Spurs wing Kawhi Leonard has won the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year, making him the first non-center/power forward since
Ron Artest Metta World Peace in 2003-04 to claim the award. What’s interesting about the win is he actually had fewer first place votes than runner-up, Draymond Green.
Green, the do-everything undersized power forward for the league-leading Golden State Warriors, was DIME’s unanimous choice for the award, and he actually finished with 45 first-place votes, with Leonard only claiming 37. But in one of the tightest races for a regular-season NBA award in recent memory, Leonard out-paced him with 333 total points to Green’s 317.
If you look at the voting tallies, you can clearly see the San Antonio Express-News‘ Jeff McDonald and Mike Monroe voted Kawhi No. 1, but both put his closest competition — Green — at No. 3, with McDonald slotting in Anthony Davis at No. 2 and Monroe going with Green’s front-court partner, Andrew Bogut, in the second-place slot.
The difference in those votes, 2 points for each (since you get 3 points for a second-place vote and just 1 for a third-place vote) go halfway towards cutting into Kawhi’s total lead over Green. Despite an obvious partisanship surrounding beat writers favoring the players they cover (the same thing happened with Dray, so take it easy), Leonard is still an excellent choice.
He’s second in defensive real plus-minus, trailing only Bogut (Dray is No. 5), and the Spurs only give up 98.6 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court, but give up 102.2 when he sits. True, San Antonio — as a team — only gives up 98.8 on the year, but the majority of that low figure — third in the NBA — is Kawhi’s presence on the perimeter.
His ability to affect the game on both sides of the court was exemplified in his nullification of Stephen Curry late in the season during a Spurs win over the Warriors, and he ruthlessly picked the pocket of Curry — one of the best ball-handlers in the Association — during that win:
Also, damn, those Klaws.
Not convinced yet? Well, while basketball-reference’s defensive rating (the number of points per 100 possessions a team allows while a player is on the court) is far from the most accurate representation of defensive impact (for that, the defensive real plus-minus is a lot more accurate, since it takes into account the players someone shares the court with), Kawhi was the first non-big to sport the top defensive rating in the NBA since Scottie Pippen in the 1994-95 season.