Who’s the NBA’s Next Defensive Player of the Year?

This series predicting next season’s awards kicked off with Most Improved Player. That exercise ended with the four most likely candidates based on the statistical history of the award. That doesn’t mean the Most Improved Player in 2019-20 will be one of those four guys, but the numbers favor them over the rest of the pool.

Up next is Defensive Player of the Year. This award tends to put an emphasis on rebounding, blocks, steals and overall defensive rating. The last category is more of a guideline than a hard rule given the ebbs and flows of how NBA offenses operate year to year. These categories naturally favor players operating in the post, but occasionally a perimeter player sneaks into the discussion. Kawhi Leonard won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards and Draymond Green is a hybrid between a perimeter and post player. Here’s how the last nine winners have done in those categories.

Year Player Rebounds Blocks Steals Defensive Rating
2010-11 Dwight Howard 14.1 2.4 1.4 100.6
2011-12 Tyson Chandler 9.9 1.4 0.9 99.2
2012-13 Marc Gasol 7.8 1.7 1.0 96.3
2013-14 Joakim Noah 11.3 1.5 1.2 99.1
2014-15 Kawhi Leonard 7.2 0.8 2.3 98.3
2015-16 Kawhi Leonard 6.8 1.0 1.8 95.1
2016-17 Draymond Green 7.9 1.4 2.0 100.9
2017-18 Rudy Gobert 10.7 2.3 0.8 98.3
2018-19 Rudy Gobert 12.9 2.3 0.8 103.6
Average 9.8 1.6 1.3 99.04


The nine players to win the award in the last decade had an average age of 26 and averaged 6.11 years in the league. The average age has gone down in recent years with Leonard winning the award twice before he turned 25 and Gobert going back-to-back at 25 and 26. For the purpose of this exercise, the service time was cut for those not entering at least their sixth season in the league and those under the age of 26. This means, when looking at last season’s numbers, the parameters for players would be at least five seasons of service time and at least 25 years of age.

Similar to our methodology for Most Improved Player, we’ll use the average of these statistics over nine seasons to form the baseline for what players must likely achieve to be part of the pool. In 2018-19, only two players achieved the requisite number of rebounds, blocks and steals while staying in the service and age parameters. Those players were Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond. However, the 2019-20 pool doesn’t simply end there.

Just like we did for Most Improved Player, we have to account for all the candidates that qualify under at least one of the above categories. This means any player in 2018-19 fitting into the service and age guidelines that tallied at least 9.8 rebounds or 1.6 blocks or 1.3 steals per game is included to form the baseline 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year pool. Here are the candidates heading into next season.


  • Anthony Davis
  • Andre Drummond
  • Rudy Gobert
  • DeAndre Jordan
  • Enes Kanter
  • Kevin Love
  • Tristan Thompson
  • Nikola Vucevic
  • Russell Westbrook
  • Jusuf Nurkic
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Clint Capela



  • Anthony Davis
  • Andre Drummond
  • Hassan Whiteside
  • Rudy Gobert
  • JaVale McGee
  • Brook Lopez



  • Steven Adams
  • Trevor Ariza
  • Kent Bazemore
  • Bradley Beal
  • Eric Bledsoe
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Mike Conley
  • DeMarcus Cousins
  • Robert Covington
  • Stephen Curry
  • Anthony Davis
  • Andre Drummond
  • Paul George
  • Draymond Green
  • James Harden
  • Jrue Holiday
  • Justin Holiday
  • Kyrie Irving
  • LeBron James
  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Kyle Lowry
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Chris Paul
  • Otto Porter
  • Ricky Rubio
  • Marcus Smart
  • P.J. Tucker
  • John Wall
  • Russell Westbrook
  • Thaddeus Young
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo


There are some exceptions. Darren Collison was in the player pool based on steals, but retired in the offseason. Antetokounmpo technically averaged 1.28 steals per game, but his overall defensive metrics were worthy of a Defensive Player of the Year award last season. A lot of the names in the steals category aren’t going to be contending for the award, but they help form the baseline of the potential award pool based on historical statistics.

With Davis and Drummond already in the pool, it’s time to search for guys who fit in at least two of the three statistical categories. This wipes out 35 players, leaving us with Davis, Drummond, Gobert, Whiteside, Westbrook and Antetokounmpo.

This is where we’ll use a version of defensive rating to add and remove candidates. To qualify for statistics in an NBA season, a player must play at least 58 games. The top defensive rating for players appearing in at least 58 games last season belonged to Sindarius Thornwell, who played 4.9 minutes per contest. When filtered further across three different sets of minutes restrictions (24, 30, 34), here are the top 10 players in defensive rating from 2018-19.

Minimum 24 Minutes Per Game Minimum 30 Minutes Per Game Minimum 34 Minutes Per Game
Joe Ingles Joe Ingles Paul George
Giannis Antetokounmpo Giannis Antetokounmpo Kyle Lowry
Cory Joseph Rudy Gobert Josh Richardson
Malcolm Brogdon Donovan Mitchell Kevin Durant
Brook Lopez Paul George Russell Westbrook
Domantas Sabonis Pascal Siakam Kawhi Leonard
Rudy Gobert Chris Paul Damian Lillard
Jaren Jackson Jr. Khris Middleton Klay Thompson
Donovan Mitchell JJ Redick Ben Simmons
Paul George Joel Embiid Jrue Holiday


George is the only player who appears in all three top-1o lists, so it’s fair to add him to the list of candidates. Keep this in mind, though: Westbrook checks in at fifth on heavy minutes and Whiteside is nowhere to be found. We can keep both players in the pool, but it’s highly unlikely their statistical production translates to actual defensive value. Players like Leonard and Green might force themselves into the conversation with resurgent years, but for now they’re out of the pool.

Our final pool for 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year has seven candidates with George’s inclusion. The final list: Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Paul George.

Westbrook and Whiteside are unlikely to garner recognition despite their statistics. Since players have won the award multiple times, often in consecutive seasons, Gobert will be one to watch. Antetokounmpo will also be worthy of the award, but Davis and Drummond should be considered the front-runners for the honor next year.

MORE: Where Will the NBA’s Next “Big 3” Come From?