According to Memphis radio personality Chris Vernon, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol will be named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Meanwhile the Indianapolis Star reports the Indiana Pacers will call a press conference this morning to announce that Paul George has been named the league’s Most Improved Player.
Gasol winning Defensive Player of the Year comes as no surprise, but he is an inspired choice nonetheless. More often than not when a big man wins the award – and since 1989 only two non-bigs, (Gary Payton and the man formerly known as Ron Artest) have won the award – he leads the league in either blocks or rebounds and is usually among the league leaders in both categories. Such was the case for Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace and Dwight Howard, all of whom won the award multiple times.
Gasol averaged 7.8 rebounds and 1.74 blocks this season, good for 23rd and 12th in the NBA respectively. While his traditional stats aren’t terribly impressive (at least by Defensive POY standards), the advanced stats-heads love him. The younger Gasol was second in the Association in defensive win shares and fifth in defensive rating.
The Grizzlies are one of the league’s best defensive teams by any measure, and they allowed just 95.4 points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the floor, but 102.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. His selection could be considered a victory for stat geeks. It could also be the product of living in an era when we have YouTube, NBA League Pass and DVRs—when basketball writers can watch, re-watch, and analyze hundreds of games and don’t have to rely solely on traditional stats.
George will become the fourth Pacer to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. No franchise has improved its players like the Pacers have. “Most improved” means different things to different people. One could argue that LeBron James has shown as much improvement as any player in the league. But George has had a breakout season, improving his scoring average from 12.1 to 17.4 and his rebounding average from 5.6 to 7.6.
The Pacers’ wing owes much of this statistical improvement to increased minutes (37.6 this year, 29.7 last year) and the absence of fellow wing Danny Granger. Still, George emerged this season as an All Star, a premiere defender, and as the best player on a top-10 team. He is as good a choice as any for MIP.
In other postseason award news Knicks guard J.R. Smith won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award over the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford on Monday. Vote totals for that race are available here. MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year results are still to come. The only question surrounding the MVP and Rookie awards is whether LeBron James and Damian Lillard will be unanimous selections. The Coach of the Year vote could be interesting.