This is going to be a fascinating year to track the race for Defensive Player of the Year. For starters, a rookie has never won the award. Victor Wembanyama might have something to say about that. He looked like a menace on that side of the court of the preseason and he will be an impact defender right away in the NBA. We all know the media loves narratives and a narrative could get started pretty quickly if Wemby lives up to the hype immediately, especially on defense.
There also might be a narrative forming against the reigning DPOY. Jaren Jackson Jr. won his first DPOY last season at the age of 23 and it looked like the potential beginning of a multiple time DPOY career for the young Grizzlie. JJJ followed this up with a less than stellar (to put it lightly) performance for Team USA over the summer.
There are some whispers that JJJ maybe didn’t deserve the DPOY he won last season, and that’s not a great way to start his campaign.
For this new monthly tradition, we will be looking at the top 3 players in the running for DPOY, and I’ll also give a couple sleepers/dart throws. At the end of the season, media voters will vote for 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place, that’s how I chose that number. Let’s get into it.
2023-24 DPOY Rankings
1. Evan Mobley
JJJ is technically still the favorite in most sportsbooks, but because of that narrative I laid out, I’m going to go with Evan Mobley as the leader for now.
The Cavs were an elite defense last season and I bet they are a regular season wins machine for the regular season. If Mobley is able to level up, he could definitely be the best defensive player in the league. Mobley is one of the few players that is an elite perimeter defender as well as an elite rim protector.
That kind of skill set is ideal for the modern NBA. One thing that could hold him back is the fact that he plays with an elite rim protector in Jarrett Allen.
2. Anthony Davis
AD might have solidified himself as the best postseason defender in the league last year in the playoffs. A healthy and locked in AD is not something you want to see in your path to the rim. LeBron James is pushing the agenda that Davis is the best player on the Lakers and we know that the media loves to talk about the Lakers.
He looks to have returned to form from the version of the Brow we saw in the bubble on the way to the 2020 NBA Championship when it was very hard to argue there was anyone better at playing defense. If Davis is able to get to that 65 game minimum, I think he will be a lock for the ballot for most of the voters.
AD has somehow never won this award which will help any narrative in his favor as well. That game minimum is really the only thing I see standing in AD’s way.
4. Bam Adebayo
A lot of this will sound like carryover from the argument for AD. Bam is one of the two best defenders in the league to not have a DPOY in his trophy case. He has proved his ability on that side of the court during twos to the NBA Finals and a third trip to the conference.
The Heat failed the offseason according to pretty much everyone. They weren’t able to trade for Dame Lillard or Jrue Holiday. If Heat Culture is able to power through this and have a really strong regular season, the narrative will be there for Bam.
Sleepers: Jrue Holiday and Nic Claxton
I know that this tends to be a big man award but we saw the Boston media giant win this award for Marcus Smart just two seasons ago and Jrue is considered by many to be a better defender and player than Smart. Jrue made an impact in his Celtics debut by guarding all 3 of the Knicks best players at certain moments.
Claxton flew under the radar as a legit contender for this award last season. The Nets have the potential to be a nasty defensive team with Ben Simmons and Mikal Bridges on the perimeter. It will be Claxton’s job to swat anything that sneaks through the cracks.