The NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award is one of the 12 major prizes handed out at the annual NBA Awards. It is given to the best defensive player during the regular season. The winner is selected by a panel of 124 sportscasters and broadcasters from the United States and Canada.
Although five out of the first six winners of the awards were perimeter players, the award has been traditionally given to big men who dominate the defensive end with their rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. Overall, only seven perimeter players have won the award with Gary Payton in 1996 as the only point guard to win the award and Kawhi Leonard in 2016 the last perimeter player to do so.
Rudy Gobert is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year awardee and he has won the award in the last two seasons. Gobert, Sidney Moncrief, Mark Eaton, Dennis Rodman, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Alonzo Mourning have won the award twice while Dwight Howard won three in a row from 2009-11. Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace own the distinction as the only players to win the DPOY award a record four times.
This year, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is the betting favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. The Greek Freak is a huge -480 favorite to take home this year’s best defensive player honors. Next to him on the odds board is Los Angeles Lakers big man Anthony Davis who came back at +260. AD has helped the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference with the 3rd best defensive rating in the league
Here are the odds to win the 2020 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award:
Who Are the Favorites?
Giannis Antetokounmpo could join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in NBA history to win the NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season. Giannis isn’t just the odds on favorite here but he is also almost a lock to win his second straight MVP award and is also the betting favorite there. Milwaukee had the best defensive rating in the league this season and they were a good two points per 100 possessions better than 2nd place Toronto. Sure, you can’t say that it’s all Giannis but he is the driving force behind the Milwaukee defense. Antetokounmpo averaged 13.7 rebounds, 1.0 block, and 1.0 steal per game but it’s not even the numbers that make him great. The Bucks’ defense is designed so that he can go after a three-point basket and then fly in to grab the rebound. That’s not even counting his ability to harass an offensive player with his length and athleticism, forcing bad passes that lead to easy points for the Bucks.
When Anthony Davis joined the Lakers, his goal was to win the Defensive Player of the Year award more than winning the NBA MVP honors. Davis led the Lakers in scoring at 26.7 points per game but more than his offense, it was his defense that really contributed much to the success of the Lakers. Davis averaged 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game for the Purple and Gold. Davis’ effort on the defensive end not only gave him excellent numbers but it also lifted the defensive performance of his teammates. As a result, the Lakers had the third-best defensive rating in the league during the 2019-20 season. His shot-blocking skills propelled him to second in the league in that department with an average of 2.4 blocks per game. He also ranked 15th in steals and was one of two seven-footers in the Top 15.
Rudy Gobert has won the Defensive Player of the Year award in the last two seasons and if he wins again this year, he will join Dwight Howard as the only players in NBA history to win the award in three straight seasons. Gobert averaged 13.7 points, 2.0 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game and while those are great numbers, they were not enough to put the Jazz among the elites on defense this season. The Jazz ranked 1st and 2nd in defensive efficiency during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. However, Utah is just 11th overall in the league at 108.8 points per 100 possessions. In the 15 games before the suspension of the season, the Jazz defense was just 21st overall in the NBA. Despite Utah’s defensive decline, Gobert was named to his first-ever All-Star team and his 13.7 rebounds per game is a career-high for the Frenchman.
Ben Simmons was having his best season ever in 2019-20 before it was suspended. The former #1 pick from LSU was dominating on both ends of the floor. Simmons averaged 16.7 points and 8.2 assists on offense and was grabbing 7.8 rebounds while leading the league in steals at 2.1 per game. Then he missed eight games with a back injury and the league went to a pause. Now the question is whether he has done enough to merit him the award. I’m not sure really, but when you take a look at Simmons, no player in the league can seamlessly guard opponents from positions one to five. The average field goal percentage of the players he’s guarded was just 41.4%. Aside from his ability to defend his man, Simmons was also a disruptive force as he led the league in defensive loose ball recoveries and was third overall in deflections. As for his effect on the team, the Sixers are 6th in Defensive Rating this year after finishing 14th in that department last season.
Like the MVP race, I think that the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year award is down to two men: Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
When we talk about Anthony Davis, the Brow is no stranger to being in this position. While he’s never won the award before, he has been a finalist a couple of times. Davis has been named to the All-Defensive second team twice and the All-Defensive first team once. This season, he has helped the Lakers become the third-best defensive team in the league. Davis has a career average of 2 blocks and 1 steal per game and there are only six other players in the history of the league to put up the same career numbers. But while Davis has been outstanding this season, one man was perhaps slightly better than him this year.
The 2020 Milwaukee Bucks are one of the best defensive teams in the history of the NBA. And their defense is schemed in such a way that Giannis Antetokounmpo’s strengths will shine. Like Ben Simmons, Giannis’ freakish size allows him to defend players from one to five. Like Anthony Davis, he has size, speed, length, and athleticism to shut down passing lanes and protect the rim. He alternated between a center and a guard on defense.
Giannis’ blocks numbers are down as he is averaging fewer blocks per game this year than he did in each of his previous five NBA seasons.
However, he no longer has to go after the shots with teammate Brook Lopez leading the league in blocks. But when you take a look at his defending skills, opponents are shooting 41.9% at the rim when he is the primary defender, that’s the best average in the league among players who have contested at least 50 shots.
I think this is a special year for Giannis. We knew he would figure in the MVP race again after winning it last year. But he’s surprised us by becoming one of the premier defensive players in the league. I think he joins the company of MJ and the Dream this year. Antetokounmpo is the best player in the league right now and we should get used to his name being in many award ballots.
Prediction: Giannis Antetokounmpo