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Your top three candidates for Kia Defensive Player of the Year?
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David Aldridge: Right now: Rudy Gobert, Paul George, Joel Embiid/Marcus Smart (tie). I don't care if Gobert can only max out at 56 games this season because of his two DL stints; he is a monster, a one-man wrecking crew at that end of the floor, and Utah's defensive numbers when he's playing are just staggering. The Utah Jazz's best five-man unit is its newest one, with Jae Crowder joining Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles on the floor. Among five-man units with 100 minutes together or more this season, per NBA.com/Stats, guess what that Jazz auintet is doing defensively? Try a Defensive Rating of 80.1. Now, Crowder's a big part of that, but Gobert has been amazing. In an era where 3-pointers rule, he nonetheless has made Utah impenetrable by roaming the paint and nearby areas and snuffing any and all opponent sorties anywhere close to the rim. George leads the league in deflections, and while it's true he got a lot of help from Andre Roberson before the latter's season-ending patella tendon injury, PG-13 is still a wildly effective player both on and off the ball. Watch him shred opponent's dreams from the weakside some nights. Embiid's presence has made Philly a top-10 defense, both with shot blocking and rebounding. Smart is Boston's chief defensive catalyst. Without him, their defensive numbers plummet, and that's with Al Horford -- who could well be a DPOY candidate himself -- still on the floor. Smart is just such an irritant to opposing ball handlers, having perfected the art of disruption without fouling, never allowing a straight-line drive and having eliminated the ridiculous flopping that pockmarked his first two years in the league.
Steve Aschburner: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is my choice to win this award by a margin as wide as James Harden’s deserves to be in the Kia MVP balloting. Yes, Gobert appeared in only 45 of the Jazz’s first 71 games, but his presence has been so profound in the team’s defensive numbers that the games he missed help to argue his case. To me, Nos. 2 and 3 on the DPOY ballot will be mostly ceremonial and required, so I’ll give nods to Draymond Green (again) for his versatility and inclinations in the Golden State Warriors' system, and to Al Horford for his solid positional work for the Boston Celtics.
Shaun Powell: No. 1: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. Love how he has changed the Pelicans' season without DeMarcus Cousins, and while his offense has rightly received much of the credit for that, Davis' D (leads the league in blocked shots and top 25 in steals) is giving the short-handed Pells a chance to win. No. 2: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Much like Davis, Gobert has jet-fueled the Jazz rally by bringing back his defense, which was sorely missed while he sat with injuries. He's the league's premier rim protector. No. 3: Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors. Not sure if he'll win this award and become the second straight Warrior to do so, but Durant's defense has received lots of applause this season and it's perhaps overdue.
John Schuhmann: 1. Rudy Gobert. He's missed 26 games, but has made such a huge impact when he's been healthy, and the Jazz have been far and away the best defensive team in the league (allowing 6.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team) since he returned in mid-January. 2. Joel Embiid. The Philadelphia 76ers are a top-five defensive team and Embiid is the biggest reason why. He ranks as one of the league's best rim protectors and the Philly defense has been at its best with him on the floor. Those two guys are the clear top two. Anthony Davis, Al Horford or Jusuf Nurkic will probably end up third on my ballot. Andre Roberson would have represented the perimeter players had he stayed healthy. Jimmy Butler's presence has made a huge impact on the Wolves' defense, but even with him on the floor, they don't have the numbers of a top-10 defense.
Sekou Smith: I'd normally go with a defensive specialist first on my list, but Paul George has been absolutely fantastic as the league's best perimeter defender this season. Not having to tote the offensive load he had to in Indiana has allowed him to show off the skills that make him one of the league's handful of truly elite two-way players. Even with some of the Thunder's defensive struggles as a team, he and Andre Roberson stood out (before Roberson was lost for the season to injury). Anthony Davis leads the league in blocks and, along with Rudy Gobert, is the most imposing rim protector and shot altering presence in the game today. Davis is No. 2 on my list and Gobert edges out Kevin Durant for No. 3, even though I think Durant is more versatile in terms of how many positions he can defend.