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Kawhi Leonard repeats as Defensive Player of the Year

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Kawhi Leonard, 2015 Defensive Player of the Year, is now 2016 Defensive Player of the Year

He becomes the first non-big man to repeat as winner since Dennis Rodman in 1990 and 1991. When defenses are designed for bigs to have greater impact, Leonard stands out as a terror on the perimeter. He locks down his man, hawks passing lanes and helps on the glass.

Here’s the full voting with player, team (first-place votes, second-place votes, third-place votes, points):

  1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio (84-41-4-547)
  2. Draymond Green, Golden State (44-62-15-421)
  3. Hassan Whiteside, Miami  (2-12-37-83)
  4. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (0-7-29-50)
  5. Paul Millsap, Atlanta (0-3-12-21)
  6. Avery Bradley, Boston (0-1-11-14)
  7. Rudy Gobert, Utah (0-1-10-13)
  8. Tony Allen, Memphis (0-1-2-5)
  9. Anthony Davis, New Orleans (0-1-1-4)
  10. Andre Drummond, Detroit (0-1-0-3)
  11. Jimmy Butler, Chicago (0-0-2-2)
  12. LeBron James, Cleveland (0-0-2-2)
  13. Al Horford, Atlanta (0-0-1-1)
  14. Jae Crowder, Boston (0-0-1-1)
  15. Trevor Ariza, Houston (0-0-1-1)
  16. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (0-0-1-1)
  17. Kyle Lowry, Toronto (0-0-1-1)

Takeaways:

  • All three of us chose Leonard as our Defensive Player of the Year. This was both expected and earned. Leonard was the NBA’s best defensive player when on the court last season. This season, he stayed healthy, making him the clear choice.
  • Green was just as much a lock to finish second. His versatility for the Warriors is incredible.
  • Whiteside finished a surprise third. His 3.7 blocks per game not only led the NBA, they were the most by a player in 15 years. In a less-informed era, that might have won him this award. But the fact that Heat allowed fewer points per possession with him off the floor – an overused but still relevant stat – is indicative of reality: Whiteside too often makes poor decisions, chases blocks and gets out of position.  He’s a good defender – a very good one. His elite strengths outweigh his weaknesses. But when it comes to being considered one of the very best in the NBA, his flaws matter more.
  • Surprising Tim Duncan and Andrew Bogut both received no votes. I rate them as the best defenders when on the court behind only Leonard and Green. But neither Duncan nor Bogut played enough for any voter.
  • The Pacers, third in points allowed per possession, were the only top-eight defense without a vote-getter. That’s another surprise given Paul George‘s name recognition.

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
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Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
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The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.

Damian Lillard throws pass away from basket, off Tobias Harris, into hoop (video)

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Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.

EVERYTHING.

Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.

LeBron James admits he’s still adjusting to playing without fans

LeBron James
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LeBron James has played to overflowing gyms and arenas since he was a sophomore in high school. There is always a crowd around him to watch him play. Or a massive crowd of reporters around him after the game. Or throngs of fans when he travels through China on a shoe tour. LeBron has always packed the house.

Until now. There are no crowds, no fans at the NBA’s restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. It’s now games in a stripped-down, made-for-television gym. And LeBron admitted to reporters after the latest Lakers’ loss he is still adjusting. Via Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“I am getting more and more used to being out there. It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said following the Lakers’ 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “It’s been a very long time since no one has been watching me play the game. I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in…

“I’m getting more and more comfortable playing in an empty gym,” James said. “Just having the backdrop here is a lot different from playing in a high school gym or a college arena where you’re playing in the summer time, whatever the case may be. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground. I’m just getting more and more comfortable playing with my game here in the bubble.”

LeBron has still been very good in the bubble — 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists a game — but he has not been quite the otherworldly, MVP candidate level player he was before the shutdown. His true shooting percentage of 51.9 at the restart is down from 57.7 before the break (and it has been below the league average since the restart). The Laker offense overall has scored less than a point per possession in the bubble and has been the worst offense in Orlando (leading to a 2-4 record so far). It’s not all LeBron, the Lakers as a team have struggled to get their pre-hiatus traction back, the chemistry is not quite right. But we know who leads this team.

LeBron and company also know they need to find that rhythm soon. They will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and face and eight seed — likely Portland or Memphis — that had to battle its way into the postseason. That team, whoever it is, will come in battle-tested and motivated.

The fans will not be there to pick up LeBron and the Lakers.

“I definitely love playing in front of the fans. The fans are what make the game,” James said. “Without the fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. To all the fans out there that come watch me play, I miss you guys and hopefully someday I can get back to that interaction.”

Someday we all hope for that.

In the short term, LeBron and the Lakers need to find their groove in a fanless world.