Examining the Top NBA Defensive Player of the Year Candidates
As things stand, the Spurs forward may have to settle for Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard has been one of the catalysts for San Antonio, which is the only team in the NBA allowing fewer than a point per possession.
Leonard took home the award last season, though Draymond Green received more first place votes, and Green may be Leonard’s top competitor again.
While measuring individual defense statistically remains an inexact science, we have come a long way in this regard, thanks to developments like SportVU and Adjusted Plus-Minus metrics.
With that in mind, here are the numbers behind the race for Defensive Player of the Year.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
As alluded to at the top, Leonard has been one of the league’s best players on both ends of the court and trails only Curry in our nERD ratings, which measure a player’s value over an average player.
Leonard is second in Defensive Win Shares, according to Basketball-Reference, and is tied for 11th in the league in steals per game (1.8).
He is also fifth in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric (DRPM), making him one of only three non-centers in the top 12 (and the only small forward; Real Plus-Minus estimates “on-court impact on team performance…[accounting for] teammates, opponents and additional factors).
San Antonio’s performance on defense without Leonard backs up his high Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating, as with Leonard on the floor, the Spurs only allow 93.9 points per 100 possessions. Without him, though, the Spurs allow 99.4, and this 5.5 points per 100 difference is the highest on the Spurs, according to NBA.com.
When Leonard is on the floor, opponents are posting only a 46.1% Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), and with him on the bench, this increases to 49.4%, according to NBAWowy.com (consider the fact that the Spurs lead the league in eFG% allowed at 47.4%, while the league average is 50.2%).
This does not appear to be randomness either, as according to NBA.com, the players Leonard has guarded this year have attempted only 9.4 shots per game and shot 39.4%. This is 5.3% lower than their usual season average.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
With Golden State scoring at a historic pace, Green has helped the Warriors hold opponents to 103.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark which ranks fifth in the league.
His versatility on defense has made him invaluable to Golden State, as he is in the 86th percentile in terms of points allowed per isolation play and the 88th percentile in defending post-ups, according to NBA.com.
Opponents are shooting 39.9% when being defended by Green, and the 5.7% difference between their usual season average is sixth-best in the NBA (minimum 10 games played, five shots faced per game). He is also seventh in steals per possession.
Golden state has been 12.3 points per 100 possessions better with Green on the court than when he is out of the lineup, and he is also fourth in the league in Defensive Rating, sixth in Defensive Win Shares, and third in DRPM.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Hassan Whiteside has a message for those considering his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy.
The 7-foot center told reporters “I want y’all to go to Toys “R” Us and put up each block for how many blocks I’ve got for the season and just look at it and just be like, ‘That’s a lot of blocks.’ And then y’all vote.”
If you were to take Whiteside’s advice, you would be purchasing 255 blocks.
This is 85 more blocks than DeAndre Jordan, who is second to Whiteside in both total blocks and blocks per game, trailing his 3.3 stuffs per game by 1.5.
Whiteside also owns a staggering 9.9% Block Rate, which is 3.8% higher than Bismack Biyombo's percentage.
He is also third in the league in Defensive Rebounding Rate and has been a solid rim protector. Among the 62 players who have defended at least five shots at the rim per game, Whiteside ranks 12th, allowing opponents to shoot 46.3%.
He also leads the league in Defensive Rating.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Water is wet, the sky is blue, and Tim Duncan is a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate.
“The Big Fundamental” is second in the league in Defensive Rating and leads all players in both DRPM and its counterpart at Basketball-Reference, Defensive Box Plus-Minus.
Duncan is tied for 15th in the league with a 4.0% Block Rate and is 17th in shooting percentage allowed at the rim. With Duncan on the floor, the Spurs have only allowed 93.2 points per possession. When he is on the bench, this jumps to 97.8.
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Another seemingly perennial contender, Jordan trails only Whiteside in terms of total blocks and is fourth in Block Rate.
He also ranks second in Defensive Rebound Rate and has held opponents at the rim to a 46.4% shooting percentage. In terms of his overall impact, he is fourth in Defensive Win Shares and is fifth in DRPM, Defensive Box Plus-Minus and Defensive Rating.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
In terms of field goal percentage allowed at the rim, no one has protected the rim better than Rudy Gobert, who has held interior opponents to a 40.9% shooting percentage.
He is 3rd in both Block Rate and blocks per game and is 10th in Defensive Rebounding Rate.
Gobert is also second to Duncan in terms of Defensive Box Plus-Minus and is eighth in DRPM.