We’ve reached the midpoint of a wild, unpredictable NBA season with many more questions — How good are the Bucks? The Nets? Can Golden State flip the switch? — than answers. The midpoint also means we know which players have put themselves in position for NBA postseason awards. We will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards all week long at this point in the season. Today:
NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Brook Lopez
2. OG Anunoby
3. Jarrett Allen
If I had to pick who will win the award when the real votes are cast in April, it wouldn’t require much thought — Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies. He has been clear and away the best defender in the league this season, protecting the rim (racking up 3.2 blocks per game) and anchoring Memphis’ second-ranked defense. The only reason he’s not on the list right now is he missed the first 14 games of the season following foot surgery, he simply hasn’t played enough games/minutes to qualify. Yet. He will. He probably wins the award.
Aside from Jackson, nobody has run away with DPOY this season— it is a crowded field of players who can make good-but-flawed cases. This race is still wide open.
For now, Brook Lopez tops the list as the anchor and stabilizing force of the Bucks’ defense, ranked third in the league. Lopez leads the NBA in total blocks (101) and is tied for the lead per game (2.6). Injuries have forced players in and out of the lineup in Milwaukee, which has weakened the Bucks’ perimeter defense, but Lopez has been the drop-back anchor that holds everything together. He and Giannis Antetokounmpo deserve mention in this category, but Lopez has been more critical to the Bucks’ success this season.
Anunoby has been the best perimeter defender in the league this season (and I value that more than some). He is a lock-down wing defender — Kevin Durant, Paolo Banchero, and Donovan Mitchell all shot below 40% going against him — plus he is deflecting everything and averaging 2.3 steals per game (best in the league). The advanced stats like him as well (third-best defensive estimated plus/minus over at Dunks & Threes). Jarrett Allen has been the anchor in the back of the best defensive team in the NBA this season, and when he was out for a stretch it became evident how much he matters to them.
Other players in consideration for the award include Draymond Green, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Myles Turner.