Who Will Join Kawhi Leonard on the 2016 NBA All-Defensive First Team?

By George Middleton
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Feb 8, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard

Kyle Lowry

(7) drives to the net past San Antonio Spurs forward

Kawhi Leonard

(2) at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated San Antonio 87-82. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last season Kawhi Leonard won the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Leonard led the league in steals as he averaged 2.3 per game. The versatile small forward displayed his defensive prowess all season with the Spurs, as he would often defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player.

Draymond Green, Tony Allen, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul joined Leonard on the NBA All-Defensive First Team. Green, like Leonard defended many positions and he used his versatility to give his team an edge on a daily basis. Allen is arguably the best perimeter defender in the league. It was Allen’s third All-Defensive First Team selection.

Paul and Jordan anchored the Los Angeles Clippers defense. It was Paul’s fifth All-Defensive First Team selection. It was Jordan’s first All-Defensive selection as an NBA member.

This year there are a lot of options to choose from, but only five are selected for the First Team. Paul, Jimmy Butler, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and Jordan will be All-Defensive Second Team Selections.

Next: Mike Conley

May 15, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Golden State Warriors guard

Stephen Curry

(30) drives in the second half defended by Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Warriors defeated the Grizzlies 108-95. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Conley is incredibly tough, as he showed last season (see the picture above). Conley played with foot and eye injuries in the postseason. Conley is a major part of the Memphis Grizzlies second ranked defense (94.9 ppg allowed). Conley’s backcourt mates Allen and Courtney Lee, help form arguably the best perimeter defense in the league.

Conley averaged 15.8 points and 5.4 assists last season. Conley has the ability to force opposing guards into taking difficult shots and committing turnovers. His steal numbers (1.3 spg) don’t fully show how much value Conley really has on defense. Conley was snubbed of making either All-Defensive Team.

In 2012-13 Conley was an All-Defensive Second Team Selection. That season he finished third in the league in steals, as he averaged 2.2. The Grizzlies allowed 89.3 points a game that year, finishing first in the league. They also placed third in field goal percentage defense (44%).

With neither of his teammates making the All-Defensive First Team next season, Conley will be selected as the Grizzlies will once again have an elite defense. Don’t they always have one?

Next: Kawhi Leonard

Mar 10, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dives for a loose ball against the Toronto Raptors during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard is arguably the best defensive player right now. Leonard earned his stripes at an early age (21-years old) in back-t0-back final appearances against Miami. Leonard had to match up against LeBron James, the most dominant player in basketball and he held his ground.

In the 2013 NBA Finals James shot under 44% from the field in 5 of 7 games. Since then Leonard has improved significantly as a player, particularly on offense. Last season, Leonard averaged 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. Despite his huge improvement offensively, his defense has remained at a high level.

He led the league in steals and was easily the Spurs best defender with Tim Duncan out of his prime. Leonard’s defense has rubbed off on Danny Green, who has turned into a respectable perimeter defender. The Spurs finished third (97 ppg) in opponents points per game.

Expect Leonard to be in the running of Defensive Player of the Year once again. Even though Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green will have something to say about that, as they are also terrific candidates for the award.

Next: Draymond Green

Jun 16, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center

Tristan Thompson

(13) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the third quarter of game six of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Draymond Green is probably the most versatile defender in the league, alongside LeBron James. I was a firm believer that he was going to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Unfortunately for Green, Leonard won the award without controversy.

The Warriors finished 15th in the league in opponents points per game, as they allowed 99.9 points a game. That statistic was misleading of how great the Warriors defense was last year. The Warriors were number one in field goal defense (43%). The Warriors play at a much faster pace than most teams in the league which explains the 100 points they allow a game. They blew the league away averaging 110 points a game.

Green averaged 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks. What makes Green’s defense incredible is that he can go from defending someone like Blake Griffin to Joe Johnson. Green was a first time All-Defensive Selection last season, but many more selections will fill Green’s resume in the next decade. He is that good defensively! Don’t be surprised if he is the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.

Next: Anthony Davis

April 18, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard

Klay Thompson

(11) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the fourth quarter in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Pelicans 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis is quickly becoming a top player in the league. Many, including myself believe he will be a future MVP Award winner. Unlike most great players in the game, he is an elite defender. Davis led the New Orleans Pelicans to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Davis led the Pelicans in points, rebounds, and blocks. He averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, and 1.5 steals. He had one of the best seasons in NBA history for a power forward. His 30.9 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) blew away any big man. DeMarcus Cousins, who dominated last season had a 25.2 PER.

The Pelicans finished a respectable 11th in points allowed per game (98.6). The Pelicans faced injuries to Jrue Holiday, Davis, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson in the season. Despite this the Pelicans sneaked into the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. Davis made the All-Defensive Second Team last year, this season he will climb onto the first team.

Davis’ impact on the Pelicans defensively will make him a top candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year. He also fills it up with steals and blocks, so that will only help the cause.

Next: Rudy Gobert

Mar 30, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) fouls Minnesota Timberwolves guard

Zach LaVine

(8) in the fourth quarter at Target Center. The Utah Jazz beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Guess who had the number one defense in terms of points allowed last season? I bet 99.9% of people would’ve said someone but Utah. That’s right the Jazz allowed 94.9 points a game in the West! One will always make the argument that they play a slower pace than most, don’t let that take away from their improving defense.

The Jazz finished 14th in opponents field goal defense (45%). The main reason their defense was that spectacular was surely because of Rudy Gobert. Gobert’s arms can probably touch the sky (look above). He is an elite rim protector.

Since the Jazz dealt starting center Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City their defense became unreal. The Jazz allowed opponents to reach the 100 points mark only 6 times in 29 games after the All-Star break.  Just to give you an idea of how impressive this is, there are 15 teams in the NBA that averaged at least 100 points last year.

Gobert averaged 10.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in 37 starts. He received the most votes for the players that barely missed the All-Defensive Second Team. If the Jazz post similar defensive numbers next season, Gobert will be a favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

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