Here’s a short list of NBA players who were born since the last
time a guard won Defensive Player of the Year: Devin Booker,
Dejounte Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown, Bam Adebayo and
Brandon Ingram. Hold that thought — you can bet your life savings
we’ll get back to it.
We can do the heavy analytical dissection, but if we’re being
honest, advanced metrics haven’t appropriately caught up to or
captured how we watch defense, specifically on the perimeter.
This isn’t going to be anti-film or anti-analytics; it's just
that, sometimes, you gotta throw that sh** out the window and just
make your points. You should still sound reasonable and informative
while doing it — not just hot-taking for the sake of it — but even
Kevin Durant famously said, “Who the f*** wants to look at graphs
while having a hoops convo?” While many of you might not agree,
there’s at least a time and place to put this into practice. Now’s
The Boston Celtics were 25-25 on the morning of Saturday, Jan.
29. It was the day Marc Gasol turned 37, the day a number of us experienced a Nor’easter and the
day the C's beat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-97. Boston got a
combined 69 points from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Some would
call it a nice win.
But that day also marked the beginning of what is now a
two-month Celtics run of Oscar-smacking the piss out of teams,
riding a record of 47-29 ahead of their showing Wednesday night
against the Miami Heat — another Eastern Conference contender.
Oh yeah, we generally weren’t calling Boston a contender two
months ago — some weren’t positive the team would totally avoid the
Play-In Tournament. If you’re keeping score at home, the Celtics
have won 22 of their last 26, holding opponents under 100 points
(in this NBA) 12 times — almost half of the time — and
winning 15 of those games by 10 or more points.
The Celtics, right now, have the league’s best defense. They’ll
experience some drop-off with Robert Williams out due to a torn
meniscus, and even if we do see him again this season, he’ll likely
be less than 100%. That’s unfortunate, but Boston should still be
elite on that end, especially on the perimeter.
Did you know Smart has only been on an All-Defensive Team
twice in his eight-year career? Surely, we can expect a
third appearance this season, but still... that’s it? (Note: Yes,
this is also a case for three All-Defensive Teams
for those of us who value that 50% of the game.)
When were those two All-Defensive years? The 2018-19 and 2019-20
seasons, where Smart cracked the First Team in back-to-back
campaigns. We’ve lauded his defense for years, and rightfully so.
He’s one of the best perimeter defenders you may have ever seen —
definitely over the last 10 years. Advanced numbers don’t always
benefit perimeter defenders; in fact, they favor bigs all the
Smart’s been amazing on defense this year. He’s been as good as
anyone on the perimeter, but even so,
he’s only 20th in DRTG, per Basketball-Reference. Wanna guess
the positional breakdown of the 19 ahead of him?
There are nine centers, and six guys who play power forward. All
but one, Jae Crowder, are considered bigs. Only three are
considered guards: Chris Paul, De’Anthony Melton and Luka Dončić.
Would you say any of them, as good as they’ve been, have been
better than Smart defensively this year with a straight face?
(By the way, Smart is fourth on his own freaking team behind
Williams [first], Al Horford [fourth] and Tatum [15th]
Smart’s tied for 11th in Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Wanna play
the positional breakdown game again? No need. Only one guard is
ahead of him, and that’s Paul, who’s on the best team in the league
— the rest all play the 3, 4 or 5— especially the latter two.
Defensive Win Shares? Smart’s 12th. Wanna do it again? All bigs
except for Dončić and his teammate Tatum, who actually leads the
This isn’t to say that these metrics (and ones that are alike)
have been the only thing to influence voting throughout the DPOY
award’s history, but the award itself basically crowns whoever
voters think is the best defensive big man. Sometimes you can
crunch numbers, other times you can compare charts, but all in all,
you still need to watch the m*****f*****. From there, it’d be nice
to recondition your thinking so we don’t wind up in the same place
all the time.
No guard has won DPOY since 1995-96, and that was Gary Payton —
one of the best to ever do it. The most recent guard before Payton
was Michael Jordan in 1988. That’s two guards that have
won DPOY since Mike Conley was born, and he’ll turn 35 in
We don’t even need to do the positional breakdown. We can do it
like this: the last non-big to win DPOY was Kawhi Leonard in 2016 —
the second season of back-to-back award wins. The last non-big
before him? Ron Artest in 2004. And before that? Payton in ’96,
then Jordan in ’88.
That’s five DPOY Awards to non-bigs over the last 34 seasons,
not including this year, where I’m bracing for the voters to give
it to Rudy Gobert a fourth time.
Smart’s awesome, but even just on principle, just give the award
to a (insert expletive here) guard. This is a guard- and
wing-driven league offensively and Smart defends all those dudes,
putting the clamps on several — and he's done this since being
drafted in 2014. He’s the best perimeter defender — arguably best,
period — on the league’s best defensive team. As the
longest-tenured Celtic since 2017, this team has taken on his
identity. Without Smart — even with Williams, Tatum, Brown, Horford
and Derrick White — the Celtics wouldn’t be this. His
point-of-attack defense, switchability and leadership are
And to the voters — y’all are media members, many of whom grew
up admiring the Celtics (let’s keep it real, it’s why we haven’t
stopped hearing about this run since it began) — so you
know Smart’s been as good as anyone. And if you’re not going to
give it to Mikal Bridges for his awesome work defensively on the
NBA’s best team, or Bam Adebayo for being the most versatile
clamper in the league (games missed don’t matter), then
give it to Smart.
He’s earning it, he’s deserving of it, and y’all just need to do
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