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2014-15 NBA Defensive Player Watch: Davis Dominating

The race for the DPOY award is another area where Anthony Davis is displaying his dominance.

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As players and teams across the league start to settle in on their seasons, there has been plenty to talk about. By now, the rust has been knocked off from the offseason and players are starting to show just what we can expect from them this season. In just a couple of weeks of action there has already been plenty of great defensive performances as well as highlight-reel worthy blocks and steals.

Every week during the season, we’ll keep track of the top candidates for awards. We started by taking releasing our MVP Watch and Rookie of the Year Watch. Today, we’ll look at the frontrunners for Defensive Player of the Year:

5. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks – Similar to Andrew Bogut and the Golden State Warriors, Sanders and the Bucks have made significant improvements on defense. Sanders and the Bucks have improved to fourth in the league in defensive efficiency and are fifth in the league in points allowed at 94.7 per game. Finally healthy, Sanders is back to being a force down low as he ranks fifth in the league in blocks at 2.14 a game. The story last season was the team was significantly better with Sanders on the floor versus when he’s off and now that Sanders is healthy again, he should continue to be a big difference maker for them. Sanders ranks near the top of the league in opponents’ field goal percentage less than five feet from the rim at 51 percent. To compare, last season’s DPOY Joakim Noah held opponents to 50.8 percent from the same distance.

4. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets – No defensive watch list is complete without an appearance by the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year. So far this season, Howard ranks fourth in the league with 11.5 rebounds a game and is 11th in the league with 1.83 blocks per game. Howard has contributed on both sides of the ball this season and is currently helping anchor a defense that has yet to give up 100 points in any game. While it’s hard to see Howard getting back to the defensive player he was during his run of three-straight DPOY awards, Howard will still be the guy the Rockets count on to protect the paint and haul in loose balls.

3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – Cousins is leading the surprising run of the Sacramento Kings and his presence on defense is a huge part of the Kings’ early success. Cousins has benefited from a summer with Team USA and is also carrying that success into the regular season. Cousins is averaging 11.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game through the Kings’ first seven contests and has transformed the Kings into a top-10 defensive team as a result. Perhaps the most telling stat of how important Cousins is to his team is that when he steps off of the court the team’s defensive rating drops from 92.1 to 112.9. While the season is still very young, the Kings’ success rests on how much Cousins can play each night.

2. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors – Under new head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors have remained one of the league’s best defenses. The Warriors as a team rank sixth in the league in points allowed per game and is tops in the league in defensive efficiency at 94. The Warriors’ defensive attack is led by big man Andrew Bogut, who is off to a great start after reportedly battling an illness for the first couple of games. Bogut ranks fourth in the league in blocks at 2.17 per game and is tied for sixth in rebounds with 11.2 per game. Additionally, Bogut is holding opponents to 42.6 percent shooting at the rim. After missing him against the Clippers in the playoffs due to injury, Bogut is proving just how valuable he is to his team. Had Anthony Davis not started off this season on another level, Bogut could be the front runner thus far.

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – After playing in just five games thus far, Davis has skyrocketed to the top of many statistical categories in the league. Davis is currently ranked in the top five in points (fifth), rebounds (first), steals (fifth) and blocks (first). Davis has arguably been the best player to lace it up so far this season and is making his presence felt on both sides of the ball. His long arms and elite athleticism at his position enable him to knock balls loose and rise up for the contested shot as illustrated with his 4.17 blocks per game. It’s also those long arms and athleticism that allows him to patrol the floor at will, and with a more-traditional center on the court in Omer Asik, Davis now has the luxury of roaming around more.

Honorable Mention:

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers – The fact that Jordan didn’t place on any All-Defensive teams last season still leaves many wondering what exactly happened during the voting, but the fact remains that Jordan is the Clippers’ best defensive weapon. Jordan led the league in rebounding last season and finished third in blocks, but was left out of every defensive category in a survey of the league’s 30 general managers that was released prior to the start of the season. He has admitted that he was upset with the lack of recognition and seems to be using it as motivation. He is off to another good start this season, averaging 10.7 rebounds, 1.83 steals and 1.67 blocks per game for the Clippers. Jordan is the defensive anchor for the Clippers and their success on that side of the ball rests largely on how he performs.

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers – Paul has been one of the most consistent defensive players in the league over the last several seasons and has picked up where he left off last year when he was named to the All-Defensive First Team. Paul ranks third in the league with 2.67 steals per game. Paul’s lateral quickness and hands enable him to be a lock-down defender against some of the league’s elite players at his position. Paul and teammate DeAndre Jordan figure to set the tone on the defensive end of the floor for the Clippers each night and early indications are the two should be in the conversation among the league’s best defensive players.

K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers – In a season that won’t feature very many wins for the 76ers, McDaniels will certainly bring some excitement to the court on a nightly basis. Watching McDaniels play this season makes it hard to believe that the former Clemson player was taken in the second round of the draft, but he has proven to be a steal thus far for the 76ers. McDaniels is making an impact on both sides of the ball and has been sneaky good on defense. Through the 76ers’ first seven games, McDaniels leads all guards in total blocks, averaging 1.71 per game. According to NBA Stats, the former ACC Defensive Player of the Year is holding opponents to 44 percent shooting at the rim, which is among the league’s best. It’ll be tough for McDaniels to get the recognition he deserves by playing in Philadelphia, but if he can keep up this pace he could be a dark horse for some end-of-the-season awards.

Check back weekly all season long as we continue to keep you up to date on the race for the 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year award!

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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