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NBA Defensive Player of the Year Watch — March 17

Who’s challenging Rudy Gobert for the Defensive Player of the Year award this season? Take a look in Basketball Insiders’ latest DPoY ladder.

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There hasn’t been much change in the latest edition of Basketball Insiders’ Defensive Player of the Year rankings. While there is a slight shift, the long pause that was the All-Star Game, has made if difficult for anyone to make a significant move up to down. The players mentioned in this list have all continued to excel at locking down their opposition and radiating a strong defensive presence when on the floor.

Let’s take a look at how things are unfolding in the DPoY race.

1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Previous: 1)

Since our last ranking, there has not been anything significant to displace Gobert from the top spot. The Stifle Tower continues to be a force on defense for the Utah Jazz, stepping up on anyone driving towards the hoop and holding his ground against whomever he’s matched up with. The Jazz own the best record in the NBA, to boot, even more reason for Gobert to hold a significant lead in the award race as the best defender on the NBA’s best team.

Gobert remains second to Myles Turner in blocks per game with 2.8 per contest. He’s also managed a stellar defensive rating of 103.6, per NBA.com, third in the NBA behind teammate Mike Conley and Los Angeles Lakers forward Lebron James. Gobert is third in defensive win shares as well with 0.152 this season, again behind James (.178) and Conley (.160).

Joel Embiid was able to drop 40 points and 19 rebounds on Gobert in their matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Mar. 3rd, but that shouldn’t be a significant detriment to his spot in these rankings. An MVP frontrunner, Embiid has dominated anyone and everyone this season — and even defenders as great as Gobert have an off-night now and then.

Gobert is integral to what the Jazz have been able to do this season and, as the leader of this season’s defensive powerhouse, it’ll be tough to steal the award away from him.

2. Lebron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Previous: 2)

James still hasn’t earned any love around the league for his defense this season. With Anthony Davis missing significant time due to injury, many figured the Lakers would crater on that end of the floor, but James has set the tone and pushed the team to the league’s best defensive rating. Known for his otherworldly ability on chase-down blocks, James has been so much more than just a sporadically good or situational defender this year: he’s been consistently great.

The league leader in defensive win shares, James has also posted the second-lowest individual defensive rating at 102.2, slotting in behind Conley and ahead of Gobert. Case and point: were the Jazz, as a defensive unit, to come back down to Earth in the season’s second half, James would be in prime position to snag the top spot on this list from Gobert.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: Honorable Mention)

The reigning MVP and DPoY, the Milwaukee Bucks star is in the midst of another brilliant season and has, once again, moved up this ladder. Per NBA.com, the Bucks are a top-10 defensive unit this season, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the charge. The Greek Freak, known for his length and shot-blocking abilities, has once again put his talents on full display. 

Diving deeper into the numbers, it is easy to see why Antetokounmpo is so high in these latest rankings. Not only is he fourth in defensive win shares with 0.141, but Antetokounmpo is also ninth in defensive rating. Add in his 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals per game and if couldn’t be more obvious that Antetokounmpo belongs in the award discussion.

4. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 3)

Leading the 76ers to the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Embiid has been a dominant force on both ends of the court. And, with the help of elite defenders such as Ben Simmons and Danny Green around him, he has led Philadelphia to the third-lowest defensive rating in the NBA.

Doc Rivers’ impact has been on full display this season — and it’s benefitted Embiid in a major way. Staring down a negative trend in blocks per game over the last two seasons, Embiid has surged to fifth in the category this year with 1.4 per contest. He’s also tied for sixth in the NBA with 1.2 steals per game while leading all centers in the category. Maintaining those numbers, while also averaging nearly 30 points per game, should keep Embiid in both the MVP and DPoY conversation until the last days of the season.

Embiid is sixth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 105.9, per NBA.com. On top of that, he’s also sixth in defensive win shares with 0.137.

5. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers (Previous: 5)

Going by advanced stats alone, it can be hard to make an argument for Turner over any of these players. But, by the eye test, he certainly belongs here — or even higher. Opposing teams are struggling to get to the basket against the Pacers due to Turner’s elite rim protection. Further, he’s been sending shots back at the highest rate in the league, with an average of 3.4 blocks per game. Gobert and the others may rank higher, but leading the league in blocks per game and total blocks is a major feat in and of itself — if he can maintain that lead, it keep Turner in the DPoY conversation for a long while.

Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Utah Jazz (Previous: 4)

The Jazz point guard has been a major difference-maker this season — and that starts on the defensive end. The first-time All-Star leads the league with a defensive rating of 102.2, per NBA.com. He’s also second to James in defensive win shares with 0.162. Conley is also fourth in steals per game with 1.4, but it’s the advanced matrics that truly highlight his impact; with a revived Conley, Utah has managed to post the NBA’s best record and its third-highest defensive rating.

The race toward DPoY is relatively open, but this group has continued to maintain themselves at the head of it. Make sure to stay tuned for our next update!

 

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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