San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has won the 2015-16 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, to the consternation of absolutely nobody. This is the Spurs’ swingman second consecutive DPoY win.
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Also for the second year in a row Leonard edged out Golden State jack of all trades Draymond Green, who finished in second place. Miami center Hassan Whiteside, a 12th man this time 18 months ago, finished third.
In a world that doesn’t care about these things anymore, Leonard averaged one block and 1.8 steals per game in 33 minutes a night with San Antonio. What is worth caring about is his role as lead dog on what was far and away the NBA’s best defense, how he expertly funneled perimeter opponents from three different positions into the proper help spots on the floor, with Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge roaming behind him.
The addition of LMA, sometimes considered an average at best defender earlier in his Portland career, was not what put Leonard over the edge. He played just as well prior to winning the award in 2015, with sometimes-starters Aron Baynes, Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner lining up next to Duncan. Kawhi Leonard has merely taken coach Gregg Popovich’s defensive ethos, one Pop began working to perfection during the team’s monstrous 2004-05 championship season, to heart:
Don’t foul, don’t worry unduly about causing turnovers, contest the damn shot.
Leonard joins the similarly-framed Dennis Rodman as the only non-centers to win the awards two seasons in a row. In 2016-17 he’ll have a chance to become the second player to win DPoY three seasons in a row, joining then-Orlando center Dwight Howard.
Kawhi notched 84 first place votes, with Draymond Green grabbing 44. Whiteside pulled in two, from former Hornet David Wesley, and Heat play-by-play man Eric Reid. Because of course, Eric Reid.
Draymond Green, infamously, actually took in more first place votes than Leonard last season in spite of Kawhi’s eventual win, and while the final 2015-16 voting tally didn’t suggest as much, this was just about a coin-flip selection process. Green’s ability to take on all comers defensively while still manning the defensive glass is just about unparalleled. Draymond averaged a combined 2.9 steals/blocks with 9.5 boards for a Warriors team that ranked fifth overall defensively.
Despite a rash of midseason hubbub about his on/off court splits, Whiteside was a worthy third place recipient. The Heat center led the NBA in blocking nearly 10 percent of all available shots when he was on the floor, a ridiculous number. Hassan also led the NBA in blocks per game at 3.7 a contest, while adding 11.8 rebounds a night. The Heat finished within the top ten defensively.
From there, the voting stayed mostly to script.
DeAndre Jordan finished in fourth place after gathering seven second place votes, in a year that saw him average a Western Conference-leading 13.8 rebounds per night alongside 2.3 blocks for a Los Angeles Clippers team that got better and better defensively as the year moved along. Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, a Swiss Army Knife of a player with an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, finished in fifth place. Millsap averaged 1.7 blocks and 1.8 steals with nine boards for a Hawk team that boasted the East’s best defense.
Avery Bradley, Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Tony Allen and Andre Drummond (who led the NBA with 14.8 rebounds per game) all received a single second place vote. No undeserving player received a novelty vote from the 130 media members that took part in the balloting.
It’s also worth reminding that Kawhi Leonard, who will likely finish second in Most Valuable Player voting this spring, is only 23 years old. And that he can make even the calmest players in the NBA, like Memphis’ Lance Stephenson, absolutely lose it:
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