Welcome back to the second installment in our potential-end-of-season award series. For each of the NBA’s major gongs I’ll be making a case as to why a player from the Magic should be the one taking home the hardware. Yesterday it was Evan Fournier who, in being crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player, managed to shine brighter than high-wattage stars like LeBron, Giannis and Harden. Today we turn our attention to the Defensive Player of the Year. Could we again have someone in pinstripes ready to claim the crown? You bet!
A quick disclaimer: although I’m building a (largely) serious case for each individual award winner, please understand that this is not a totally serious endeavor. The Magic won’t be bringing home any awards come season’s end. However, in my world I’m letting my Floridian bias shine. So strap on those Magic-tinged glasses, keep those faces straight, and join me as we envision a world in which Orlando claim award after award after award. Let’s dive in and have some fun!
Defensive Player of the Year - Jonathan Isaac
This might surprise people more than the choice of Fournier for MVP. Even in an already truncated season, his 32 games played makes for an extreme awards outlier, representative of a nudge under 50% of Orlando’s total games. But Jonathan Isaac was so singularly dominant, so breathtakingly restrictive as a primary and team defender that the league is left with no choice but to recognize his immense disruptive talents. This season Isaac was undoubtedly the league’s best defensive player.
Let’s start with the statistical case. Isaac racked up a combined number of blocks and steals unlike anyone else in the league. For the season he averaged 2.4 blocks (2nd league wide) and 1.6 steals (18th), good for a combined total of 4.0 per contest (1st). The best defensive counting statistics we have place him at the apex, a case bolstered by the eye test, which pegs him as a whirling dervish of stifling limbs and maniacal help rotations. It’s also worth remembering that he’s arriving at these numbers in less than 30 minutes of game time each night.
Dig deeper and the assessment stands up to further scrutiny. This season there were only four players who saw as much court time and were as likely to record a block. The same metric for steals places only thirteen names in front of him. Again, when these are combined, it is Isaac that tops the chart.
Elsewhere one might think that JI’s case starts to weaken somewhat. Advanced ratings like defensive rating, defensive win shares, and defensive box plus/minus all seem to favor some guy by the name of Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, it is worth noting that he benefits by playing for the league’s best team defense in Milwaukee, and as such it is almost impossible to separate his case from that of his teammates. Just imagine what Isaac would be capable of defensively if he was blessed with the same level of defensively-talented peers as Giannis!
The Greek Freak’s defensive numbers are a case for his team’s brilliance at that end of the court. JI’s are a case for his own individual brilliance. Giannis and the Bucks might take home the championship, but the Defensive Player of the Year award belongs to Isaac.
With the case now made for two award winners out of Orlando, we bring the latest installment in this very serious series to an end. Be sure to come back in a few days time to find out how the Magic can lay claim to other accolades such as Most Improved Player, Coach of the Year, and — yes, that’s right — even Rookie of the Year. The award season sweep is on!