Five of the first six Defensive Player of the Year awards were awarded to the Guards. Milwaukee Bucks guard Sidney Moncrieff took the top two before Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton took third. The award went straight back to the shooting guard for the next three seasons, with Alvin Robertson, Michael Cooper, and Michael Jordan all taking home one.
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Immediately after that, Defensive Player of the Year began to become the Big Man Award, awarded to the best shot-blockers and tire protectors in the NBA. An inside player picked up the next seven Defensive Player of the Year Awards before Gary Payton broke that streak in 1996, becoming the first goalkeeper ever to receive the honor.
Who would have guessed that it would be 25 years before another goalkeeper would win the NBA’s number one defensive tackle?
That streak finally ended this season, as Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart was named Defensive Player of the Year at Sporting News.
Smart embodies all it means to be an outstanding defender in the NBA today. He does the toughest defensive missions every night. While it’s common to see him linked at the hip with some of the league’s most prolific goalkeepers like Stephen Curry or Trae Young, he still holds up on his own when ditching size against top-tier strikers like Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokonmo.
No matter who Smart checks, it will be a pest. No easy shots will come in, he’ll make you feel his body and he’s ready to put his body on the line to create a spin or stop you from getting a bucket.
Smart has been the outspoken leader of the Celtics defense for years now, and it’s no coincidence that Boston have been among the top teams in the league at that finish since drafting the brave guard back in 2014.
This season, Smart’s leadership and tenacity helped lead the Celtics to the best defensive ranking in the NBA (106.2). Boston also held contenders for the lowest field goal and 3 percentage points in the league.
Of course, defenses cannot click unless all five players are locked up. Head coach Im Odoka installed the perfect heavy switch scheme for the Celtics roster, and Robert Williams III deserves just as much recognition as anyone else for how he excelled in his free job. Multiple defenders like Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Grant Williams also played a big role, but Smart was the heartbeat and the driver of Boston’s success in this ending.
Smart has been one of the best thieves in the league this season, with 1.7 steals per game tied for a third place in the NBA. Ranked 119, his total thefts are ranked sixth. His energetic hands were all over the place, with his 206 deflections, placing him tenth in the top ten.
Simply put, if there was a shooting ball or a 50-50 ball to catch, Smart would be the first object to hit the surface. Smart was constantly wreaking havoc, playing unlimited card while wearing his heart on his sleeve. He has been the most disruptive defender in the league this season.
For the first time in 25 years, the goalkeeper will be named Defensive Player of the Year. And who better to break this streak than the unrelenting Marcus Smart?