In our expedition around the association looking for award candidates, the next award we have is Defensive Player of the Year. Rudy Gobert took home the title last season and this year we have some others who will for sure have something to say about the award winner this season. In an effort not to waste any time, let’s delve into the current frontrunners and best defensive players so far this season.
1.Joel Embiid, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
Our first player in these rankings is everyone’s favorite Cameroonian man, the process himself, Joel Embiid. Most people might believe that all Embiid does is talk a lot of trash over social media/on the court. While they’re right and he does a ton of that, he’s also played some DAMN good defense thus far. He’s averaging 2.0 blocks per night and that ranks 7th overall in the league. Coupled with a truly solid defensive rating of 101.7 and you can see how effective Embiid has been this season. Philly also has a top 10 defense and a lot of this can be attributed with the work Embiid has done on the defensive end. He’s an absolute moose (not to be confused with the great Greg Monroe) in the lane and he can effect shots in a multitude of ways. He also passes the eye test as it’s evident how important he is to the Sixers on that end of the floor.
2. Rudy Gobert, Center, Utah Jazz
Picking up where he left off last season, the second spot in our rankings goes to Gobert. The big Frenchman is doing his thing this season, as he’s protecting the rim at a high level and blocking his fair share of shots. He’s sixth in the NBA in blocks per game (2.1) and leads the NBA in contested 2-point shots (330). On top of this he’s 11th in the league among Centers in terms of deflections. He’s been everywhere on the defensive end and he’s made his presence felt. He might have the longest arms in the league and it seems like he’s always disrupting opposing offenses. He also ranks 7th among starting centers in terms of defensive rating at 103. He’s taken a hit from last year as his rating was at 97.4 a year ago but that can be attributed to Utah’s defense being worse this season as a whole (102.9 rating last year->107.5 this year). This isn’t Gobert’s fault and if the rest of the team picks it up I’m sure his rating will get better as the year goes on.
- Robert Covington, Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
A known preventer of points on the perimeter, we have RoCo. After being shipped out for Jimmy Butler (along with Dario Saric) about a month ago, Covington has gotten his footing in Minnesota and is defending at a high level. The story with Covington over his career has been his ability to defend smaller players on the perimeter. He’s 6’ 9” with a 7’ 2” wingspan and his quick feet/sound rotations make him unique in terms of defending. He can stay with smaller guards outside, but also can rotate down low and make a difference against forwards/centers. He’s tied for 1st in the league in steals per game (2.3) and is 16th in blocks per game (1.5). There aren’t many guys in the league who can rack up both steals and blocks at the rate Covington does and this versatility has been a treat for Thibs and the T-Wolves. Not only does he lead the league in steals per game, he also leads the league in deflections with 93. He keeps his hands in the passing lanes and has disrupted so many different team’s offenses early on in the season. Check out the shooting percentages (per zone) for opponents defended by Covington, they’re wildly impressive.
Since acquiring RoCo, the TWolves are 8-3 and are 2nd in the NBA in defensive rating 100.7 during that time period. I attribute a lot of this improvement on defense to Covington and he will continue to be a staple on defense for Minnesota. After landing on the All-Defensive First Team last season, Covington has his eyes on the main prize of Defensive Player of the Year.
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