Since the first NBA Defensive Player of the Year award was given out in 1983, 13 centers have taken it home. Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace, and Dwight Howard are just a few of the more dominant award winners so far.
37 years and 22 different recipients later, there has only been one big man with truly unique defensive versatility: Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Over the course of this unusual first season with the Lakers, Davis has made his case for the award. The voting for all awards will be based on games before the shutdown, however, he has done more than enough to sway media voters.
Averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, Davis is a force to be reckoned with. The 27-year-old All-Star player from Chicago is the epitome of a lockdown center.
Davis has suffocating length, excellent reaction time, and does an outstanding job of contesting without fouling. He is an elite rim protector who not only intimidates opponents when driving to the basket but forces them to make careless mistakes. Davis has the unlikely amalgamation of being a seven-footer with agile feet and active hands, resulting in the most versatile defender in the league has seen.
In March games against the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, Davis defended Giannis Antetekoumpo and Kawhi Leonard on multiple possessions.
How many seven-footers in the NBA are able to do that? None.
Davis locks up a hefty center like Nikola Jokic, then contains a crafty, sharpshooting guard like James Harden coming off the pick-and-roll.
Usually, guards look for big men as a mismatch when handling the basketball, but Davis is especially difficult to beat off the dribble. In the rare case that a guard does, his effort to get back in the play and swipe down at the ball or disrupt the shot with his 7’6″ wingspan results in a defender who can guard multiple positions.
Davis is also a spectacular pick-and-roll defender. He has the rare ability to switch on a pick-and-roll and stay in front of the opposition. His positioning allows him to either be ready for a contest or drive-by when a ball handler comes off a pick.
It is not just the individual defense that makes his case stronger, but it is the team defense and help side defending that makes him so special. Davis rotates to the correct spot when the ball is swung around — cutting off the ball handler attempting to drive or utilizing his length to make the shooter uncomfortable.
Davis almost always corrects the mistakes of his teammates. Whether it is someone losing a player in transition or being beat off a backdoor cut, Davis recovers faster than one can say ‘AD’ to stop a bucket. His defensive IQ and awareness as a big man have brought comparisons to Kevin Garnett.
Davis’ efforts elevated a sub-par Lakers defense during the 2018-19 NBA season to one of the best in the league this season. Granted head coach Frank Vogel is defensive-minded, but Davis has been the leader on the court for the Lakers.
The Lakers had a defensive rating of 108.9 (13th-best) last season. The Davis trade has elevated them into having the best defensive rating in the Western Conference and third in the league overall, only behind the Toronto Raptors and Bucks.
Davis is a transcendent, defensive powerhouse. He is not your typical seven-footer who gets beat off the dribble or backed down in the paint against stronger forwards. Davis has the ability to defend any player whether it is in Orlando or Los Angeles. This is what makes Davis the clear-cut, definitive, no debate or discussion 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year over Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert.