One of the most important accolades a player can capture during their career is a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Only a single player wins it every year, and only a very few have captured it over the entirety of NBA’s long history Defense has always been the calling card of major NBA teams in the past, and oftentimes the best defensive team will be one of the best teams in the entire league. We are seeing it this season as the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors are locked in the NBA Finals, both exceptional defensive teams with elite defensive players including Marcus Smart and Draymond Green. Both of those players have won the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Even today, when freedom of movement and lack of physicality has limited defensive players from truly shining, it is still relevant as the teams who have won the NBA titles are still great defensive teams. Defense will always be key to winning championships, and this will never change. It is hard to find a single team that captured an NBA title that did not have a top-ranked defense with an ability to outwork and outhustle teams.
We have seen a collection of elite DPOY award winners including Gary Payton, Michael Jordan, Kawhi Leonard, Ben Wallace, and Hakeem Olajuwon win NBA championships. The reason? They were leaders on the court and were iconic defensive stars. But we have also seen elite players without a DPOY award, including Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, Tim Duncan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar win championships. But which collection of players would come out on top in a best-of-7 series?
We have witnessed some incredible defensive players dating back to the very first winner of the DPOY Award, but would the truly elite defensive starting five defeat a starting five of excellent defensive players that never won DPOY? It is time to find out if Jordan and company can defeat a squad led by Kobe and Duncan.
Gary Payton vs. Chris Paul
In what can be considered the ultimate point guard matchup, Gary Payton will bring his toughness and defensive acumen against a legendary playmaker in Chris Paul. Payton won Defensive Player of the Year in 1996 and was known for his ability to steal the ball and also score in the post against smaller opponents.
Chris Paul will have his hands full with Gary Payton but will opt to create plays for his superstar teammates. As great as Paul is as a scorer, he must take a pure playmaker role because Michael Jordan, Kawhi Leonard, and Hakeem Olajuwon are all gifted scorers.
Paul will make his outside shots but will mainly be a playmaker, while Payton will try to stop the ball from moving freely as much as possible. Overall, this matchup will be an exciting one because of the elite two-way play from both guards.
Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant
Easily the matchup that will receive the most attention, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant will go toe to toe for the majority of the series. An elite scorer and lockdown defender from the perimeter, Jordan will set the tone for his team in the series and show his GOAT-like style of play against another elite guard in Kobe Bryant.
Bryant is similar to MJ in terms of offensive and defensive play and will match him on average throughout the series. Bryant will make more three-pointers than MJ, although he will shoot a lower percentage. This will be a highly anticipated matchup for sure because the competitive fire will be felt by the entire stadium of players.
As a result, neither player gets a massive advantage over the other although it can be argued that Jordan will slightly have the edge due to his supreme efficiency as a scorer. With both players having clutch moments in the series, the tone will be set for sure.
Kawhi Leonard vs. Scottie Pippen
Kawhi Leonard is an elite two-way wing player because he brings it on both ends at a superstar level. He doesn’t always make it look flashy, but his career averages of 19.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 1.8 SPG prove he can be an All-Star contributor against another all-time great swingman. Remember, Leonard is good enough to be the best player on a championship team because he proved it with the Spurs and Raptors.
Leonard will have a very solid series on both ends of the floor, shooting 47% from the floor and also putting up 19 PPG and 2.5 SPG. On the other end, Scottie Pippen will be tasked with defending the best player on the opposing team while also being a secondary playmaker to Chris Paul. Standing 6’8” and weighing 210 lbs, Scottie was an elite athlete in his prime and will bring this type of physicality to the court against Kawhi.
Pippen will average 16 PPG, 7 RPG, and 6 APG on 45% shooting from the field in the series. He will not be able to score the ball as effectively as Leonard, but his all-around play will give the likes of Paul and Bryant a partner in crime on both ends of the floor. But it can be argued that Leonard will outplay Scottie over the series.
Ben Wallace vs. Tim Duncan
Ben Wallace is not a natural power forward because of his inability to make shots outside of the paint but at only 6’9”, he can use his powerful frame to his advantage. Wallace is a 4-time Defensive Player of the Year with career averages of 1.3 SPG and 2.0 BPG, making him one of the most impactful paint protectors the NBA has ever seen. At the power forward spot, he won’t be giving up the height he normally does as well.
Meanwhile, Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time and will compete at his position as naturally as possible. An elite paint scorer, rebounder, and passer, Duncan will use his diverse skill set to put pressure on Ben throughout the series. Tim will also form one of the best paint duos in NBA history with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a twin-towers pairing that will lead to solid defensive play inside and also all-around leadership. But will he dominate Ben Wallace completely?
The answer is no. There is no doubt that Duncan is a better all-around talent than Ben, but the presence of the 4-time Defensive Player of the Year winner will be somewhat of a deterrent. Duncan will have his usual numbers by averaging 22 PPG and 13 RPG, but his efficiency will slightly take a hit as he finishes with 47% shooting from the field and 66% from the free-throw line.
Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Other than the exciting guard matchups between Payton and Paul and Jordan and Kobe, the marquee matchup has to be Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Hakeem is a multiple-time NBA champion with the greatest footwork in NBA history, and will always put pressure on opposing centers, no matter who they are. Not to mention, Olajuwon is one of the greatest interior defenders of all time, having won Defensive Player of the Year twice in his career.
Meanwhile, Kareem might be the single greatest big man ever because he won 6 NBA championships, 6 MVP awards, 2 Finals MVP awards, and 19 All-Star Team selections. The man with the single most unstoppable offensive move in NBA history, Kareem will have no problem getting his sky hook off against a shorter Hakeem Olajuwon. Kareem stands 7’2” and weighs 225 lbs, making him an elite offensive player and dominant defensive player.
As great as Kareem is, Hakeem will not get outplayed. Both centers will closely mirror each other’s production, on both ends of the court. Olajuwon will post 23 PPG, 11 RPG, 5 APG, and 2 BPG while having a monster Game 3 in which he posts 33 points on 65% shooting. Kareem will chip in 24 PPG and 12 RPG over the series, although he will be nagged with foul trouble when defending Hakeem down low and also dealing with MJ attacking the rim.
Team DPOY Advantages
The team with five DPOY winners will have a massive advantage in their defense and also in the fact they have Michael Jordan. Payton is a bigger and more aggressive point guard than Chris Paul and will set the tone by defending the length of the court. Jordan is bigger and stronger than Kobe and will have no problem defending his opponent up the court as well. At the small forward spot, Kawhi brings his 6’7” frame to guard Pippen as well.
Ben and Hakeem are also defensive-minded bigs who will compete hard on defense, while also playing unselfish basketball by hustling for loose balls and competing for rebounds that come off the rim. Lastly, the team has Michael Jordan, the most dominant talent the NBA has ever seen. With Jordan on the roster and defensive stars beside him, Team DPOY have the arrogance to start the exciting series.
Team Non-DPOY Advantages
The team without DPOY winners can bring solid outside shooting with Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, along with the more talented inside duo of Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As great as Ben Wallace and Hakeem Olajuwon are on defense, they do not bring the combined effectiveness of Duncan and Kareem on offense. Of course, Duncan is a natural power forward (and the best ever) while Wallace is not.
Kobe Bryant is also a blessing because he can compete with Michael Jordan on both ends of the floor better than anyone else, giving Team Non-DPOY a chance to answer the GOAT with another top-two shooting guard of all time. The size of Duncan and Kareem will prove to be a factor during the series, as their skill gives their side a chance to win the series against a dynamic starting lineup led by Michael Jordan.
Who Wins A Best-Of-7 Series?
Game 1 ends with a surprising result for Team Non-DPOY. Despite trailing by 15 points in the first half due to inconsistent shooting, Team Non-DPOY respond with a 40-point third quarter led by Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and Tim Duncan. The trio combine for 30 points in the third, with Bryant nailing a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the quarter. Despite a valiant attempt by Team DPOY in the fourth, cutting the lead to 6, the opponent finds a way to end the game through Kareem sky hooks to take Game 1.
Team DPOY responds in Game 2, with their stifling defense causing trouble for the opponents. Other than Kareem who shoots 51% from the field, no player in the lineup manages to shoot over 45%. Payton sets the tone with a full-court defense on CP3, forcing him into unnatural positions and unlikely turnovers with 7 in the game. Jordan also does his job on Kobe, limiting him to 43% shooting from the field and 27% from three. Leonard takes his chances against Bryant as well, while Wallace and Hakeem combine for 7 blocks in the game. The game ends 101-89 in an easy victory for Team DPOY.
Game 3 is more of the same, except Kobe Bryant finds his range by nailing a team-high 33 points and also grabbing 10 rebounds. As a result, the game is much closer, although Team DPOY gets the victory thanks to three straight buckets by Michael Jordan in the fourth quarter. With the game tied 90-90 in the fourth quarter with 2 minutes left, Jordan drives to the bucket and finishes a tough layup over Kobe. Following a Duncan bank shot miss, Jordan grabs the rebound and attacks on the break. He pulls up for a mid-range jumper, giving his side a 4-point game. Hakeem Olajuwon blocks a layup attempt by Scottie Pippen and finds Jordan on the break for a monster jam to put the game out of hand.
Team Non-DPOY respond in Game 4, thanks to the brilliance of Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Duncan grabs 15 rebounds to go along with his 20 points, and Kareem goes ballistic in the second half with 20 points through two quarters. Abdul-Jabbar finishes with 30 points at the end of the game, giving his perimeter players an easy game. CP3 puts on a virtuoso performance with 15 points and 15 assists, while Kobe and Pippen both shoot a combined 50% from the field. Other than Jordan who scores 32 points, Team DPOY cannot respond as the game ends 112-101.
With the series tied 2-2, it is up to Team DPOY to take control with their defense. That happens with Jordan and Leonard having their best game on both ends of the floor, shooting an efficient 50% from the field combined, including 42% from three. On defense, they shut down Scottie Pippen while forcing Kobe to pass the ball. Chris Paul has a big game with 29 points and 17 assists, but it is not enough. In the fourth quarter, Jordan and Leonard combine for 12 points and 4 steals to put the game away 99-82.
In an exciting Game 6 that goes to 2OT, Team DPOY squeezes out a one-point victory. A Michael Jordan game-tying layup forced a first OT before a Tim Duncan banker goes in at the buzzer to force a 2OT. That proved to be the last bit of energy Team Non-DPOY had left, because Gary Payton, Michael Jordan, and Kawhi Leonard play some of the most hellacious defense seen from a trio. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar picks up the slack in 2OT, but no one else scores as Team DPOY outscores the opponents 10-4 in 2OT to win the game 120-114 and finish the series in 6 games.
Final Result: Team DPOY vs. Team Non-DPOY 4-2
Finals MVP: Michael Jordan