Yesterday, Marcus Smart won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. He became the first guard to do this since Gary Payton in 1996 and only the 6th different guard to do so in NBA history. That list, now including was Smart, was Payton, Michael Jordan, Michael Cooper, Alvin Robertson and Sidney Moncrief, who won the award twice in 1983 and 1984. However, I saw some controversy from NBA fans that Smart didn’t deserve to win the award, that the other 2 finalists Mikal Bridges or Rudy Gobert deserved it over him. But Smart clearly deserved the Defensive Player of the Year award this season!
How does Marcus Smart compare to his other competitors, Mikal Bridges and Rudy Gobert? While Bridges had a great defensive season, I am going to take him out of this since his team stats and player stats don’t support him enough as Gobert when comparing a defender to Smart. Something “stat nerds” will say is that Gobert was higher in an important stat category for a big guys, blocks per game, than Smart was for an important stat category for perimeter defenders, steals per game. However, there is much more competition in steals than there is blocks, since there are 3 positions that usually play in the perimeter and 2 that don’t. So that is an awful reason to support Gobert.
Personally, I am that person that usually says “the best player on the best team is the best player in the league”. I have said this the last couple of seasons in the NBA. Giannis was the best player last season, LeBron was the year before and Kawhi was the year before that. It makes sense. Whoever is able to lead their team to the most success in a way that is considered “great”, than why shouldn’t they be considered “the best”? While there are some exceptions to this, it’s the same thing as the G.O.A.T debate in basketball. Championships is the most important category when ranking greatness, yet Bill Russell isn’t the greatest player of all time.
I’m saying this because you’re going to throw me with that after I tell you this. The Celtics had the 2nd best defensive rating and best opponent points per game in the NBA this season, making them the best defensive team in the league to most people, me included. So Marcus Smart was the best defensive player on the best defensive team in the league, which should make him the best defender in the NBA. But how about the exceptions? Well, when Kevin Durant wasn’t the best player in the NBA in the 2 straight seasons he was the best player on the best team, LeBron James (who was the best in the NBA at the time) was still the best player on the 2nd best team in the NBA. While Bill Russell isn’t the G.O.A.T, he still ranks in the top 7 on most lists when ranking the greatest basketball players of all time. And Gobert’s team has the 9th best defensive rating and the 10th best opponent points per game!
And if you wanted to include Bridges back in this, the Suns have the 3rd best defense rating in the NBA but the 8th best opponent points per game. Smart still has an overwhelming advantage on the 2 other finalists for the award this season. Smart definitely deserved it compared to his other competitors.
But should he have won it, considering only 5 other players ever did so at the guard position? Yes, he should have! Let’s look at the list he was just added to from a stat perspective. While this stat doesn’t describe a perimeter defenders whole defensive skill, it describes their ability to force their defensive opponent into a tough position that ends up in a turnover, steals per game. Marcus Smart’s 1.7 steals per game this season ranks him the 4th best steals per game leader out of the 7 seasons a guard has won this award!
It’s not just stats, Smart always brings an aggressive approach on defense that wins him matchups 1 on 1. Smart brings an aspect on defense that only little have ever brought in NBA history. Marcus Smart made defensive history at the guard position this season and clearly deserved his Defensive Player of the Year award that he got!
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