The Defensive Player of the Year race remains fairly unsettled.
So, candidates are making their cases – particularly along positional lines.
I recommend reading this full article from Tim Bontemps of ESPN for far more nuance, but the short version: Bigs say bigs have the greatest defensive impact. Guards and wings say guards and wings have the greatest defensive impact.
Smart, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:
“Let’s think about it,” Smart said. “As a guard, especially on the team that switches a lot, especially on the No. 1 defensive team, you are worried about every single player. And here’s the thing: When you see Defensive Player of the Year, that means he can guard all five spots.
“Nothing against Rudy, but Rudy can’t guard all five spots. I can guard all five spots and I have been doing it. I’ve done it very well.”
I generally side with Gobert, who said, “As a big, you can impact multiple players at a time. As a guard, it’s harder to do that.”
The point of defense isn’t to stop an individual from scoring. It’s to stop a team from scoring.
Of course, a defender’s assignment can be to lock up an individual. But that matters only in service of stopping the opposing team from scoring.
By the nature of his role, Gobert is positioned to have the largest impact. Guards, forwards and centers all try to score at the rim. It is the most efficient area on the floor. Though rarely switched into directly covering guards and small forwards, Gobert makes a massive difference with all five opposing players with his paint protection.
In the playoffs, it becomes increasingly difficult for a defender like Gobert. Better teams are more likely to have good shooters who can create and make shots on the perimeter that Gobert can’t disrupt. But Defensive Player of the Year is a regular-season award. During the regular season, bigs like him tend to make the strongest defensive impact.
That said, Smart has been so good, he deserves Defensive Player of the Year consideration, anyway. It’s harder to affect the game so much in his role. But he’s doing it.
More than Gobert in his role? It’s close.