Boston held a 23-24 record two weeks before the All-Star break, just before they zoomed close to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
From 10th place in the standings following another inept performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Boston Celtics closed out the season finishing 27-8. Head coach Ime Udoka’s promise to hang their hats on defense was evident in the Cs’ improbable turnaround.
Veteran sports analyst Doris Burke revealed to Malika Andrews via Twitter Space that Smart is her choice for DPOY.
“I went with Marcus Smart. So my candidates, there were many. I think a couple of things, I think the metrics for defense are hard. It is a perimeter-based game. And for far too long, we have not given those grinders, the Mikal Bridges and Marcus Smarts the due."
"The amount of space you have to cover, the number of screens you’ve got to run through. It takes a physical and emotional stability, and endurance. And I just thought it was time.”
Burke’s bottom line is quite simple:
“Boston from a certain period forward has been the most dominant defensive team. And I said I’m going to give the best defensive player on the best defensive team my vote this year.”
If Smart wins it, he will become only the second point guard to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Gary Payton won it back in the 1995-96 season.
The last perimeter-oriented player to win the DPOY was in the 2015-16 season when Kawhi Leonard won his second and back-to-back best defender trophies.
Between Gary Payton’s historic win in ‘96 and Leonard’s haul in 2015 and 2016, only Metta World Peace in 2004 broke the big men’s dominance.
Ben Wallace won it four times, Dikembe Mutombo and Dwight Howard thrice, and Alonzo Mourning twice in that span.
As the game has shifted out onto the perimeter, Doris Burke’s assertion of giving her vote to Boston's point guard was very logical.
Gary Payton is giving Marcus Smart’s candidacy a boost
“The Glove” is fully aware of what the award means to the small guys who are consistently overlooked when doing the dirty job on the floor. He’s also endorsing Marcus Smart to get recognition and break the big men’s monopoly of the DPOY.
Speaking on SiriusXM NBA Radio, here’s what Gary Payton had to say about Smart’s impact on the gritty side of the ball:
“With Marcus Smart, he just does the same thing. He plays hard, he plays with a lot of dog in him. And I think he should win it. Why not? He has changed a lot of things in a lot of the games.”
The Hall-of-Fame point guard continued to elaborate on why he’s pushing for the 27-year-old to bag the DPOY trophy:
"Eddie [Johnson] would tell me, 'I was 94 feet ]the length of the court], if I could turn a guard three or four times before he gets to half court and there’s only 10 seconds left on the shot clock, I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. They’re getting into their offense too late, and they’re going to rush.'
"Marcus Smart does the same thing. My son does the same thing. They do that.”