Fitting, isn't it? Draymond Green spends all season establishing himself as the brash, score-stifling wing who can take any assignment on any possession, teaming with rim-protecting mauler Andrew Bogut to lead the Golden State Warriors to the league's best defense from the very start of the season ... and then, with a late surge somehow both hellacious and matter-of-fact, Kawhi Leonard just swoops in and steals his glory.
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The 23-year-old Leonard was named the NBA's 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year on Thursday, becoming the first non-big-man to win the award since Ron Artest took it home in 2004 and squeaking past the Warriors' Green in the closest DPoY race since 1998, when the Atlanta Hawks' Dikembe Mutombo received just two more first-place votes than Gary Payton of the Seattle SuperSonics.
In this case, though, it was Green who topped more ballots, receiving 45 first-place selections from the panel of 129 sportswriters and broadcasters who vote on the award. But he finished with 317 total "award points" — five points for a first-place vote, three for a second-place nod, one for third place — overall, 16 fewer than Leonard, who received 37 first-place votes, 41 second-place choices and 25 third-place nods, for a total of 333 points that will give him something to put on his mantel next to his 2014 NBA Finals MVP. (Or maybe not the mantel ... Kawhi doesn't seem like the type to spend much time building a room's decor around a trophy.)
Speaking of Kawhi's two individual awards, I think it's fair to say that the young fella's in pretty good company right about now:
Players with both a Defensive Player of the Year award and a NBA Finals MVP: 1. KAWHI LEONARD 2. Hakeem Olajuwon 3. Michael Jordan
— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 23, 2015
While Leonard cracked the top three on 103 of the 129 ballots cast, Green appeared on just 87. Those 42 instances of voters deciding Green's work didn't merit a spot on the medal stand allowed Leonard to overtake him, leaving Green — whom all five members of Yahoo Sports' panel tabbed as Defensive Player of the Year in our playoffs-and-awards predictions — on the outside looking in.
As you might expect, Mary Babers-Green — Draymond's mom, who knows a thing or two about talking trash — wasn't especially pleased to hear the voting results.
The Biggest FORM of BULLYING EVER!
— Mary Babers-Green (@babers_mary) April 23, 2015
All these DAMN POPularity Contest!
— Mary Babers-Green (@babers_mary) April 23, 2015
Green, for his part, offered an absolute stunner of a reply from shootaround prior to Game 3 of Golden State's first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans:
Draymond: "Al Gore won the popular vote and didn't get elected president so I'm not gonna beat myself up over not winning DPOY"
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 23, 2015
Despite a spirited promotional campaign helmed by head coach Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan finished third, receiving 32 first-place votes and 261 total points after leading the league in defensive rebounds and defensive rebounding percentage while posting top-four marks in blocks, blocks per game and block percentage. The Pelicans' Anthony Davis finished fourth, earning 11 first-place votes and 107 total points after leading the league in blocks and improving as an all-around defensive player away from the paint in his third season.
Utah Jazz rim-protector Rudy Gobert, who held opponent to the league's lowest shooting percentage at the rim among rotation bigs and whose elevation into the starting lineup after the Enes Kanter trade sparked the Utah Jazz's transformation into far and away the NBA's stingiest defense after the All-Star break, received two first-place votes and rounded out the top five. A pair of perennial DPoY candidates, Memphis Grizzlies perimeter ace Tony Allen and Spurs icon Tim Duncan, received the final two first-place votes. You can check out the full voting breakdown here.
I can't fault Warriors fans and observers for feeling like Green got robbed here. He was the linchpin of Golden State's swarming switch-everything defense, whose ability to handle opposing guards in pick-and-rolls, hold up against burlier bigs on the block and track mobile floor-spacers out on the perimeter helped the Warriors' defense remain elite even with Bogut missing 15 games and playing just under 1,600 minutes. The Warriors' already No.-1-with-a-bullet defense (98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) was even more ruthless with Green on the floor (96 points-per-100) and comparatively pedestrian without him (102.1 points-per-100, which would've tied for 12th among 30 NBA teams this season).
It wasn't just team success, either. Green was a supremely productive individual defender, too, falling just one rejection short of being the third player in the league to post at least 100 blocks and 100 steals this season, joining Davis and the Philadelphia 76ers' Nerlens Noel. He made life miserable on his opponents — nobody who defended at least 100 isolations allowed fewer points per possession than Green; he turned in a top-20 mark in defending the post despite giving up size and length every single night and forced turnovers on the league's third-highest share of opposing post-ups, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data. He was smart, he was mean, he was everywhere and — perhaps most importantly — he was available, suiting up for 15 more games and logging nearly 460 more minutes than Leonard. His claim to this award is very, very strong.
At issue, then, is whether you consider Green's consistent excellence more valuable than the absolute terror Leonard strikes in opposing ball-handlers.
After returning Jan. 16 from a torn ligament in his shooting hand, Leonard logged 2.5 steals in 31.6 minutes per game, shutting down opposing scorers and playmakers at every perimeter position while sometimes taking on fours as well. He's as balanced, poised and opportunistic a defender as there is in the league, and his on/off splits tell a story much the same as Green's — the Spurs' excellent defense (99.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, No. 3 in the league) gets even better when Leonard plays (97.1 points-per-100, which would be the NBA's best mark) and becomes middling when he sits (102.2 points-per-100, which would've been 15th among 30 NBA teams; San Antonio also gave up 103.2-per-100 during the month Leonard was sidelined).
The Spurs played like a league-average defense without Leonard and its best unit with him. He is the best one-on-one defender in the league. Whether, with 15 games missed, he was the Defensive Player of this year, though? That'll be debate fodder for an awfully long time to come.
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