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NBA PM: Defensive Player Of The Year Watch

Basketball Insiders continues our Defensive Player of the Year rankings as Dylan Thayer takes an in-depth look at the current frontrunners.

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For the second Defensive Player of the Year rankings at Basketball Insiders, this aims to highlight those that have been lockdown defenders this season. The award has been won by big men for the last 25 seasons and the last guard to win the award was Gary “The Glove” Payton during the 1995-96 season. Will we see a guard in the rankings? Let’s take a look. 

1. Myles Turner (Previous: 2)

Turner may not be the most well-known name around the league, but his defensive play this season should make him the frontrunner for the award thus far. He is currently averaging 3.9 blocks per game, well ahead of the next closest competitor –Rudy Gobert with 2.7.

The Pacers’ center is currently 14th in defensive win shares among players that have played at least 15 games. Additionally, Turner has been an elite rim protector with two games with 8 blocks; six at 5 or more. As the season progresses, the 2018-19 blocks champion should keep his name in the DPotY conversation as he anchors the promising Indiana defense.

2. Anthony Davis (Previous: 1)

The Lakers’ big man always seems to find himself in the DPotY conversation due to his defensive prowess around the rim. Davis struggled a bit out of the gate, but he has cemented himself in the conversation. After starting the season with zero blocks in four of the first five games, Davis has managed to put together nine games with 3 or more blocks. 

Davis is second to only LeBron James in defensive win shares with 0.127, plus a very good defensive rating of 106.2 for the reigning champs. The Lakers are the best defensive team in the league at this point and Davis is their leader on that side of the ball. 

If the Lakers finish first in the Western Conference again, look for Davis to be among the top finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

3. Mike Conley (Previous: N/A)

Coming off what most considered a down season for the former Grizzlies point guard, Mike Conley has been a huge factor in the successes of the Utah Jazz. As previously mentioned, this award has not gone to a guard since Hall of Famer Gary Payton won it over 25 years ago. Conley should be in the conversation to change that this season.

Among players who have played in at least 15 games this year, Conley ranks first in defensive win shares with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. The Jazz are in the top two in the conference due to Conley’s elite defense on opposing guards. In the defensive rating rankings, he sits at fourth in the league with a 98.6 rating and, better yet, he is the only player in the top four that is a starter. 

4. Rudy Gobert (Previous: N/A)

Gobert is having another elite defensive season, ranking second in the league in blocks per game with 2.7. Together, Gobert and Conley have been a nightmare for opposing offenses by locking down their respective positions on the floor.

The Stifle Tower has earned his nickname with the massive impact he makes on defense for the Jazz. While ranking second in the league in blocks, Gobert is also fifth in the league for defensive win shares among qualified players with 0.157.

The center also has a very stellar defensive rating of 101.5, almost as low as Conley.

Gobert should remain in the conversation for this award as long as he continues to be a defensive force in Utah. Although voter fatigue may keep him from winning a third DPotY trophy, he’s still a cornerstone for the perennially elite defense out west.

5. Clint Capela (Previous: N/A)

The Atlanta Hawks’ center has been a defensive force this year and it’s no coincidence that the franchise looks like a playoff team again at long last. Capela was a bit overlooked in our first ranking for this award, but now is the time to give him the recognition he deserves. 

Capela is third in the NBA in blocks with 2.4 blocks per game, a big factor in the Hawks’ revival and the anchor for the team on defense. Next to John Collins in the frontcourt, he is eighth in the league in defensive win shares with 0.149. 

The acquisition of Capela has paid off for Atlanta as an obvious upgrade from players like Alex Len and Damian Jones. 

Honorable Mention. Tobias Harris (Previous: HM)

Tobias Harris’ success has been in the shadows of what has been a masterful season for Joel Embiid. If Embiid were not a top contender for the MVP award, maybe more people would notice the impact Harris has made this season.

Harris sits at second in the league in defensive win shares just behind Conley with 0.176. He also has been very efficient on the defensive side of the floor with a 101.5 defensive rating. His defensive rating is the same as Gobert, a perennial NBA All-Defensive First Team member.

For the new Doc Rivers-led Philadelphia 76ers, Harris has contributed positively on both sides of the ball. 

Stay tuned for the next edition of the Defensive Player of the Year rankings to see how things have continued to unfold. 

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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