Phoenix Suns' superstar massive snub in DPOY voting

The Phoenix Suns were never going to have a player with the Defensive Player of the Year award, but one of their stars was a massive snub nonetheless.
Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns - Game Four
Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns - Game Four / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

The NBA recently crowned their Defensive Player of the Year for the 2023-24 regular season - and to the surprise of nonbody - Rudy Gobert of the Minnesota Timberwolves took home the award for a record-equalling fourth time.

Gobert a center who the Phoenix Suns are painfully familiar with, having watched as he patrolled the paint excellently in the Timberwolves' sweep of the Suns in this year's playoffs. In fact Gobert has been so good alongside Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns in jumping out to a series lead over the Denver Nuggets, that many believe the team was constructed purely to beat them.

Gobert is the deserved Defensive Player of the Year, but Kevin Durant should feel massively aggrieved not to receive a single vote.

Not only that, but Durant didn't receive one first, second or third placed vote, while the likes of Domantas Sabonis and Jalen Suggs did. Take nothing away from Suggs of the Orlando Magic, he is an excellent defensive guard and should have gotten more than one third place vote. That is the same amount that Sabonis got, as did Alex Caruso of the Chicago Bulls.

But surely Durant had a better defensive season than Sabonis? After all he was asked to sometimes play the five when Jusuf Nurkic was forced off the court because of matchups, while we saw in the postseason that he was tasked with guarding Edwards on a lot of possessions. Edwards is on a rapid rise to the top and Durant couldn't stop him, but it says a lot that he was expected to try and do so.

It is hard to argue against Derrick White of the Boston Celtics receiving a second and two third place votes - but if you needed to close down an opponent for a two minute stretch - would you rather have White or Durant? The same is also true of Caruso, and to add to that Durant had what many consider the best defensive season of his career.

It can be hard to measure guards against forwards/centers in this debate however, so let us instead focus in on Sabonis of the Sacramento Kings. During the regular season, the Suns ranked 13th in defensive rating (113.7), while the Kings ranked one spot behind (114.4). The Suns managed to make the playoffs proper, while the Kings couldn't make it out of the play-in tournament.

When Durant was on the court, the Suns had a defensive rating of 113.3 - which is not much better than their season as a whole - but it does show that when he was out there, the team didn't fall off a cliff on that end of the court. This is important, because the 118.1 offensive rating the Suns had when Durant played was his best output since 2020-21.

It would also be fair to say that Durant was asked to score with more regularity and variance than Sabonis, who is more of a creative hub for the Kings. Sabonis did also lead the league in rebounds per game at 13.7, but we've come a long way from using that figure alone as the benchmark for defensive impact.

It's massively help for his team - but with Nurkic grabbing roughly 11 boards himself each night - it only tells part of the story. Nurkic was great at battling in the paint against all manner of opponents, but Durant was able to do a bit of that while also having a greater impact as an on-ball defender on the perimeter.

The most telling figure here however, is that fact the Kings had a defensive rating of 115.2 when Sabonis was on the court. A figure that would have put them in the bottom 10 in the league if stretched across the whole season. Durant might have been playing for a defensive-minded head coach in Frank Vogel, but it was far from a straightforward season in The Valley.

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The Kings on the other hand had consistency in their best two players in Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox returning, were coming off the high of making the playoffs last season, and also had a head coach in Mike Brown who has been at the helm since 2022. Yet despite everything being so settled around Sabonis, he failed to hit the heights defensively of Durant.

Yes Sabonis only received a single third placed vote here, and it's not like Durant is going to care. He's all about winning championships at this stage of his career, and the Suns fell way short this season. Only he re-committed to defending at an elite level, and he managed to achieve that impressive feat while still being one of the best scorers in the league. That deserves some recognition.