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Marcus Smart first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996

Celtics guard Marcus Smart

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 25: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics celebrates during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 25, 2021 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images).

NBAE via Getty Images

Nearly two-thirds of Defensive Player of the Year voters thought Celtics guard Marcus Smart didn’t deserve the award.

Yet, Smart is the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year.

With a mere plurality of votes, Smart topped finalists Suns wing Mikal Bridges and Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Smart is the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since the Seattle SuperSonics’ Gary Payton in 1996.

Here’s full 2022 DPOY voting with first-, second- and third-place votes and total voting points:

  • Marcus Smart (Celtics): 37-18-18-257
  • Mikal Bridges (Phoenix): 22-25-17-202
  • Rudy Gobert (Jazz): 12-18-22-136
  • Bam Adebayo (Heat): 13-17-12-128
  • Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies): 10-11-16-99
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks): 5-7-12-58
  • Robert Williams III (Celtics): 1-1-0-8
  • Jrue Holiday (Bucks): 0-2-0-6
  • Al Horford (Celtics): 0-1-0-3
  • Draymond Green (Warriors): 0-0-2-2
  • Matisse Thybulle (76ers): 0-0-1-1

At just 37%, Smart has the lowest share of first-place votes by the winner of one of the NBA’s five major player awards since 2015. That year, Kawhi Leonard won Defensive Player of the Year with just 29% of first-place votes.

Leonard (who repeated the next year) and Ron Artest (who won in 2004 then later changed his name to Metta Sandiford-Artest) are the only other non-bigs to win DPOY since Payton.

Though bigs tend to make larger defensive impacts, some voters longed for another perimeter player to claim the award. That made Gobert – who won Defensive Player of the Year three of the last four years – an especially stale candidate (but still my pick).

Smart did about as much as a guard can do – including frequently switching and defending near the rim, the court’s prime real estate. He’s smart and physical, capable of digging into opponents on the ball and creating chaos off the ball – often on the same possession. An excellent communicator, Smart was the head of Boston’s NBA-best defense. His hustle was contagious throughout the team.

In a fitting conclusion to this contentious race, a whopping seven players received first-place votes. Six players received at least five first-place votes – the first time that has happened for a major individual award in nearly a decade.

Bam Adebayo, whose exclusion as a finalist sparked griping in Miami, got more first-place votes than Gobert. Those two players finished quite close in voting. But in third place rather than fourth, Gobert got the distinction of “finalist.”

So much of this award – from the campaigning to even interpreting the voting results – is about framing.

Smart gets the trophy, and nobody can take that from him. He earned his way into the race and persuaded a slight majority of voters to list him first or second on their ballots and more to put him third. Nobody else did that.

But after all the arguments, there’s still far from a consensus about about who deserved to win.