The NBA Playoffs are set to begin, and with it comes the long awaited Defensive Player of the Year debate. The top two candidates in this race are Marcus Smart and Rudy Gobert. After a year where we saw new defensive rule changes implemented across the league that have taken away some defenders’ abilities to affect opponents, who will win?

The “rudy gobert age” is a debate that has been going on for over a year. Marcus Smart, Mikal Bridges and Rudy Gobert are all in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

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    ESPN’s Tim Bontemps

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics feels he is the Defensive Player of the Year. Smart is the main defender on the NBA’s best defense. Mikal Bridges, the Phoenix Suns’ fourth-year winger and the team’s top NBA All-Defensive contender, feels the same way.

However, given the award’s history, none of the league’s best defensive stoppers is expected to win.

Only one point guard has earned the Defensive Player of the Year title in the 39 years since its introduction in the 1982-83 season: Hall of Famer Gary Payton in 1996, thanks to a league-leading 2.9 steals per game.

Shooting guards have won it five more times, but none since Michael Jordan in 1988, when he won it five out of the first six years it was given out.

Three power forwards who patrol the paint — Kevin Garnett, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Draymond Green — have won the award a total of 25 times. Kawhi Leonard, a small forward, won the award in 2015 and 2016, although he and Ron Artest, who won the honor in 2004, are the only non-big players to win in the previous 25 years.

Those numbers irritate Smart, who believes that instead of celebrating the greatest defensive player, the league honors the best sort of defensive player.

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Smart told ESPN, “I’m not taking anything from the bigs.” “Protecting the paint is an important aspect of the game. However, we do a lot more as guards before [our player] gets to the paint. Contesting the three, pulling ups, and making sure he doesn’t get to his places.”

Smart is one of many candidates for the prize this year. While Bridges is considered, the majority of the candidates are big guys, including Antetokounmpo, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Memphis Grizzlies forward Jarvis Jackson Jr., and Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, to mention a few.

All of this raises a few of issues: In today’s NBA, can perimeter guys win Defensive Player of the Year? Should they, and, more importantly, can they?

‘The most crucial spot on the floor’

When Gobert’s favorite subject of discussion came up, he had just folded his 7-foot-1 body into a courtside seat inside Boston’s TD Garden.

Gobert has earned Defensive Player of the Year three times in the last four seasons, tying him with Hall of Famers Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace for the most in franchise history. So when he was asked whether guards should be considered for the league’s most coveted defensive award, his ears pricked up.

“I believe small ball has an affect on who has the biggest impact on their team,” Gobert said before the Jazz’s March 23 game against the Celtics.

“There are a lot of talented guards, especially defensive guards. People may find it difficult to comprehend at times, but I’m concerned about the team when I enter the game. I believe we sometimes place too much emphasis on specific matchups.”

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, who has spoken about his ambition to earn Defensive Player of the Year, made a similar case.

“All of the coverages are called out by [centers]. They are aware of the situation. They make announcements about plays and such. That has always been the case “Last week, Embiid stated. “That’s why, in the past, most of the Defensive Players of the Year were usually huge.”


Heat at Celtics, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 30 At 10 p.m., the Suns will face the Warriors.

Nuggets at Lakers, 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 3 Mavs at Bucks, 1 p.m. (ABC) (ABC)

All timings are in Eastern Standard Time.

Last week, Snyder added, “You look at [Smart’s] strength, his stature, his agility.” “He’s not a shot-blocker, but in an odd sense, since he’s a deterrent, he’s able to do things off the ball that are equal.”

“It’s almost like the Super Bowl with [Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen] Ramsey. It’s not a good idea to throw to that side of the field…. So it’s his adaptability that sets him apart.”

If Smart, Bridges, or another perimeter player breaks the center and power forward stronghold on the Defensive Player of the Year award, or whether Gobert or another big continues the tradition, the underlying disagreement on both sides will remain the same.

“”As a large, you can have an influence on numerous players at the same time,” Gobert said. It’s more difficult to perform as a guard.”

“I mean, if we’re just looking at basic effect,” Smart said, “[perimeter players] should undoubtedly be in any type of debate when it comes to that award.”

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN contributed to this report.

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