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Nominees for NBA Defensive Player of the Year 2022-23

After reviewing a few days ago the candidates to be named Best Sixth Man in 2023, it’s time to continue with those who aspire to be proclaimed Best Defender of the season. This is normally a very particular award in relation to the rest of the individual awards, since it tends to be the one that renews its names the least and the one that is usually open to fewer surprises. In a certain way, it is not enough to sign a great season in defense, but it is necessary to have consolidated a certain reputation in this regard, so that those who start the course as candidates must, at least on paper, have a certain condition.

On the other hand, it is also the prize in which the collective performance has the most value, something that should also be taken into account in this regard. On many occasions, the winner is not so much the best defender in the league as the best defender of the team with the best defense, which can rule out players with a lot of potential but poorly accompanied.

Marcus Smart

And who better to talk about reputation than the current winner of the award. Marcus Smart ended the dominance of the big men by becoming the first player in backcourt in being chosen as the best defender since Gary Payton got it in 1996, an achievement without a doubt to be valued but that is not surprising in a man of his worth. The point guard already had two appearances in the best defensive quintet (2019 and 2020) and last season his consecration finally came in that regard.

The Celtics player has always been an incredibly tough and complicated defender, with hands that are a nightmare for anyone who wants to take the ball to the ground and always willing to sacrifice his physique looking for fouls in attack. Although his tendency to exaggerate some contacts has generated many detractors, his effectiveness in stopping rivals is indisputable, whether they are men of his stature or larger ones who a priori should start with an advantage against him. Could these virtues be worth a repeat award?

Mikal Bridges

After finishing second in the voting last year, the Suns man is perhaps the best person to represent an increasingly important virtue in the league: versatility. Without an especially intimidating height (he does not reach 2 meters) but with an arm size capable of enclosing anyone, strength and movement speed, Mikal was one of the keys to Phoenix’s success in the regular season, and it would not be surprising to have a similar role again this course. Already consecrated and recognized as one of the best defensive players in the world, this could be his crowning moment.

The collective factor could however be an obstacle in their fight for the prize. It seems very strange to say this when he is part of a team that has just won 64 games and finished as the best in the regular season, but the truth is that the Arizonans ended the season with a very painful stumble and the summer has not been particularly good for them, and they can give a certain sense of regression if they stay well below that number of wins. However, if the lack of contact with Ayton, Sarver’s controversies or Crowder’s exit request will have an effect on the court, it will only be possible to know once the game begins.

Rudy Gobert

The 2022 podium was closed by the French center, one of the four men who has won the award three or more times throughout history. With three awards and six appearances in the best defensive quintet in the league, his ability to protect the paint and support an entire defense around him has been more than endorsed, but this time he will face a new challenge in which be tested again.

And it is that Gobert has arrived this summer at the Timberwolves, a team accustomed to having much more mediocre defensive performance than those of the Jazz. It is true that the Minnesotans come from making a notable leap in performance in this aspect during the current step (they finished with the 13th best defensive rating, their best position in 8 years), but they are still far from the elite of the league in this aspect, and it is precisely to reach that level that they are looking for with Rudy. Can the Frenchman turn them into one of the best defenses in the championship? And can that defensive upgrade put them into the West’s elite? If this happens, Gobert would have bought a lot of tickets to win his fourth prize.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek is another of those names that must be mentioned when talking about candidates. Winner in 2020, Giannis has one of those prodigious physiques that makes him a nightmare for anyone, as his mix of size and speed are a torment for outside and inside attackers alike. He is also a player very predisposed to sacrifice himself and jump to assists, which makes him appear as a victim in the occasional viral mate but helps his team avoid numerous easy baskets and be one of the rivals to beat while he is present.

Sharing court with another more than renowned defender like Jrue Holiday and a reconverted but frequently forgotten Brook Lopez can weigh down his options, but the truth is that the Greek has always been the visible head of Budenholzer’s defensive scheme. Should the Bucks return to being among the best in the league in this section, it will be difficult to get him out of the equation.

Draymond Green

If with Giannis we were talking about an exceptional physique, Green is one of those men who defends with his head. It is not that he is weak, far from it, but his ability to overcome players of greater size and power by taking them into unnatural situations and knowing how to exploit their weaknesses is practically unique. He is also an exceptional team defender, with an almost unparalleled reading to understand which situations he should go to help, which not, and always be in the right place to close any possible door to the rival attack.

Green also has the incentive of being in what could be the last year of his contract (he has a player option for 23-24), so that, to make what is perhaps the last great renewal of his career more substantial, he must perform at his highest level all year. It’s not that the one who was voted Best Defender of the Year in 2017 is a player characterized by a lack of motivation and energy, but of course if he needed an extra to go out and give it his all, there he has it.

Anthony Davis

Perhaps the player his team will depend on the most in this section. In the previous cases, with the exception of Gobert, the candidates were in very complete defenses, while La Ceja arrives as almost the only hope for the Lakers not to be a disaster in this section. It is true that the incorporation of Beverley should also help them in that aspect, but the one who can and should make the difference is Anthony Davis.

If the physical accompanies him, the pivot is a player with enviable characteristics for interior defense, hoop protection and, in general, hiding the deficiencies that his teammates may have. His importance has been more than evidenced in his golden and purple stage, both during his presence and during his absence. If the Angelenos want to be a good team, Davis must be in the running for the prize.

Joel Embiid

Embiid’s is one of those names that always comes up among applicants but never seems to catch on. Despite his three appearances in the second defensive quintet, he has not finished sneaking into the first or being a true contender for the award, surely due to the enormous competition from other players with a role very similar to his. His inner strength and surprising foot speed for a man his size, which allows him to better withstand missmatch From what might be expected, they are good weapons, but so far they have not been worth it to finish consecrating themselves in this aspect.

The change of James Harden by Ben Simmons comes from leaving a notable hole in the team’s exterior defense, which fell significantly last season compared to 20-21, something that will have to be remade. The arrival of a specialist like PJ Tucker should help collectively, but it will be important for Joel to be a stronger mainstay than ever. If the Pennsylvanians return to an elite level, the spotlight is likely to be put on him more than at other times.

Ben Simmons

And since we are talking about the Australian, let’s go with his case because it is one of the most curious. Ben comes to a defense that ranked 20th in terms of defensive rating last season with the responsibility of being a kind of multi-purpose key that brings out all the virtues that he showed the last time he was seen on a basketball court. The point guard finished the season 20-21 in the best moment of his career at a defensive level (he was second in the vote), but he will have to face a very different context than the one he had back then.

Because, if we mentioned what Embiid had lost without Simmons, we cannot ignore that Ben will play for the first time without the safety net that having such an imposing figure at his back gave him. Moreover, it is possible that he himself will have to act as the Nets’ tall man in several stretches, since the New York squad is short of inside players. It will undoubtedly be a complex challenge for him, but also one from which he can emerge greatly strengthened.

Bam Adebayo

With three consecutive appearances in the second best defensive quintet, perhaps the time has finally come for him to be truly recognized in this area. It could have been last year, in which he won integers and made the Heat’s defense finish fourth in the championship, but, at least for those in charge of handing out the prizes, it was not like that. However, he has enough capacity and is well enough surrounded to shine again in this section and really be on the shortlist for being chosen as the winner.

What’s more, this seems to be an award that he really wants to take, because this summer he tried to vindicate himself by pointing out that he should have been chosen Best Defender of the year in the last two seasons. His opinion is obviously not the most impartial that we can find, but he does show that he is a player aware of his virtues and importance in defense and that he wants to put his name among the best. Will it go to the third charm?

Robert Williams

The center has two obvious problems: the first, sharing a team with the current champion; the second and more serious, his tendency to injuries, which will make him join the competition a few weeks late and miss who knows how many games throughout the course. Because, for the rest, he has the conditions.

His level during the second half of last year was absolutely scandalous, because even playing with discomfort his presence in the paint was overwhelming for his rivals and for many he was even deserving of being the winner ahead of Smart. Very few players come close to his impact in terms of intimidation, assist defense and rebounding, and his presence at the center of one of the best defenses in the championship would make a very strong argument for voters. But of course, when you look at the games played… Difficult.

(Cover photo: Elsa/Getty Images)

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