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PBT Midseason Awards: Defensive Player of the Year

Jazz center Rudy Gobert and 76ers center Joel Embiid

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 3: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz on March 3, 2021 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

As the 2020-21 NBA season nears its midpoint, we’re rating the top performers so far.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

As the anchor of the stout Utah defense — an elite rim protector who can switch onto guards and wings on the perimeter — Rudy Gobert is the current leader in the DPOY race. But if you watched Joel Embiid and Zion Williamson go through Gobert and score on in recent weeks, you know this is not a runaway. Myles Turner in Indiana is in the mix, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons from Philly can make a case, and the Lakers have the best defense in the land with LeBron James at the core. This is a race that could change a lot in the second half of the season, but Gobert is setting the pace.

Dan Feldman: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Rudy Gobert has proven himself as the NBA’s best regular-season defender over several years. In a given season, he might rank second or third in the league to someone whose defensive success is more fleeting. So far this year, Gobert is on top.

He’s a staunch rim protector who has improved away from the basket. Utah’s elite defense is built around him. The Jazz allow just 103.8 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor – the second-best mark in the league for any player averaging at least 30 minutes per game.

Gobert has far from clinched full-season Defensive Player of the Year, though. Pacers big Myles Turner leads a group of challengers that also includes 76ers stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. LeBron James – whose Lakers allow just 102.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court – also belongs in that mix so far, but it’s tough to see him turning up his defensive intensity even further the rest of this season.