Anthony Davis is the Defensive Player of the Year Front Runner
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers have busted out of the gate guns blazing. Preseason critics have eaten a ton of crow as the team sits atop the Western Conference with a 24-3 record.
Their offense has only recently rounded into form. Their defense, on the other hand, has been strong from the get-go. They’ll sometime relax and let teams hang around, but when it matters, they absolutely clamp the opposition in crunch time. The biggest clamper on the team has been Anthony Davis by far. His combination of statistics and game-sealing defensive plays has him in the lead for Defensive Player of the Year.
Anthony Davis Statistically
Davis has been the league leader in blocks three times in his seven seasons and has three selections on the All-Defense Team. He has never won the signature defensive award, but he thinks he should have in the past. He and his teammates are campaigning early to get ahead of the narrative.
This year, Davis ranks second in the league blocks per game (2.6) and 13th in steals (2.3). He’s arguably the most intimidating rim protector around, keeping opponents to 47 percent defensive field goal percentage close to the hoop. According to Darius Soriano of Silver Screen and Roll, that’s good enough for second in the league on a minimum of 100 attempts. Davis is also doing a great job at keeping three-point shooters modest (32.4 percent) as he continues to hold up his duties in paint protection.
Davis was expected to make a great impact on the defensive end, but his presence has vaulted this team even higher than expected. The Lakers as a whole have hovered around the top five in defensive rating all year, even holding the top spot early on. They currently sit in second place in defensive rating (102.9), only behind the Milwaukee Bucks by a smidge (102.0)
Game-Deciding Defensive Plays
There are a lot more ways to quantify offensive impact over defense. This means an award like DPOY can be especially swayed by signature defensive moments. Other perennial contenders like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert have been spectacular defensively per usual. Newer contenders like Marcus Smart and Gary Harris are also carving out their own niche in the race. Admittedly, those candidates have the edge over Davis in an individual stat like Defensive win shares and Defensive Rating. What Davis has over all the others is a handful of game-winning defensive plays to his name. Last second plays where his defensive actions literally won the Lakers games this year.
The first came again the Sacramento Kings, where Davis rose up to swallow a charging Harrison Barnes with his towering length. Kings loyalists may have argued that it was a foul, but referees are notoriously stingier with fouls on game-ending plays. Then, he ended the New Orleans Pelicans’ last shot at upsetting the Lakers with a game-sealing steal against on an inbound pass directed at Brandon Ingram.
In other crunch time happenings, he rotated from the three-point line to swat a crucial Brynn Forbes shot on the road in San Antonio. Finally, in arguably his most impressive defensive sequence of the year, he locked up the Denver Nuggets two best players Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in two key possessions in crunch time. Not to mention, he did this in a high altitude road game while battling through the flu. Despite every obstacle thrown at him, he came through to make game-deciding defensive plays against a high-quality opponent.
The Best Challengers for DPOY
When looking at the competition, Giannis Antetokounmpo seems to be Anthony Davis’ greatest challenger. Rudy Gobert has won the award twice in a year now, so voter fatigue may occur. Also, Davis outperformed Gobert in both ends in both their matchups this year. Marcus Smart has taken his defense up a notch by challenging notable big men like Kristaps Porzingis. Still, he lacks the same amount of signature defensive moments.
Antetokounmpo is, after all, the only player ahead of Davis on field goal percentage defense at the rim (41.6 percent, first in the league). The Greek Freak might have slightly better stats, but the ones by Davis are comparable, and Antetokounmpo has yet to provide game-saving plays. He also doesn’t always defend the opposing team’s best player either, opting to play more of a free safety role. To be fair, he does capitalize on it often, but this year Davis steps up to the challenge of defending the best players in the biggest moments.
Funnily enough, Davis’ combination of speed, length, and coordination makes him arguably the team’s best wing defender. One could recall him sticking on Kawhi Leonard and challenging him one on one on opening night. He even swatted one of his pull up jumpers right out of the air. Leonard was in a rhythm that picked up right where he left off during his championship run – and Davis was the only one to challenge him that night. The sequence didn’t lead to a team win, but it was indicative of Davis’ switchability and potency regardless of the opponent’s size.
The Race for Anthony Davis to win Defensive Player of the Year
Defense is more difficult to measure with stats because it’s truly a team effort. The actions of the defender’s other four teammates affect how a player has to defend. A missed rotation may lead to a situation where the rim protector can be the hero with a block or victim of a poster. It also depends on how rosters are structured, what the other team is running, and how they’re playing that night. Despite the circumstances, Davis has shown that he has the wit, athleticism, and instincts to be effective in any lineup.
The dependability of Davis allows this Laker team’s guards to play super aggressively on the perimeter. They can do so because they know Anthony Davis can anticipate plays and hold his footing until he has to contest. This defensive unit is tailormade to make Davis shine.
The Defensive Player of the Year race looks like it’ll come down to Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both players are the best defensive presence on the current two best teams in the league. Antetokounmpo has the stats by a narrow margin, but Davis boasts worthy stats on top of a greater list of clutch defensive plays. The two new age phenoms are set for a collision course on Thursday in Milwaukee. Of course, it’ll be a statement game to determine which squad is the best in the league. It also may be a deciding factor on who gets the edge in the Defensive Player of the Year race.