Offense reigns supreme in today’s NBA, and “defense wins championships” rarely applies to the league these days, as most fans of NBA betting know.
And yet, because of that, it makes the Defensive Player of the Year award all the more impressive to win. Betting on the award is a lot different than when betting on an NBA MVP or betting on the NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Here are four factors to consider when placing a bet with a top basketball bookmaker on this award winner.
It might be a point guard’s league right now but not when it comes to this award. Defensive Player of the Year was first handed out in 1982, and five of the first six winners were shooting guards: Sidney Moncrief (twice), Alvin Robertson, Michael Cooper and Michael Jordan.
But since Michael Jordan won the award in 1989, only one of the next 30 winners was a guard: point guard Gary Payton in 1996. Perhaps it’s because they don’t rack up the counting stats in rebounds or steals – or because they generally find themselves scoring more on the offensive end – guards just don’t win the award.
Great defense, more often than not, requires great length, and guards just don’t provide it.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that centers have dominated the voting. From 1989 to 2014, 24 of 26 Defensive Player of the Year winners were power forwards or centers. The two exceptions in that span were Payton in 1996, who we showed earlier bucked a long trend, and Ron Artest in 2004.
When in doubt, think big for Defensive Player of the Year. The game is getting smaller and faster, but there’s always going to be room for bigs who can defend. And more often than not, they’re the ones who take home the trophy.
They may not have as big of roles on offense, but they still anchor great defenses (we’ll get to that later) and make the biggest impact on that end of the floor.
Because the award is somewhat niche – let’s face it, there aren’t a ton of elite defenders compared to the offensive talent we see in the league who win MVP, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year –the same names pop up more often than not.
And naturally, they tend to come in bunches. In fact, the first two seasons the award was handed out it went to the same player: Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief.
From 1993 to 2016, the award was handed out 24 times. And yet, only 13 different players won the award. That timeframe saw repeat award winners in Hakeem Olajuwon (twice), Dikembe Mutombo (four times), Ben Wallace (four times), Dwight Howard (three times) and Kawhi Leonard (two times). Notice all but Leonard were big men.
“Team defense” is a real thing. The best defenders don’t just do it themselves. they affect the five-man group. Defensive Player of the Year winners are on elite defenses. That may sound obvious, but consider just how good their collective defenses are.
Of the 16 winners from 2003 to 2018, all but one played for defenses that ranked in the top 5 in terms of efficiency. The only exception came in 2007, when Marcus Camby averaged 9.3 defensive rebounds and led the league with 3.3 blocks per game. The Nuggets ranked No. 13 in defensive efficiency.
But besides him, the other 15 winners’ teams had an average defensive rank of 2.9.
When targeting the Defensive Player of the Year winner, find a defense that’s going to be among the league’s best. And remember, we’re talking efficiency. Points per game allowed doesn’t always take pace into account.
We’re looking at how many points per 100 possessions a team gives up. A great defense can be one that gives up points, so long as they play at a quicker pace.
The All-NBA Defensive Teams are annually littered with excellent defenders who don’t receive as much national attention. Some are certainly two-way players, but often they’re players who exert so much effort on defense that they don’t make as much of an impact on offense.
That, of course, means those players are rarely All-Stars. After all, there are only 24 of them each year.
But the absolute best defenders are. To be the league’s best player on an entire half of the court is almost always recognized with an All-Star selection. From 1988 to 2011, 21 of the 24 Defensive Player of the Year award winners were also All-Star selections that same season.
The exceptions were Dennis Rodman, who had been an All-Star the year prior, Ben Wallace, who would become an All-Star the following season, and Marcus Camby, who was an outlier for a handful of reasons.
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