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76ers' Joel Embiid Declares He 'Should Be' NBA Defensive Player of the Year

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVApril 16, 2021

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid said Friday he's deserving of the 2020-21 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Embiid explained during an appearance on The Lowe Post podcast (via Rob Manoff of Last Out Media) he doesn't want his strong play offensively to overshadow his defense, which "matters" more to him.

"I want to be Defensive Player of the Year. I should be Defensive Player of the Year," Embiid said before adding Sixers teammate Ben Simmons is also worthy. "He's been a monster defensively all season. I do think he should win it. He has an impact on the court, especially every single night guarding the other teams best player...I'm not fighting about it."

The advanced statistics suggest neither of the Sixers' superstars is the frontrunner for the award. That's Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Gobert ranks first in the NBA in both FiveThirtyEight's defensive Raptor (7.8) and ESPN's defensive Real Plus-Minus (6.31). Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (6.0 Raptor and 4.85 DRPM) ranks second in both categories, but it's not a particularly close race.

Embiid is fourth in Raptor (5.0) and 22nd in DRPM (2.47), while Simmons is 49th in Raptor (1.7) and 231st in RPM (-.03), though the eye test suggests his defensive versatility gives him ample value that doesn't show up in the numbers.

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There's no doubt the Sixers' work at the defensive end is the driving force behind the team's Eastern Conference-leading 38-17 record. They rank second in the NBA in defensive efficiency behind only the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers, per ESPN.

Simmons recently told ESPN's Rachel Nichols (h/t Jordan Greer of Sporting News) he's confident in his case for Defensive Player of the Year.

"I'm one of those guys who can guard one through five," Simmons said. "Obviously, there's a lot of respect for Rudy. I know what he's capable of. I know he's great down there in the paint. But he's not guarding everybody, and that's just what it is. He guarded me in Utah. I had 42. And apparently I'm not a scorer."

But Gobert's strong metrics combined with the Jazz owning the NBA's best record at 41-14 could make it difficult for anyone to beat him in the DPOY race.

The fact there are two Sixers players in the conversation could also lead to Embiid and Simmons splitting votes, while the analytics-minded voters figure to lean heavily toward Gobert.

Given the teams' place in the standings, it's possible the 76ers and Jazz could meet in the NBA Finals, and that battle would take on a lot more importance for the three stars than the one over DPOY.