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Summer Dreaming: Early candidates for Kia Defensive Player of the Year

Take a look at five players who could wear the defensive crown

POSTED: Sep 1, 2016 10:19 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard is a favorite for the award again in 2016-17.

Sure, it's summertime and the living is easy. But you know what they say in the courtroom and on the court: the defense never rests.

While everybody else is spending August on the beach getting sand between their toes, the players that make a real difference between winning and losing are in the gym getting dirt under their fingernails.

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So our next stop on our annual Summer Dreaming series, where we pick the award winners for the 2016-17 season way ahead of time, are those gritty candidates for Kia Defense Player of the Year. Here's a look at our top five picks (and you can send us your picks here):

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: Until further notice, the league should just plan on packing up the trophy and sending it to San Antonio every year for the foreseeable future. Leonard has copped two years in a row and is the runaway choice to join Dwight Howard as the only players to make it three straight. Unlike Howard, he doesn't just shut down one section of the floor. With those long arms, monster mitts and an insatiable appetite for sinking his teeth into opponents, Leonard can guard all five positions on the floor and often makes his opponents look helpless in doing it. The departure of stalwart Tim Duncan in the middle as a backdrop probably means the burden to keep penetrators out of the lane only increases. He doesn't just look flashy jumping the passing lanes for steals, but does all the rock solid fundamental work. And Leonard is just 25.

The NBA Defensive Player of the Year is the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: It's not all about punching or kicking the opponents he's guarding in the crotch, no matter what Steven Adams and LeBron James might tell you. When Green isn't letting himself get extra wild and out of control, he's as down-to-earth defender as you'll find. Just like Leonard, he can guard every position on the court and it's his ability to constantly switch that takes the entire defense of the Warriors to a different level. There will likely be no sideshow distractions this season like chasing 73 wins and the presence of the long, rangy Kevin Durant in the lineup will free him up to wreak even more havoc. The sting of The Finals loss and his very big role in it with that Game 5 suspension, will light his fire like an acetylene torch.

Spotlight: Draymond Green

NBA Action sits down with one of the main catalysts for the Golden State Warriors, Draymond Green.

Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat: The chip is still on his shoulder and it might be growing larger than a Florida pine. He finished as the league leader in blocked shots and also had a defensive rating that was better than the two-time award winner Leonard. But Whiteside wound up third in the voting in 2016. "I'm used to not getting credited for anything. I'm used to getting overlooked," he said. "I've been looked over my whole life. I'm used to getting overlooked." Whiteside's 3.7 blocked shots per game are well ahead of runner-up DeAndre Jordan at 2.3 and he was the highest-place center in the voting. The trouble is that in an era when small ball has become the norm and versatility is a premium asset, the traditional center that protects the rim and can't guard other positions is devalued. But there was a reason that Heat president Pat Riley put a premium on locking up the 27-year-old. He's counting on the chip on Whiteside's shoulder driving him.

Whiteside Nominated for Kia Defensive Player of the Year

The Heat's Hassan Whiteside is a nominee for the Kia Defensive Player of the Year.

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: The 7-foot-2 Frenchman doesn't particularly like the nickname "Stifle Tower", but until somebody comes up with something more appropriately descriptive — "Arc de Try That"? — we're sticking with it. He's got a bit of young Hakeem Olajuwon attitude of trying to block every shot that comes within his wingspan and that means virtually everything. His defensive boxscore plus/minus rating last season trailed on retired icon Tim Duncan, his defensive rating ranked eighth in the league and he makes everything the Jazz try to do at that end of the floor easier. If Utah finally takes the next step up and gets back into the playoffs in 2017, the big man in the middle will be a foundational force.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: You won't find him on any of the stat lists that are supposed to measure these things and you probably won't find his name very high up in the vote totals, if he gets any at all. But it's time we stopped thinking of Thompson as just half of the Splash Brothers and gave him his due on defense as well. He's so much more than just a mad bomber. The truth is that Thompson enables Stephen Curry to devote most of his energy on the offensive end, because he usually defends the best backcourt player on the other team. That is, when he's not taking a turn on a forward. Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Paul George? Bring them on. With the exception of Leonard in San Antonio, nobody has to carry as much weight at both ends of the floor.

Inside Stuff: Klay Thompson

Dennis Scott goes one-on-one with Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson, one of the key players in Golden State's title hopes.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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