2022 PBT Awards: Defensive Player of the Year

0 Comments

Kurt Helin

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.

Dan Feldman

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.

2022 PBT Awards: All-NBA

Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry in Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
0 Comments

Kurt Helin

First team

Guard: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

Guard: Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Forward: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Center: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Second team

Guard: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

Guard: Devin Booker (Suns)

Forward: Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

Forward: LeBron James (Lakers)

Center: Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)

Third team

Guard: Trae Young (Hawks)

Guard: Chris Paul (Suns)

Forward: DeMar DeRozan (Bulls)

Forward: Kevin Durant (Nets)

Center: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

My goal is to have the five best players in the league on my All-NBA first team — matching up with my MVP ballot — and that explains why I have moved Nikola Jokic to forward. There were three clear best player/top MVP candidates this season in Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo and they all deserved first-team honors, but to make that happen means moving someone to forward (Embiid and Jokic are both eligible at forward). Jokic plays a little more of a forward role than Embiid, a more traditional center, so Jokic gets moved for me. I doubt most voters will see it that way, and Embiid/Jokic will battle it out for first-team center, but I have gone this way. It also frees up a center spot so both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert can be All-NBA, and they are both deserving.

I did not totally match my MVP ballot, that would have required moving Tatum to guard (he is eligible), but doing so means cutting another guard and I couldn’t leave Chris Paul or Trae Young off All-NBA. Guard was deepest and the hardest positional decision this year for this award. In the end, Donovan Mitchell is the first man out, with Pascal Siakam the next forward on the list who just doesn’t make the cut.

Dan Feldman

First team

Guard: Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Guard: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Forward: Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

Center: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

Second team

Guard: Chris Paul (Suns)

Guard: Devin Booker (Suns)

Forward: DeMar DeRozan (Bulls)

Forward: Kevin Durant (Nets)

Center: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Third team

Guard: Trae Young (Hawks)

Guard: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

Forward: LeBron James (Lakers)

Forward: Jimmy Butler (Heat)

Center: Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)

I covered my picks in greater depth on the ProBasketballTalk Podcast last week.

A few changes to some close races since recording: Luka Doncic and Kevin Durant are surging and LeBron James and Ja Morant are limping to the finish.

Because Doncic went from third-team forward to first-team guard, my previous last guard in – Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell – gets bumped completely. The forward vacancy now goes to Jimmy Butler, though I’d rate Mitchell ahead of him if not constrained by positions. However, if not constrained by positions, Utah center Rudy Gobert – who barely fell behind Karl-Anthony Towns – would’ve gotten included ahead of Mitchell.

2022 PBT Awards: Coach of the Year

Erik Spoelstra and Monty Williams in Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Kurt Helin

1. Monty Williams (Suns)

2. Taylor Jenkins (Grizzlies)

3. J.B. Bickerstaff (Cavaliers)

This was an insanely deep class with more deserving winners than there were spots on the ballot. There is a sense among some people that Phoenix had it easy this season and cruised to the best record in the NBA, but that was not the case. The investigation into Suns owner Robert Sarver could have been a major distraction at the start of the season that threw the Suns off. Deandre Ayton not getting a contract extension could have been a distraction. Chris Paul missed time with a hand injury. The list goes on and on, but Monty Williams’ steady leadership and the culture he built sustained the Suns, so he lands on top for me.

Taylor Jenkins in Memphis and J.B. Bickerstaff in Cleveland had teams that surprised us all this season and made unexpected early leaps with young players, a credit to the development and detailed work those two put in to build a foundation with their teams. A lot of years, either one of them could have won this award. Erik Spoelstra was tough to leave off this list.

Dan Feldman

1. Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

2. Monty Williams (Suns)

3. Billy Donovan (Bulls)

Miami has given significant roles to Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Omer Yurtseven – and is atop the Eastern Conference. Erik Spoelstra is so good at both player development and implementing winning game plans, a tough combination to execute. A late-season blowup with Jimmy Butler is concerning. But it still appears Spoelstra has the veteran Heat ready for the playoffs.

Monty Williams is favored to win this award, but I have him second because I assign more credit than others do to Phoenix’s strong roster (and James Jones for assembling much of it). Still, Williams impressed by navigating the Suns through the Robert Sarver investigation and Deandre Ayton’s contract year – issues that could have derailed less-cohesive teams. Williams also implemented a high-level offense and sound defense.

Both Billy Donovan and J.B. Bickerstaff each made tricky rosters fit so well, it’s easy to forget about all the (valid) preseason concern. What slightly separated Donovan: He adjusted to his team’s numerous injuries just a bit better, though both Chicago and Cleveland might be in over their heads with so many absences now.

2022 PBT Awards: MVP

0 Comments

Kurt Helin

1. Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

3. Joel Embiid (76ers)

4. Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

5. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

This was the most difficult MVP decision I can remember — tougher than triple-double Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden — and there is a legitimate case for any of the top three to win it. Ultimately, what separated Nikola Jokic for me is the “value” part of Most Valuable Player — Jokic had a larger load to carry this year than either of his competitors. Yes, Joel Embiid was without Ben Simmons for much of the year, but he had the emergence of Tyrese Maxey, then eventually James Harden. Yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo had to play more center with Brook Lopez out much of the year, but he still had Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Aaron Gordon is the second best player on the Nuggets right now, and he would be the fourth best (maybe lower) on those other rosters. In the final analysis, for me Antetokounmpo is the best player in the game today, but Jokic was ever so slightly more valuable to his team.

It was also not easy filling out the final two spots on the roster, with Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, and Ja Morant all having good cases, but I thought Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum had the best seasons and provided the most value.

Dan Feldman

1. Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

3. Joel Embiid (76ers)

4. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

5. Stephen Curry (Warriors)

This was a three-player race.

Denver with Nikola Jokic on the floor, Philadelphia with Joel Embiid on the floor and Milwaukee with Giannis Antetokounmpo each performed at similar levels. So, to a certain degree, it’s about determining which star had the least help.

That’s Jokic, who – without Jamal Murray and mostly without Michael Porter Jr. – propped up an undermanned supporting cast. He scored a lot and scored efficiently. He continued to show why he’s the best passing center of all-time. And, with his improved conditioning more established than novelty, he defended better than ever.

Embiid and Antetokounmpo were closer to each other than Jokic. To nitpick, trailing as a passer, Embiid didn’t quite drive high-level offense as well as Antetokounmpo.

Jayson Tatum finished a fairly strong fourth by virtue of his scoring, defense and – importantly – missing just five games. Especially with players of this caliber, availability makes a major difference in value.

I could barely decided between Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant for fifth? Curry would’ve built a stronger case by playing to the finish, but his injury has at least demonstrated how much he provided Golden State.

2022 PBT Awards: All-Defense

0 Comments

Kurt Helin

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart (Celtics)

Guard: Mikal Bridges (Suns)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Forward: Bam Adebayo (Heat)

Center: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Second team

Guard: Patrick Beverley (Timberwolves)

Guard: Matisse Thybulle (76ers)

Forward: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies)

Forward: Draymond Green (Warriors)

Center: Robert Williams (Celtics)

Bam Adebayo is technically a center, but in an effort to get the most deserving defenders on first team I moved him to forward next to Rudy Gobert. It was also close between Mike Bridges and Matisse Thybulle for first team at guard, but Bridges plays more minutes and his team leaned on him more this season, so he gets the nod.

There were three tough calls for me. First, what to do with Draymond Green, who was the best defender in the league for half the season but missed a lot of games. Ultimately, I couldn’t leave him off and call it a fair representation of the best defenders. Second, Patrick Beverley vs. Fred VanVleet for the final guard spot, but I leaned Beverley because of how much he changed the defensive culture in Minnesota. The final tough one was Robert Williams vs. Joel Embiid for the final center spot, and that was almost a coin flip. Williams got the nod because he was so critical to the best defense in the NBA for much of the season.

Dan Feldman

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart (Celtics)

Guard: Matisse Thybulle (76ers)

Forward: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies)

Forward: Robert Williams (Celtics)

Center: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Second team

Guard: Mikal Bridges (Suns)

Guard: Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Forward: Draymond Green (Warriors)

Center: Bam Adebayo (Heat)

Bigs tend to have a greater defensive impact than guards and small forwards. So, my two-guard, two-forward, one-center All-Defensive teams become about jamming power forward-centers into the forward line, which pushes wings to guard.

Which means Marcus Smart – a guard who has been so good, he deserves Defensive Player of the Year consideration – was the easiest first-team selection.

Rudy Gobert remains the NBA’s most reliable regular-season defender. This is a regular-season award. So, he gets the highly coveted first-team center spot.

Ultimately, I wasn’t comfortable putting Bam Adebayo at forward. Yes, he switches a ton onto all positions. But he does that as a center. Unlike earlier in his career, he nearly never plays next to another center in Miami. So, Adebayo gets relegated to the second team despite being another Defensive Player of the Year candidate himself.

Like Adebayo, Robert Williams can also best be described as a center. But much of that is offensive role. Defensively, Williams often begins possessions covering forwards. In that role, he has thrived drifting into the paint to protect the rim while still maintaining a presence on the perimeter.

Definitely qualifying at forward, Jaren Jackson Jr. excels both starting at power forward next to Steven Adams. Jackson also gets credit for his time as primary paint protector without Adams.

Matisse Thybulle is so disruptive on the perimeter. Mikal Bridges was far closer to Thybulle than even the other second-team spot. Though both better described at forwards, Thybulle and Bridges – as wings – can fit as guards.

Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t roam as much as he did with Brook Lopez, lessening Antetokounmpo’s all-out disruptiveness. But Antetokounmpo stepped up plenty as a paint protector.

The other second-team forward spot was pretty open. Draymond Green, who was on track to win Defensive Player of the Year before getting hurt, gets the nod despite missing 36 games. Considering how important being on the court is to playing effective defense, Evan Mobley, Robert Covington, Herbert Jones, P.J. Tucker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jimmy Butler, Jarred Vanderbilt and Jae Crowder also received significant consideration.

The last second-team guard spot was even more wide open. Gary Payton II was the best defender when on the court, but he played just 17 minutes per game for the Warriors. The Bulls’ Alex Caruso probably would have claimed this spot before getting hurt. Yet another strong option, the Timberwolves’ Patrick Beverley lags in minutes behind players like Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Fred VanVleet and wings who also drew consideration at forward. Ultimately, Tatum – more of a forward – covers enough guards to qualify here and avoid a tough choice between several pure guards.

Because of positional constraints, better defenders but pure centers – including Joel Embiid, Jarrett Allen and Jakob Poeltl – couldn’t really crack the discussion. Being able to play down a position is so critical for this honor – perhaps to the point the league, even more so than with the All-NBA debate, should change the format.