Continuing our ridiculously early look into next year’s NBA awards, we turn an eye towards the Defensive Player of the Year Award. What makes handicapping this race this early kind of ridiculous is how many of these early candidates are free-agents (though most are likely staying put).
Still, it’s in our nature to put odds on everything, and all of these players are dominant at defending their own bucket no matter what jersey they have on their backs. So we feel pretty comfortable with our favorite to win 2015-16 DPOY.
Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio) – 3/1
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the 24-year-old Leonard still has his best basketball ahead of him. After averaging 5.9 defensive rebounds, 2.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game to lead an always stingy Spurs defense, Leonard convinced enough voters this season despite missing a lengthy stretch of time with a hand injury. Look for the 2014 Finals MVP to make an even stronger case next season across 82 games.
Draymond Green (Golden State) – 4/1
Green was runner-up for the award in 2014-15 and actually claimed the most first place votes with 45. He had a great season on the back-end, averaging 6.7 defensive rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1.3 blocks a game. Green probably would have won the award if voters considered the postseason, where he helped lift the Warriors to their first title in 40 years. A free agent this off-season, he’ll be in contention for the honor again no matter where he lands.
Dwight Howard (Houston) – 11/2
Winner of the award for three straight seasons before his divorce with Orlando, Howard’s numbers have trended downwards as he moved to Los Angeles and then to Houston. Despite being hampered by a persistent knee injury and missing half of last season, D12 managed to show flashes of that old defensive dominance in the postseason, piling up 10.4 defensive rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 2.3 blocks in 17 playoff games. If he can stay healthy this year, Howard should have a chance to join Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace as the only four-time winners.
Joakin Noah (Chicago) – 7/1
Noah is another former DPOY whose numbers dropped as a result of nagging injuries. Noah only missed 15 games this season (a number that probably would have been larger were Tom Thibodeau not the coach) but knee soreness and various other ailments caused the big-man’s averages to decline across the board. With a new system in place this season that will put less stress on Noah’s body, perhaps he, too, can see a resurgence.
DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles) – 9/1
An unrestricted free agent, Jordan has been rumored to be jumping the Clipper ship with Dallas being his likely landing spot. While joining a possibly loaded Mavericks team could hurt Jordan’s stock, he did manage to finish third in voting this year playing alongside Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Field – 4/1
The likes of Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, and perhaps even rookie Willie Cauley-Stein should all find their names receiving votes at the end of the season. Will they get enough to unseat Leonard? For what it’s worth, Defensive Player of the Year does typically favor big men. (The 6’7″ Leonard is the shortest player to win the award since Gary Payton back in 1995-96.)
(Photo credit: Jose Garcia (Flickr: Dwight Howard And Chandler Parsons) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)