Mikal Bridges

Marcus Smart Named Defensive Player Of The Year

Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, the league announced today in a press release.

Smart is the first guard to earn the honor since Gary Payton in the 1995/96 season. He’s also the second Celtic to win the award, joining Kevin Garnett (2007/08).

The 100 votes among sportswriters and broadcasters were spread out, reflecting that there was no clear-cut favorite for the award this season. Smart’s candidacy was aided by Boston’s strong finish and status as the league’s top-rated defensive unit. The team allowed the fewest points per game and lowest field-goal percentage.

Smart received 257 points overall and 37 first-place votes. Suns forward Mikal Bridges finished in second place with 202 points (22 first-place votes), while Jazz center and three-time DPOY Rudy Gobert was in third place with 136 points (12 first-place votes).

Overall, seven players received at least one first-place vote, including Bam Adebayo (13), Jaren Jackson Jr. (10), Giannis Antetokounmpo (5), and Robert Williams III (1). Jrue Holiday, Al Horford, Draymond Green, and Matisse Thybulle also earned votes.

The full results can be viewed here.

Smart ranked seventh in the NBA in steals per game (1.68) and tied for sixth in total steals (119). Smart, who signed a four-year, $77MM contract last offseason, ranked among the league leaders in several “hustle” categories, finishing tied for fourth in loose balls recovered (75) and tied for 10th in both deflections (206) and charges drawn (16).

NBA Announces 2021/22 Award Finalists

The NBA has announced the 2021/22 season award finalists for the league’s six major awards: Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors’ 2022 NBA Award Picks]

The awards were voted on by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. The three top vote-getters for each award are the finalists. They are as follows:

Most Valuable Player:

Rookie of the Year:

Sixth Man of the Year:

Coach of the Year:

  • Taylor Jenkins (Grizzlies)
  • Erik Spoelstra (Heat)
  • Monty Williams (Suns)

Defensive Player of the Year:

Most Improved Player:

Winners will be announced during TNT’s coverage of the NBA playoffs, according to the league.

Pacific Notes: Green, Poole, Kings, Ranadive, Bridges

Warriors star Draymond Green wants to see Jordan Poole win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award this season, Kendra Andrews of ESPN.com writes. Poole has raised his numbers from last season, averaging 18.4 points (up from 12.0) and 4.0 assists (up from 1.9) per contest.

“The award is called the most improved. Not who had the best year. That’s the MVP,” Green said. “A lot of times we get it confused. No disrespect to Ja Morant, but Ja is an MVP candidate. Ja Morant isn’t the Most Improved Player. He was f—ing incredible last year. When you look around, the most improvement has been Jordan Poole and that goes without saying. He is the most improved.”

While Morant was already a borderline All-Star last season, he has raised his averages in 2021/22 as well: 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game on 49% shooting, up from 19.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 7.4 APG on 45% shooting. He’s currently considered the betting favorite for the award.

Here are some other notes from the Pacific Division:

  • Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee explores how Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has played a role in the franchise’s struggles. Anderson also cites a former team basketball operations employee who called the environment “toxic,” adding that “people don’t trust each other” and “are thirsty to get any advantage or any promotion they can.” Ranadive has been with the Kings since March of 2013. “People are not treated well,” the former employee continued. “They’re not valued. It’s a toxic workplace where there are some super-talented people who either move on or get let go for different reasons. It’s unfortunate because I think people come with really pure intentions and want to turn it around.”
  • Anthony Slater of The Athletic examines what’s next for the Kings after missing the postseason for an NBA-record 16th straight time. Sacramento finished with the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference this season (29-52), trading away former No. 12 pick Tyrese Haliburton for Domantas Sabonis in February.
  • Suns wing Mikal Bridges recently made his case for why he should be Defensive Player of the Year in an interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, explaining why he believes big men win the award too often. “I would never discredit anybody, and obviously bigs have been winning that award for a while and they do a hell of a job, but the amount of times a big has won over a guard is just crazy,” Bridges said as part of a larger quote. “I think people take it for granted how tough it is to guard the top perimeter players in this league and not be able to really touch them because they’re going to get the foul call.”

Pacific Notes: Bridges, Curry, Payton, Lakers

Centers have dominated the NBA’s list of Defensive Player of the Year winners over the years, but Suns head coach Monty Williams and star guard Devin Booker believe forward Mikal Bridges has been the best defensive player in the league this season, as Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports relays (Twitter links).

He should be the Defensive Player of the Year, number one,” Williams said, noting that Bridges has taken on the toughest defensive assignments for the Suns while playing heavy minutes (35.3 MPG without missing a game).

Rudy Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but voter fatigue could work against the Jazz center, who has won the award in three of the last four seasons. Currently, Heat big man Bam Adebayo is considered the betting favorite by BetOnline.ag and Bovada.lv, with Bridges lurking among the top challengers.

Here are a few more notes from around the Pacific:

  • Reports have indicated that the Warriors are optimistic Stephen Curry will return from his foot injury by the time the playoffs begin next month, and Curry confirmed on Sunday that’s the plan. “Yeah, we’ve got enough time for that … but I’m an optimist,” Curry told reporters, including Joe Stiglich of The Associated Press. Curry added that he didn’t view the Marcus Smart dive that caused his injury as “malicious or dirty.”
  • Warriors guard Gary Payton II, who initially hoped to return on Sunday from a left knee injury, remained sidelined for that game, but is no longer listed on the injury report and will play on Tuesday in Orlando, tweets Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Payton has missed the team’s last eight games.
  • Although it has been a disappointing season overall for the Lakers, LeBron James was in good spirits after leading the club to a 131-120 over his old team in Cleveland on Monday night, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “I’m literally having the time of my life right now,” James said after the game. “… Because I couldn’t care less what the narrative about our team is. At my point in my career, I don’t get involved in that stuff. I don’t read about it, I don’t hear it too much. … None of that stuff matters to me, I’m having a blast playing the game of basketball.”
  • The Lakers, who won in Toronto on Friday and Cleveland on Monday, appear to finally be gaining some confidence, according to Bill Oram of The Athletic, who explores whether fans should have any faith in L.A. to make some noise in the play-in tournament and the playoffs.

Pacific Notes: Booker, Bridges, Sabonis, Vogel, Kidd

Suns guard Devin Booker didn’t experience any symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19, he told Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. The Suns star was frustrated he had to sit out four games despite not feeling sick.

“That’s the tough part about it,” he said. “Not feeling anything and not being able to play. I don’t even know why people are getting tested that much anymore.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Mikal Bridges believes this Suns team is superior to the one that made the Finals last season, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic“I felt like that early in the season, like I was looking around and this team I feel like is better, and then (we kept) adding guys,” he said. “It made me realize like, yeah, this is team is better than last year.”
  • Domantas Sabonis has two years left on his contract and he’s hoping he can help the Kings end their playoff drought during the next two seasons, he told Sam Amick of The Athletic in a wide-ranging interview. “It sucks that we have that drought, but the fact that we can be part of something that can turn it around, you know, that’s the goal. Come in and change the perspective of this organization and what people think,” he said. “We’re excited that we can be part of that and build it, you know? So I want to stay as long as I can. Everything has to go well, (but) I’m happy here.”
  • The Lakers likely would have fired Frank Vogel by now if Jason Kidd was still on the staff to take over in the interim, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin said on The Woj Pod (hat tip to NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman). “I think we both agree, if Jason Kidd, was still on this staff, they would’ve made a coaching change,” Wojnarowski said.

Eastern Notes: Raptors, Wright, LeVert, Turner, Bridges

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said on Sunday that two of the replacement players the team had hoped to sign in advance of its game vs. Chicago last Wednesday didn’t pass the COVID-19 screening process, as Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca tweets. The game was ultimately postponed because Toronto didn’t have enough players available.

The Raptors were said to have deals in place with Brandon Goodwin and Nik Stauskas, but those agreements were reported a week ago and were never finalized, so presumably those are the two players Nurse was referring to.

It’s possible Toronto will circle back to Goodwin and/or Stauskas at some point. However, if they contracted COVID-19, they won’t be short-term options for the Raptors, so we’re no longer counting on those deals to be completed and have removed them from our roster counts page.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Hawks guard Delon Wright has entered the health and safety protocols, tweets Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. Atlanta’s roster is in rough shape, with 11 players now in the protocols, but – for now at least – the team still has enough bodies available Monday’s game vs. Chicago, including five replacement players (a sixth, Wesley Iwundu, is in the protocols).
  • Caris LeVert has been playing his best basketball this month since joining the Pacers, averaging 22.1 PPG and 5.3 APG with a .392 3PT% in his last 10 games. Myles Turner, meanwhile, had one of his best games of the season last Thursday, putting up 32 points on 14-of-18 shooting. Besides helping out Indiana with their production, LeVert and Turner – both considered trade candidates – are displaying their value for potential suitors, writes Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star (subscribers only).
  • Philadelphia native and former Villanova star Mikal Bridges, who was traded from the Sixers to the Suns on draft night in 2018, doesn’t think often about what could have been if he had remained with his hometown team, writes Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Being (in Phoenix) and knowing the city, the people, and what we’ve been doing these past years, I don’t even think twice about ever being home,” Bridges said. “I’m in a great situation now, and I love it.”

Pacific Notes: Holmes, Payton, Atkinson, Bridges

Kings center Richaun Holmes returned to Sacramento’s lineup on Wednesday night after missing seven games due to a right eye injury that required a surgical procedure. As Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee writes, Holmes described the injury as “a lot more serious than I originally thought” and suggested it may have a lasting impact on his game-day look going forward.

“I don’t think I’ll ever play a game without goggles, honestly, but the face mask, I’m going to kind of stay in touch with the doctors on that and see how they feel,” said Holmes, who wore protective eyewear and a face mask on Wednesday. “But I don’t think I’ll ever play another game without goggles after this experience.”

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • The Warriors are expected to guarantee Gary Payton II‘s $1.94MM salary for the 2021/22 season by hanging onto him beyond next month’s league-wide salary guarantee date, Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated writes in a profile of the guard. Spears adds that there has “been talk” of Golden State signing Payton to a longer deal, but he’s not extension-eligible, so that would have to wait until he reaches unrestricted free agency during the 2022 offseason.
  • Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atkinson, who had been away from the team due to a leg injury, returned to the front of the bench on Thursday night, as Anthony Slater of The Athletic tweets.
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic takes an in-depth look at how Suns forward Mikal Bridges has improved on the defensive end and become one of the best perimeter stoppers in the NBA. It looks more and more like the Suns got a bargain when they locked up Bridges to a four-year, $90MM extension prior to the 2021/22 season.

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Barnes, Holmes, Klay, Bridges

The Lakers are still contemplating how often to use LeBron James at center this season, Harrison Faigen of SB Nation’s Silver Screen and Roll writes. Los Angeles has seen success with James at the five, albeit in a small sample size, but the team doesn’t want to overextend its 36-year-old superstar.

“It’s something we talk about,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “It’s something we consider. But you have to measure what that does for his workload… and whether that’s something that we just want to use in small doses when needed, or if it’s going to become part of us on a regular basis.”

James has played positions 1-through-4 at different points of his career. Having the ability to also play the five is unprecedented, but it’s something he may need to do when Anthony Davis sits this season. Having lost to the Kings on Saturday, the Lakers dropped to seventh in the Western Conference (10-11).

Here are some other notes from the Pacific:

  • Kings forward Harrison Barnes and center Richaun Holmes both missed Saturday’s game, but interim coach Alvin Gentry is confident the duo won’t be sidelined for long, James Ham of ESPN 1320 tweets. Barnes is day-to-day with a sprained right foot, while Holmes is dealing with a non-COVID-related illness.
  • Klay Thompson had a vulnerable moment after the Warriors‘ victory over Portland on Friday, Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic writes. Thompson was seen sitting on the bench once the game ended for 35 minutes, clearly wanting to be part of the team’s success. He last played in an NBA game during the 2019 Finals, but he appears to be moving closer toward a return. He suffered torn ACL in 2019 and tore his Achilles in 2020 during a pick-up game.
  • Suns forward Mikal Bridges is making an early case for Defensive Player of the Year, Evan Sidery of BasketballNews.com opines. Bridges has provided a serious defensive boost for Phoenix, who ranks second in the Western Conference at 16-3. The team has also won 15 straight games.

Pacific Notes: Westbrook, James, Bridges, Ayton

As the 2021/22 Lakers season threatens to go off the rails, the club is struggling with the offensive production of point guard Russell Westbrook, writes Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. Goon is skeptical that Westbrook will ever be a great fit for the team, given his lackluster completion percentages at the rim and from long range, and his high turnover percentage.

Goon writes that the Lakers wanted Westbrook to have time to get acclimated to their system, while perhaps covertly hoping he would adapt alongside superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but that the early results appear to suggest Westbrook will be more reluctant to change on the court than the Lakers’ front office may have hoped.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Former Lakers head strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco speculates that LeBron James could miss between two and eight weeks with the abdominal strain that has caused him to miss the last two games, both losses, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic“Especially the way he plays, it’s tough for me to see him getting back under four weeks,” DiFrancesco told Oram. “These are such delicate injuries that can respond to rest with pain relief quickly, but they are highly susceptible to re-injury if returned too quickly.” DiFrancesco was with the Lakers from 2011-17.
  • Suns swingman Mikal Bridges responded to reports alleging potential toxic workplace behavior from embattled team owner Robert Sarver, per Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic (Twitter video link). “Obviously it’s a little bit disturbing, but it’s out of my control,” Bridges said. “The league is investigating and all that, so I think you just leave it up to them and continue what I do every day and try to win games.”
  • Suns head coach Monty Williams has revealed that, though Deandre Ayton will not partake in Phoenix’s Monday contest against the Kings, an MRI indicated that there is no structural damage in his right leg, per Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link). Williams added that Ayton will have to manage the pain in the injured leg.

Pacific Notes: Bagley, Ayton, G. Payton, Wiseman

When the Kings decided to remove Marvin Bagley III from their rotation to open the season, agent Jeff Schwartz took the unusual step of issuing a statement to call out the team for its handling of his client. However, head coach Luke Walton doesn’t expect the public nature of the dispute between the team and agent to be a distraction for his players.

“Nope, not with our group,” Walton said, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. “We’ve got a tight group. We’ve talked about it, whether it’s trades from last year or anything else, we don’t concern ourselves with outside issues. We’re a tight group. You can ask any of the players. They believe in what we’re doing and they’re working hard and we’re in a good place.”

The Kings used just nine players in their opening-night win over Portland on Wednesday, with Richaun Holmes and Tristan Thompson sharing the minutes at center, while Harrison Barnes and Maurice Harkless handled power forward duties.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Fourth-year center Deandre Ayton admitted he was “obviously” disappointed not to reach a rookie scale extension agreement with the Suns by Monday’s deadline, but said on Wednesday that playing on an expiring contract won’t bother him, as Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic relays. “I’m still trying to get us back to the Finals. I’ve still got to represent the team and myself as well. I’m just a competitor, man,” Ayton said. “Just like to compete to the best and every time I’m in between those lines, that’s what you’re going to see out of me. Nothing else.”
  • Sam Vecenie of The Athletic loved the Suns‘ four-year, $90MM deal with Mikal Bridges, but was baffled by the decision not to extend Ayton. While general manager James Jones said Phoenix would have done a three- or four-year max, three high-ranking executives in other organizations told Vecenie they would’ve been willing to offer the big man a fifth year.
  • Gary Payton II‘s new minimum-salary contract with the Warriors includes a $350K partial guarantee, according to Keith Smith of Spotrac (Twitter link). Payton, who was waived and re-signed within the last week, would have received a $659K partial guarantee if he had made the opening-night roster on his previous deal. By cutting him and then bringing him back, Golden State saved some money while still rewarding Payton for making the team.
  • Connor Letourneau of The San Francisco Chronicle explores how the Warriors are adjusting their approach to James Wiseman‘s development in the center’s second NBA season.