The season is almost at it's half way point and we've had a decent sample of what each player brings to the floor. We had some expectations dashed, while others have impressed in areas that we didn't anticipate. Everyone knows who can score the ball. We all ooh and aww while watching dunks and crossover highlights and each night the NBA news is filled with headlines like "Harden scores 50+" or "Steph hits 7000 triples". Offense is glamorous, every kid dreams of draining threes or throwing down for the first time. On the other end of those dunks and pull up jumpers are defenders, defenders who are being taken advantage of on those particular plays. Often those defenders succeed and prevent those highlights from happening and they deserve credit. Sure we'll see the odd chase down block or a giant volleyball swat into the first row but more often than not, good defense goes unseen. Still, everyone knows the importance of a good defender and that is why, at the end of the year, we reward the best in the league. It's harder to pinpoint who exactly is the best when it comes to defense. We can't look at points or assists and the number of blocks or steals a player collects can be misleading. Someone like Dwight Howard may block a lot of shots but when we examine his impact on the team we see that his effects are minimized. So let's dig in and look at what voters might have in mind when selecting the Defensive Player of the Year. Sometimes stats are trumped by story lines.
The Stifle Tower was touted as a favourite to win DPOY coming into the season and I would not have been surprised if he had, but unfortunately Gobert has missed a large portion of the season's games and has only seen the court 18 times. In his limited time he has average 2.3 blocks and had a defensive rating of 101.1 in 29.9 minutes a game. Not too shabby. His presence near the rim is enough to deter even the strongest attackers, and the way he anchors that Utah defense is undoubtedly valuable, but despite his excellent numbers he hasn't played enough to validate anyone who would vote for him come award time.
Al the Anchor. The Boston Celtics have played some solid D this season and it has been directly responsible for a lot of wins. Even when they haven't shot the ball well, they've been able to get stops on the other end and Horford's veteran presence is a key to orchestrating such a swarming defense. Though his defensive stats don't jump off the page his defense directly affects the young team around him. Being a sound positional defender just doesn't get you on sportcenter.
Draymond is a defensive stud and the winner of last year's DPOY award. Winning twice in a row is not out of the question. His stats show he's an elite stopper, and he even has the most steals per game on this list at 1.4, but narrative may prove a decider in this years decision. Draymond is playing alongside a guy who has improved his defensive game and has garnered plenty of attention for the intensity with which he's been guarding his opponents and protecting the rim. Sorry Draymond, I don't think it's your year.
Though he has made some remarkable blocks and intimidates opponents around the rim, Embiid is at least a year away from taking home this hardware. He averages 2 blocks a game, which is impressive, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy in a way that most NBA award winners must. He boasts the best defensive rating on this list and opponents score nearly 10 less points per 100 possessions while he's on the court. That's incredible. If he plays out most of what remains of the season and keeps this up, voters will have to consider him in the end.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had a spectacular defense season this far but Paul George stands out most of all. He averaged 2.4 steals and defensive rating of 102.7 while playing a ton of minutes. Being a great defensive team goes a long way towards getting you the award and if the Thunder as one of the best in the league a lot of people will be looking to George for praise.
Once again, sorry Draymond. The reigning finals MVP probably doesn't need anymore praise but he sure is getting it. Though we all know Kevin Durant is a dominant force on offense, the league has taken notice of his improved rim protection and defensive grit. The lanky scorer has turned into a fierce shot contester and has bolstered what was already a remarkable defense in Golden State. As Kevin Durant rounds out his game, fans may over react to this improvement - as we often do when the best get better. Overall I think there are other guys who are more deserving but something tells me he has a good shot at locking down yet another accolade.
While defense isn't always flashy it is most definitely important and each player on this list is a key part of what their teams do on that end of the floor. Who wins is ultimately up to the voters, and in the end narrative has more to do with the way we see awards handed out than ever before. Being flashy helps too. Here are the top 10 blocks of 2017.
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