The season is still early, but there are some front-runners already emerging in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year battle.
While it’s not for a lack of trying, quantifying defensive contributions in the NBA continues to be an imperfect science at best. Instead, when considering the NBA’s major awards each season, there is none that is quite as open to interpretation as Defensive Player of the Year.
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First awarded in 1982-83, five of the first six winners were guards, with only shot-blocking savant Mark Eaton of the Utah Jazz breaking through. Sidney Moncrief of the Milwaukee Bucks won the first two DPOY honors.
The modern dynamic of the award has flipped that initial formula. Big men rule the roost, primarily for their rim protection skills. Rudy Gobert of the Jazz is the two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year winner and going back to the 2000-01 season, Metta World Peace (still known as Ron Artest when he won) and Kawhi Leonard are the only non-bigs to win the award.
With that as a preface, we debut out Defensive Player of the Year ladder for the 2019-20 season, something we’ll be revisiting every four weeks or so.
First, some caveats and addenda. No player has won the award playing less than 56 games of a full 82-game schedule (Gobert in 2017-18). That works out to roughly 68 percent of the schedule, so players who have played in less than 70 percent of their team’s games are not considered.
Similarly, Michael Cooper in 1986-87 and Dennis Rodman in 1989-90 are the only players to average less than 30 minutes per game while winning Defensive Player of the Year honors. Given roster expansion and a closer eye on workloads, 27 minutes per game is the cutoff here.
Finally, there have been an average of 5.2 players per year that received first-place votes for DPOY. Given this, the ladder is limited to five players.
With all of that out of the way, let’s dive in.