Let’s just be honest right up front. The 2018-2019 Defensive Player of the Year award is really a two man race. Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo are far and away the only players truly deserving of the award. Are there other really good defensive players in the NBA? Of course. Have some players had moments or stretches of DPOY play? You bet. But no one reaches the impact of Giannis and Rudy. And in my opinion, Rudy Gobert should take home the hardware for the second year in a row.
Let’s go over the most commonly nominated players and discuss their candidacies. This list includes Paul George, Joel Embiid, Myles Turner, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Rudy Gobert.
Over the first half of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were owners of the league’s best defense with a rating of 102.9. Paul George was a major reason why. However, they also had one of the lightest schedules in the league. As their schedule became more difficult, their defense hasn’t looked nearly as dominant. George’s pre and post all star breaks demonstrates this quite well. According to Basketball Reference, before the break he had a defensive rating of 105 while after this rose to 109. Here are his current ranks in the following defensive statistics compared to the other candidates:
- Defensive Rating (DR) 104 – 5th
- Defensive Win Shares (DWS) 4.8 – 3rd
- Defensive Box Plus Minus (DBPM) – 0.7 – 5th
- Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus (D-PIPM) 2.2 – 5th
- Defensive Points Saved (DPS) 40.89 – 5th
Honestly, at this point I’m not convinced Paul George should even be in the 5 discussion for DPOY.
Embiid is having a career year for the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s an absolute star and the driving force behind the 76ers playoff run. But he’s not the defensive player of the year. Don’t let his offensive production convince you that he deserves more recognition on the defensive end. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great defensively. He’s just not on the same level yet. Here are his current ranks compared to this group of piers:
- DR 104 – 5th
- DWS 3.7 – 5th
- DBPM 2.1 – 4th
- D-PIPM 2.6 – 4th
- DPS 94.64 – 4th
Again, I think Embiid is an incredible player on both ends of the floor. But is he a true candidate for defensive player of the year for his entire body of work this year? No.
This is where things get a little more interesting. Myles Turner is not getting enough appreciation for how good he’s been this year. The Pacers, despite losing the franchise face and all star in Victor Oladipo, have earned at least the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. Turner has bolstered a good defense during a career year for the young center. At only 22 years old, I would be surprised if he doesn’t win DPOY at some point in his career. Here’s how he stacks up against these other players:
- DR 101 – 3rd
- DWS 4.4 – 4th
- DBPM 4.7 – 3rd
- D-PIPM 2.8 – 3rd
- DPS 199.02 – 3rd
As good as Turner has been, he still isn’t in the tier of “true candidates”. However, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in that tier in the next year or two.
Alright now we can truly discuss the award. I don’t think you need me to tell you this, but Giannis has been on a completely different level this year. So much so that he could very well take home the MVP here in a few weeks. Because of that, I actually don’t think he’ll win DPOY. I believe too many voters will hesitate voting him first for both MVP and DPOY. Does that make sense? Not really, but it happens nonetheless. Anyways, here’s where the Greek Freak comes in against his piers:
- DR 99 – 1st
- DWS 5.5 – 1st
- DBPM 5.1 – 1st
- D-PIPM 3.0 – 2nd
- DPS 255.92 – 2nd
I would not be at all upset if Antetokounmpo is deemed the best defensive player of the year. He is absolutely a worthy and deserving candidate. He’s the best defensive player on arguably the best defensive team in the NBA this year. That being said, I do believe he has more defensive help on the Bucks than Rudy does on the Jazz.
I believe Rudy Gobert to be the most influential defensive player in the NBA. Honestly, he might be the most influential player the NBA has ever seen. The way he impacts every possession when he’s on the floor is truly incredible to watch. He’s 2nd in blocks behind only Myles Turner. But the number of shots that he affects is crazy as well. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a guard or wing drive into the paint and just back their way out to the three point line because they know Gobert is lurking. Here’s how he compares to the previous 5 players:
- DR 100 – 2nd
- DWS 5.5 – 1st
- DBPM 5.1 – 1st
- D-PIPM 3.7 – 1st
- DPS 263.97 – 1st
To further boost his candidacy and describe Gobert’s insane impact, just look at the following two graphs:
Rudy Gobert ranks number one overall in the Basketball Index Interior Defense player grade. He’s better than 87% of centers over the past 6 years since entering the league! That’s including his developmental years as a rookie and sophomore. Opposing centers absolutely feel the difference when they have to face him.
The Utah Jazz are one of the best defensive teams in the past 2-3 seasons. Rudy Gobert is almost single-handedly the reason why. When he’s healthy and playing well, Utah’s defense is elite. The Jazz defense goes as Rudy goes. Fortunately for the Jazz, Rudy brings it almost every night. No one is asked to carry such a burdensome defensive load like Gobert, and he absolutely delivers. Giannis, with Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, and George Hill has multiple perimeter defenders to help out. Gobert doesn’t have that luxury, with the Jazz best perimeter defenders grading out mostly at a B-.
I don’t have a vote and my opinion probably doesn’t really matter. But if I did have a vote in this year’s defensive player of the year race, mine would absolutely go to the most influential defender in the game. And that player is undisputedly Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.