protector as he leads the league in blocks per game with 3.5. He is also sixth in steals per game among starting centers, with 1.1. He should not be counted out as a contender for this prestigious award, and if the Pacers can turn around their recent struggles, he could shoot back up in the rankings.

4. LeBron James (Previous: N/A) 

One of the best players the game of basketball has ever seen deserves a spot on this list for his defensive play this season. James has not made an All-Defensive team since 2014, but this year might be the first in a while. 

According to NBA Advanced Stats, James is second in the NBA among starters in both defensive rating and defensive win shares with 102.6 and 0.177. He also is averaging 1.1 steals per game, which is good enough for 10th in the league.

With the loss of Anthony Davis for an extended period, James is going to have to step it up even more on defense. Losing Davis’s presence on defense hurts the Lakers, but they should not have any reasons to worry as they have the best player on the planet to assume his role. Keep an eye on LeBron as he steps it up in the coming weeks and puts himself into the conversation for the award. 

5. Clint Capela (Previous: 5)

It is not often that a player gets a triple-double, but Clint Capela had an unorthodox one last month. In a Jan. 22nd matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Capela managed to put up 13 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks. According to Sports Illustrated, he is the second player in the last five seasons to accomplish such a feat.

Capela is third in the league in blocks per game with 2.2 the way things stand right now. Add in a stellar defensive win share of 0.116 and a defensive rating of 106.5, per NBA Advanced Stats, and it is easy to see why he is on this list. As the Hawks continue their playoff push in the East, Capela should be in the conversation for DPotY. 

Honorable Mention: Kawhi Leonard (Previous: N/A)

The Klaw has managed to put together yet another elite season on defense so far this season as he’s kept the Clippers at the top of the Western Conference. While his stats may not jump off of the page, his defensive presence is one that is nothing to joke about. He is called the Klaw for a reason, right?

Kawhi ranks second in the league in steals per game among starters who have played at least 20 games with 1.8. He has also lowered his defensive rating by a lot and is now down to 108.3, per NBA Advanced Stats. Kawhi is a matchup nightmare for opposing players and should his defensive play continue to elevate, he can rise in these rankings.

Once again, stay tuned for the next edition of the Defensive Player of the Year rankings to see how things keep unraveling. 

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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