The Defensive Player of the Year award is given out annually to the most disruptive, fear-inspiring, game-plan-ruining defender in the National Basketball Association.
Dikembe Mutumbo and Ben Wallace hold the record with four awards each, while Dwight Howard and Rudy Gobert have each earned the nomination three times. The DPOY is a symbol of game-shifting intensity and ruthlessness on the defensive end.
The obvious winner of the award this year is Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, but somehow, this opinion may be in the minority. What a travesty.
Marcus Smart’s progression
Marcus Smart is a 6-foot-4, 28-year-old point guard for the Boston Celtics, the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Coming out of Oklahoma State, many experts did not know exactly where he would land; he was undersized for a two-guard but too bulky and turnover-prone to be a true point guard, especially with a sub-30% standard from beyond the arc.
Smart ultimately went to Boston, where he has remained for eight years since, with the sixth-overall pick in the 2014 draft. He bounced in and out of the starting lineup for the next four years and garnered a reputation as a flopper, out-of-control ball-handler, and deplorable field goal shooter.
Smart finally began to round into the player known today in the 2018-19 season during which he became a more central part of the offense and stayed more engaged on the defensive end. He ended the year with a second-team all-defense nomination, his first of two selections, and the NBA’s Hustle Award.
Smart’s progression continued and ultimately culminated in a career-best 2021-22 season; the Celtics’ PG averaged 12.1 points and 5.9 assists per game as one of the most influential players on a 51-31 team.
Give the man the award
Smart was the tip of the spear of Boston’s defense that finished the regular season number-one in defensive rating. He was also 12th in defensive win shares despite playing fewer minutes than his competitors for DPOY— Mikal Bridges, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Rudy Gobert.
Boston’s fan-favorite also tied for third in steals per game (1.7), outperforming his three competitors for the award. Thereby, he was among the most disruptive players in the league at the point of attack.
Numbers are not the main tool that should make Smart’s case, however; the pillar most central to Smart’s DPOY argument is that he was the best defensive guard in a perimeter-centric league.
Think about it: this is a league where 7-footers like Brook Lopez would rather camp out in the short corner than fight inside for rebounds. The speed and space with which players have to operate are far greater than any previous generation, which is why scoring averages are up so drastically compared to in years past.
Smart’s role as the chief defensive stopper is to overcome the disadvantages opposing offenses put him at and shut down his cover, which he does more times than not. In the same way that the MVP goes to the most “valuable” players, the Defensive Player of the Year should go to the athlete whose defense has the greatest influence on the game— and that is clearly Marcus Smart.