1. Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
2. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
3. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
Marcus Smart could be Mr. Steal My PBT Award here — I almost put him No. 1. Bam Adebayo could be Mr. Steal My PBT Award — about a week ago I had him on top of this list. Every other award we have listed this week here at NBC is what my ballot will look like when I send it off to Ernst & Young, but DPOY… I am still not settled. I’m still talking to people in the league, watching film, trying to figure out where I stand here. Jaren Jackson Jr. could finish in the top three, as could Mikal Bridges. Midway through the year Draymond Green was running away with this award, but he missed too much time to injury to win it, and that created a vacuum I have yet to totally figure out how to fill in a way I am comfortable with.
Rudy Gobert is still an elite defender and is not the reason the Jazz defense slipped this season, it’s that Utah went with more offense and less defense around him, asking him to do even more. When Gobert is on the court, the Jazz still have an elite defense. Boston had the best defense in the NBA this season, but that is an ensemble effort where everyone on the floor can defend. How do you parse out what Smart meant to the defense vs. Robert Williams III, who also was fantastic this season? Bam Adebayo was a switchable force for the Heat, but he missed a lot of time, and you can’t help a defense from the bench. There are cases for and against everyone. In the end I lean Gobert because of what is asked of him in Utah, they run everything through him and ask him to make up for lesser defenders more than others on this list.
Gobert gets my DPOY vote… unless someone steals it.
1. Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
2. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
3. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
Rudy Gobert is a stale candidate. He has won this award three of the last four years, and where has it gotten Utah? Gobert is central to the freefalling Jazz‘s chemistry problems. His defense becomes less effective in the playoffs, where Utah has faced a second-round ceiling.
But this is a regular-season award, and Gobert once again deserves it. Utah defends like the NBA’s best-defensive team with him on the floor – no small feat considering the wretchedness of the Jazz’s perimeter defense. Gobert is an elite paint protector, and his strong rebounding ensures possessions end. Plus, he has significantly improved defending in space (making his postseason issues, while still real, overblown). Utah gets away with putting such offensive-centric personnel on the floor because Gobert does so much to keep the defense respectable.
Bam Adebayo feels like he’s everywhere thanks to his ability to switch. Another player who can cover all five positions, Marcus Smart cracks this ballot (barely over Boston teammate Robert Williams and Grizzlies big Jaren Jackson Jr.) despite guards’ disadvantage in defensive impact.