In an intense 2016-2017 NBA season, Kawhi Leonard remains one of the league’s elite defenders, but will he be able to snag his third straight Defensive Player of the Year Award?
There’s no doubt that Kawhi Leonard is one the league’s elite defenders.
His frame, wingspan, quickness and high-octane style of defense is comparable to that of Sidney Moncrief and Scottie Pippen.
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Leonard became the first wing player to win the DPOY award since Ron Artest back in 2004. In the following year, he became the second perimeter player to win the award in consecutive years.
Though his offensive growth has overshadowed his defensive efforts, he remains one of the league’s most daunting matchups. His defensive reputation has preceded him since he was drafted out of San Diego State in 2011.
This season, Leonard averages 1.8 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. While these numbers don’t stand out as much as his stats in previous years, the fact remains that he consistently guards the opposing team’s best player each night.
The Spurs will stay 5th in Offense (110.1 Pp/100) and 1st in Defense (101.0 Pp/100) through 59 games, after defeating the Pacers.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 2, 2017
His defensive rating is a solid 104.0, and he ranks in the top 40 players in defensive win shares. This is quite a feat considering he’s leading the Spurs to the top defensive ranking in the NBA.
Defense has been stellar throughout the NBA this season.
Many players, including the Spurs’ own Dewayne Dedmon, will be considered for DPOY, but there are three main candidates who have emerged alongside Leonard as contenders for the award.
Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors has contested Kawhi for the award since his emergence in 2014. Green’s defensive versatility and rim protection has anchored the Golden State Warriors to the league’s best record.
Green is averaging 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks on the year.
He also ranks in the top-three in defensive win shares with 0.059.
In his third year in the NBA, Rudy Gobert has become the league’s most powerful rim protector and interior defender. Standing at seven-foot-one, ‘The Stifle Tower’ leads the league in blocks with 2.5 per game.
— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) February 25, 2017
Gobert also has the third best defensive rating in the NBA at 99.7 and ranks top-five in defensive rebounding with 8.9 per game.
Chris Paul’s defense has been a staple of the DPOY conversation for over a decade. His ability to read passing lanes and lock down opposing guards has been highly underrated this season.
Paul leads the league in steals with 2.2 while also contributing the highest steal percentage at 38.7 percent.
Clearly, Kawhi isn’t a lock for the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Award, but he will always be in the race. Regardless of his stats, Leonard’s defensive prowess and notoriety are undeniable.
As of now, Green and Gobert appear to have the statistical advantage over Leonard in the DPOY race. With that being said, there’s still time for Kawhi to improve upon his incredible season by increasing his defensive stats.
In light of the recent knee injury to Kevin Durant, the Spurs will likely make a push for the first seed in the West. This may be an opportunity for Leonard to improve his steals and blocks averages heading into the postseason.
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At the end of the day, all that truly matters to the Spurs is winning. If Kawhi continues his incredible defensive play then the Spurs’ sustained excellence will carry on.