The NBA announced its Defensive Player of the Year voting last night, and for the third time, Utah’s Rudy Gobert has won the award. Ben Simmons finished second, receiving 15 of the 100 first-place votes, while teammates Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle finished seventh and tied for 11th, respectively.
Both Utah and Philadelphia finished as the top seeds in their respective conferences, and both clubs ranked within the top-three of the league for defensive rating during the regular season (Sixers - 2nd, Jazz - 3rd). A couple factors may have swayed votes to Rudy over Ben: first, a historical bias towards rim protectors in this category; and second, the narrative/reality around the Sixers having multiple elite defenders, whereas Gobert is basically the sole reason the Jazz have a strong defense.
This latest development continues the “Sixers are being slighted” movement happening among Philadelphia fans, after Joel Embiid also finished second in MVP voting. For the city that wore dog masks to a Super Bowl title, an underdog mindset is a familiar place. Being the top seed in the conference, the Sixers wouldn’t traditionally fit the bill, but as The Last Dance taught us, perceived slights helping you gain an edge are always welcome.
In an interview with The Jump’s Rachel Nichols back in April, when asked about Defensive Player of the Year, Simmons mentioned, “He [guarded] me in Utah, and I had 42.” Still, the Sixers themselves have loftier ambitions than these media-dictated honors, as Joel Embiid said following the MVP announcement:
“I’m focused on the playoffs. I’m focused on winning the championship. Like I’ve been saying all season, we’ve got a good chance. So I’m not worried about those awards and stuff. You know, if and when I’m holding that [Larry O’Brien] trophy, you know, anything else won’t matter.”
Whatever happens off the court with these votes, the Sixers will simply look to keep handling their business on it. The MVP looks Cancun-bound soon courtesy of the Homie and the Suns. Maybe Simmons and the Sixers will have a chance to meet up with Utah in a few weeks and prove who the league’s top defender truly is.