The Defensive Player of the Year Award has been given out to the best defensive player of the regular season since the 1982-1983 season. The winner is selected by a panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Each voter casts a first, second, and third-place vote. The point system features first place worth five points, second place at three points, and third place at one point. The winner with the highest point total wins.
Out of all the great defensive players, the greatest players are Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace, who have won the award a record four times. Right behind them are Dwight Howard and Rudy Gobert, who have won the award three times. With Gobert owning a lot of prime seasons left, he has a viable shot to break the record for most wins.
Traditionally, this ward has been given to big men who can rebound and block shots. Only seven perimeter players have been honored with the award. That includes Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, Michael Cooper, Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, Metta Sandiford-Artest, and Kawhi Leonard. Payton is the only point guard to ever win.
There are 12 franchises that have never had the best defensive player in the league. Others such as the Pistons, Jazz, and Spurs have featured some of the best. These are every NBA franchise's total Defensive Player of the Years by a player on their team.
Atlanta Hawks - 2
Dikembe Mutombo - 1997, 1998 (2)
After the completion of the 1995-1996 season, Mutombo signed a five-year, $55 million deal to stay with the Hawks. Along with All-Star Steve Smith, Mutombo led the Hawks to back-to-back seasons with at least 50 wins or more. Mutombo continued to put up excellent defensive numbers, which led to him winning DPOY in back-to-back seasons.
During these two seasons, Mutombo was often averaging double-doubles in games. He once had a 24-point game and 20-rebound performance against the Pacers. The Hawks never had any deep playoff runs though as the Bulls controlled both 1997 and 1998 in the championship. In five seasons with Atlanta, Mutombo averaged at least 3.0 blocks per game three times.
Boston Celtics - 1
Kevin Garnett - 2008 (1)
During the 2007 offseason, Garnett was traded to the Timberwolves in what would be the largest number of players (7:1) traded for one singular player. Garnett joined Paul Pierce and newly acquired Ray Allen to form a formidable big three in Boston. Garnett eventually led all players in the 2008 All-Star voting but was unable to play.
By the end of the year, Garnett won Defensive Player of the Year, which was the only major award that the franchise had not earned since the franchise was founded in 1946. Garnett was also third in the MVP voting behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Garnett helped the team win their 17th NBA championship, which included 26 points and 14 rebounds in Game 6.
Brooklyn Nets - None
While Jason Kidd was often a strong defender during his heyday with the Nets, he was never voted in the top-5 for the award. The best finish in recent memory was Michael Ray Richardson in 1985. At the time, he finished seventh in the voting, which was also the same year he was named to the All-Star Game.
Richardson played 555 career NBA games and averaged 14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 2.6 steals. Had Julius Erving played in the NBA with the Nets at the time, he might have been a contender. Instead, Erving was on the ABA team that won championships in 1974 and 1976.
Charlotte Hornets - None
Anthony Mason has made a few appearances in the voting, which featured top-10 finishes in 1995 and 1998. Alonzo Mourning was another player that saw his name catch a few votes. However, the best finish by a member of the Charlotte franchise was Gerald Wallace in 2010.
In 2010, Wallace finished third in the voting. He was named to the All-Defensive First Team and averaged 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 39 minutes of action. Wallace is one of three players in NBA history to average at least two steals and two blocks throughout an entire season, the others being David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Cleveland Cavaliers - None
The best finish by a Cavaliers player was LeBron James in 2010. James finished fourth in the DPOY voting in what was an extra effort to get Cleveland back to the NBA Finals. In what would be his last season, the first time around, in Cleveland, he was forced to play point guard due to injuries. With his long frame, he succeeded and helped Cleveland win the best record in the league for a second straight year.
He saw an increase in production, which included 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. James won the MVP Award, but the team suffered in the playoffs by losing to the Celtics. After that, LeBron bolted for the Miami Heat.
Chicago Bulls - 2
Joakim Noah - 2014 (1)
Michael Jordan - 1988 (1)
Jordan became the first Bull to win DPOY in 1988. He led the league in scoring by averaging 35.0 points per game and won his first league MVP. He won DPOY by adding a league-high 3.1 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. However, the Bulls couldn’t stop the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs.
Noah had a sensational season in 2014. Noah finished the month of March with 120 assists, which was the most by a center since Wilt Chamberlain had 155 in March 1968. Noah became the first Frenchman to win the award, the fourth international player, and the second European to win.
Dallas Mavericks - None
In team history, Shawn Marion and Derek Harper could be viewed as two of the best defenders ever. Both made frequent stops at the top of the voting. With that said, the best finish by a team member is Tyson Chandler in 2011 when he finished third. The year that the Mavericks won the NBA championship featured one of the best defensive players in the league.
Chandler was credited for toughness by the franchise. For that, he was rewarded with an All-Defensive Second Team selection. In the playoffs, he helped the Mavericks defeat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. After that, he was a highly coveted free agent that ultimately signed with the New York Knicks.
Denver Nuggets - 2
Marcus Camby - 2006 (1)
Dikembe Mutombo - 1995 (1)
Camby was known for toughness all around. He was featured in a 10-player brawl with the Knicks at one point in the season, which certainly backs that up. For the season, he averaged 3.3 blocks per game, which led the league. He also was fifth in rebounds at 11.7, but his 9.3 defensive rebounds were second in the league. His 1.2 steals were second-most by a center.
As for Mutombo, he was a defensive force in the 1994 playoffs. Mutombo recorded 31 blocks in the first round of the playoffs, which was a record for a five-game series. That defensive prowess carried over to the second round. He averaged 11.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, and a career-high 4.5 blocks per game.
Detroit Pistons - 6
Ben Wallace - 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 (4)
Dennis Rodman - 1990, 1991 (2)
The Pistons own the most DPOYs mainly because of Ben Wallace. Like Mutombo, Wallace owns four career wins, including winning back-to-back seasons on two different occasions. Wallace is one of five players to collect more blocks than personal fouls in his career. Despite never being an active scorer, averaging 5.7 points in his career, he was a dominant defensive force in the middle.
As for Rodman, he is regarded as one of the best rebounding forwards in NBA history. Rodman made seven All-NBA Defensive First Team appearances in his career, as well as seven straight rebounding careers. With the Pistons, he fits perfectly with the “Bad Boys” culture as his enigmatic personality caught the attention of everyone around the world.
Indiana Pacers - 1
Metta Sandiford-Artest - 2004 (1)
During the 2003-2004 season, Artest averaged 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He was regarded as the league’s best perimeter defender. He helped the Pacers win 61 games and make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Artest lauded himself for his defensive play. He didn’t back down from anyone.
The Pacers have had some strong center play in team history despite only having one winner. Roy Hibbert was a strong inside force, while Myles Turner is a great shot blocker. In the end, Artest stands alone.
Golden State Warriors - 1
Draymond Green - 2017 (1)
Green accomplished a lot of individual feats during this season. He became the first player in NBA history to record 10 steals and five blocks in a game since the 1973-1974 season, which was when those became official statistics. The 10 steals set a Warriors record and the first since Brandon Roy in 2009.
During the season, Green became the first Warriors player ever to record 150 steals and 100 blocks in a season. It was the first time the league saw it since Dwyane Wade in 2008-2009. Green helped the Warriors win the 2017 championship over the Cavaliers and became the first DPOY in team history.
Houston Rockets - 2
Hakeem Olajuwon - 1993, 1994 (2)
Olajuwon is regarded as one of the best centers in league history. He typically outplayed centers such as Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dikembe Mutombo on the offensive side. Defensively, Olajuwon was just as solid, winning back-to-back DPOY awards.
When Olajuwon won in 1994, he became the only player in NBA history to win MVP, Finals MVP, DPOY, and the NBA championship. He was also the first foreign-born player to win the league MVP that season.
Los Angeles Clippers - None
The Clippers do not have a winner in team history but were graced with superb defense from Patrick Beverley and Chris Paul for several years. The best finish by a player was DeAndre Jordan for three years from 2014 to 2016. Jordan finished third in 2014 and 2015 and then was fourth in 2016.
In 2014, Jordan became the first player with 25 points, 18 rebounds, and four blocks since Tim Duncan in 2008. His 13.6 rebounds led the league in rebounding. In 2015, Jordan became the fifth player in NBA history to average at least 10 points, 15 rebounds, one steal, and two blocks in a season, which was the first since Moses Malone in 1982-1983.
Los Angeles Lakers - 1
Michael Cooper - (1987)
Despite players like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kobe Bryant, the only DPOY in team history was Michael Cooper in 1987. Selected in the third round of the 1978 draft with the No. 60 overall pick, Cooper was named to eight All-Defensive teams in 12 years. That included five First Teams which tied with Norm Van Lier for the most selections by any player not selected to the Hall of Fame.
Cooper was a teammate of Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson, who helped the Lakers win titles in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. Cooper was typically assigned with guarding the best player on the other team. He averaged 8.9 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 0.6 blocks in his career.
Memphis Grizzlies - 1
Marc Gasol - 2013 (1)
Gasol was one of six players to average at least 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals in a season. He led the Grizzlies to a surprise finish to the Conference Finals. A lot of that came with the team defense that held opponents to an NBA low of 88.7 points per game. With Gasol on the floor, the team was +7.5 compared to -3.9 when he was not on the floor.
Gasol became the first Spanish man to win DPOY and the first in team history. He also became the first European player to win as well. Gasol was named to the All-NBA Defensive Second Team due to a different voting system, which has since drawn criticism over the years.
Miami Heat - 2
Alonzo Mourning - 1999, 2000 (2)
During the 1999 season, Mourning helped the Heat win 31 games in 50 games as the league was shortened to 50 games due to the lockout. He led the league in blocks with 3.9 during his first DPOY season. The Heat finished with the best record in the East but was defeated in the first round of the playoffs.
The following year, Mourning led the league in blocks again with 3.7. Miami won 52 games and faced the Knicks in the second round of the playoffs. For a third straight season, the Knicks defeated the Heat in the playoffs.
Milwaukee Bucks - 3
Sidney Moncrief - 1983, 1984 (2)
Giannis Antetokounmpo - 2020 (1)
During the 80s, the leader of the Bucks was Moncrief. The Bucks were competitive during this time but were overshadowed by the Lakers and Celtics. During the 80s, the Bucks had the third-best winning percentage for the decade, trailing only Los Angeles and Boston. Because of his shooting and defense, the Bucks were a contender for the Conference Finals each year. Moncrief won back-to-back DPOY and made the All-Star team five straight years.
Giannis has cemented his legacy as an all-time great last year after helping the team win the NBA championship. Before that, Giannis won back-to-back MVPs but won the DPOY award in 2020 in the same season. He joined Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to ever accomplish that. That season, Giannis finished the season with a Player Efficiency Rating of 31.9, which set a new record and was more than Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 31.82.
Minnesota Timberwolves - 0
Between 1999-2004, Kevin Garnett was not a winner of DPOY but owned some of the best finishes in team history. Garnett finished seventh in 1999 and 2000. He finished sixth in 2004 and third in 2003. He nearly won the award in 2001 but finished as the runner-up.
Garnett won the MVP in 2004 and helped the franchise win a record 58 games. That season, he averaged his best statistical season with 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks. Garnett eventually won a DPOY, but it was when he was a member of the Boston Celtics.
New Orleans Pelicans - 0
Despite no official winners, three players stand out the most. In 2008, both Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul finished with votes during the same season. The following year, Paul finished sixth overall. The best finish by a non-winner is Anthony Davis, who finished fourth in 2015 and third in 2018.
When Davis finished third, he took over as the team’s all-time leading rebounder, besting David West’s mark of 3,853. He also passed West as the all-time leading scorer as well. Davis recorded his first triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 blocks on his 25th birthday. His 10 blocks set a franchise record and tied his record of six blocks in the first half.
New York Knicks - 1
Tyson Chandler - 2012 (1)
With Chandler anchoring the defense, the Knicks improved greatly in 2011-2012. After finishing last season 22nd in defensive efficiency, the Knicks finished fifth with Chandler leading the way. Chandler finished the season shooting 67.9% from the field, which was the third-highest in league history behind Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 and 1973.
On top of that, he displayed strong defensive efforts by averaging 11.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. He became the first player since Dikembe Mutombo to win DPOY and be named on the All-Defensive Second Team. Due to a different voting system, Serge Ibaka was the forward on the First Team and Dwight Howard was the center.
Orlando Magic - 3
Dwight Howard - 2009, 2010, 2011 (3)
For three years, Howard was the best defensive player in the league. In 2009, he led the league in blocks at 4.2 per game. The following year, he led the Magic to a 59-23 record and a second straight Southeast Division title. The Magic made the NBA Finals before falling to the Lakers. He became the first player in NBA history to lead the league in rebounds and blocks in the same season two years in a row.
In 2011, Howard became the first player to win the award three times in a row. He led the league in double-doubles and averaged 14.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals. The Magic won 52 games but lost to the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. Howard also led the NBA with 18 regular-season technical fouls.
Oklahoma City Thunder - 1
Gary Payton - 1996 (1)
Before the Thunder transitioned to Oklahoma City, the Seattle SuperSonics were the franchise. That is where Gary Payton spent the first 12 ½ years of his career. Alongside Shawn Kemp, the team formed the “Sonic Boom,” which helped the team stay competitive for years. Payton knew his role as he earned nine consecutive All-Defensive First Team selections from 1994 to 2002.
In 1996, he became the first guard to win the award in eight seasons since Michael Jordan in 1988. Ironically, that was who Payton ultimately guarded in the 1996 NBA Finals. Payton helped the team set a record for wins that season with 64 before losing to the Bulls in six games in the Finals.
Portland Trail Blazers - None
The Trail Blazers have never had a player finish top-3 in the DPOY voting. The team was once heralded by an established duo in Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, but they were more offensively skilled athletes. The same goes for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who is very lackluster on the defensive side. The best player from the voting standards was Buck Williams.
Williams, the former Nets great, was traded to Portland in 1989 in exchange for Sam Bowie and a draft pick. Williams owns the best overall finish with fifth place in 1991 and sixth place in 1992. When Williams finished his career, he was fifth all-time in total rebounds in team history.
Philadelphia 76ers - 1
Dikembe Mutombo - 2001 (1)
Mutombo is tied with Ben Wallace for the most DPOY awards, but he might have sealed his legacy as the best overall defender given that he is the only player to win the award with three different franchises. In 2001, Mutombo was acquired by the Hawks at the trade deadline for Pepe Sanchez, Toni Kukoc, Nazr Mohammed, and Theo Ratliff. Mutombo was coming off an All-Star appearance where he grabbed 22 rebounds and three blocks.
With MVP Allen Iverson, the 76ers made a run to the NBA Finals. In the playoffs, Mutombo had his best overall game in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals over the Bucks with 23 points, 18 rebounds, and seven blocks. While Mutombo is the only player to win the award, three others have been close. Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons have all finished fourth in the voting, while both Embiid and Simmons have had runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2021 respectively.
Phoenix Suns - None
The Suns have never had a winner, but two players have had high finishes. In 2002, teammates Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion both made the top voting, but Marion got the nod as the best defender in team history with his fourth-place finish in 2007. It’s the highest finish by a Suns player in voting history.
In that season, Marion led the NBA in total steals with 156 and received seven first-place votes for the voting. He also scored his 10,000 career point with the team and was named to the All-Star team as a reserve. Assuming Deandre Ayton stays with the team, he has potential down the line, as does Mikal Bridges.
Sacramento Kings - None
The best finish by a Kings player in the voting is Doug Christie. At the end of the 2000 season, the Kings traded for Christie for Corliss Williamson, He eventually became a popular starting shooting guard and developed into one of the best defenders. He was named to the All-Defensive team several times.
Christie finished fourth in the voting in 2002 and fifth in 2003. The 2002 season was the best overall finish, but also a great moment in team history. With Jason Williamson, Peja Stojakovic, Chris Webber, and Vlade Divac, Christie’s defense formed “The Greatest Show on Court,” and the Kings led the league in wins.
San Antonio Spurs - 4
Kawhi Leonard - 2015, 2016 (2)
David Robinson - 1992 (1)
Alvin Roberton - 1986 (1)
Despite being considered one of the greatest defenders in league history, Tim Duncan never won DPOY. Duncan holds the record for most appearances on the All-Defensive Team with 15 but never was voted the best defender. Three others have been named the top dog as the Spurs own the third-most winners in league history. Kawhi Leonard won back-to-back years. The first time he ran came one season after he was named Finals MVP. In 2016, he became the first non-center to win the award in back-to-back seasons since Dennis Rodman in 1990 and 1991. He also finished runner-up in the MVP voting behind Steph Curry.
Robinson had a great 1992 when he won DPOY and was named to the 1992 Olympic Dream Team in the same year. Robinson averaged 23.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks per game. As for Robertson, he averaged a league-leading 3.7 steals per game, something he did in 1986, 1987, and 1991. His 2.71 career steals remains an NBA record over 779 career games.
Toronto Raptors - None
The Raptors have never had a player finish in the voting in the top-3, let alone the top-5. The best finish by a Raptors player was Kawhi Leonard during the 2018-2019 season. Leonard received one first-place vote and finished in sixth place. Leonard joined the Raptors after the Spurs traded him and Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a 2019 first-round pick.
It was a franchise-altering trade as Leonard had just one year on his contract and his health was in question. There were concerns about him leaving as well. In the end, he ultimately did leave the franchise, but not after leading Toronto to their first NBA championship and a Finals MVP.
Utah Jazz - 5
Rudy Gobert - 2018, 2019, 2021 (3)
Mark Eaton - 1985, 1989 (2)
Gobert has been the league’s best defender for the last five years. He is in a position to win the award for a fourth time in his career this season. The first time Gobert won, he averaged a league-best 2.5 blocks per game. He became the third Jazz player to ever earn multiple All-Defensive First Team recognitions, joining Karl Malone and Mark Eaton. It was the fifth time an International player won, as well as the second Frenchman.
As for Eaton, he spent his entire 11 years career with the Jazz. In 875 games, he recorded 3,064 blocks. When he retired he ranked second in league history in total blocked shots, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 3,189. Eaton’s 3.50 average remains an NBA record. From 1983 to 1989, Eaton led the league in blocks four times.
Washington Wizards - None
It’s been a long time since the Wizards have been mentioned in the DPOY seriously. The last time a player was strongly considered was over 30 years ago. That was John Williamson, who is one of two players to ever finish at least third. Williamson finished in third place in the 1989-1990 season.
The other player was Manute Bol, who was a second-round steal for the team. In his rookie season, Bol recorded a career-high 5.0 blocks. His total of 397 blocks set an NBA rookie record and remains the second-highest single-season total in league history, trailing only Mark Eaton’s 456 in 1984-1985. Bol finished third in the DPOY voting. The following year, he finished fourth.