San Antonio Spurs Center: Jakob Poeltl
Jakob Poeltl averages 1.8 blocks per game and 2.4 per 36 minutes. Per 36 minutes, he also snags double-digit rebounds. Behind Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, and Bam Adebayo, Poeltl is a top defensive center in the league.
FiveThirtyEight created RAPTOR (Robust Algorithm using Player Tracking and On/Off Ratings) to help determine a player’s value over another player, much like Wins Above Replacement. There is a lot of math behind it that, to be frank, I don’t fully understand, but FiveThirtyEight explains it as such: “a player with a defensive RAPTOR of +3.4 would improve his team’s defensive performance by 3.4 points per 100 possessions while he’s on the court.”
In terms of defensive RAPTOR, Poeltl is third in the league with +5.1, behind Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela.
Does this mean that Jakob Poeltl, loved and known by few, is the third-best defender in the league? No, that would be ridiculous. It does mean that he’s the third most valuable to his team, though, and if he played more than 26 minutes a night, he may be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
To put it plainly, don’t drive against Jak.
Power Forward: Thaddeus Young
For someone who isn’t a full-time starter or perimeter player, averaging over one steal a night is very impressive. Thaddeus Young has done it for 14 seasons now, often managing to grab nearly twice that.
On the inside, he doesn’t block a lot of shots, but on average, players make significantly fewer shots than the league average when he’s on them. In a lineup built around defense, it’s important to have a big man who can guard on both the inside and outside. Draymond Green became an All-Star because he could do it.
In terms of RAPTOR, Thaddeus Young has a defensive rating of +1.4, which places him 21st for his position, well above average. He is also 11th at his position for steals per game and 31st for blocks, which isn’t great but it’s still better than average, considering 103 power forwards got minutes last year. For the record, Trey Lyles finished 102nd in blocks.
Just because Young isn’t filling up the stat sheet doesn’t mean he isn’t a great defender. In Chicago, he was often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s leading scorer, and he did it well.