Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah, Bulls
As the anchor of the league's most statistically efficient defense, Roy Hibbert established himself as the early DPOY favorite. The award, frankly, was his to lose.
Unfortunately for Hibbert, as with pretty much everything else involving the unraveling Pacers since the All-Star break, Indy's eminently quotable big man looks like he's indeed going to lose out.
My fondness for Hibbert as an interview subject couldn't offset the undeniable fact that Indiana's once-vaunted D has been a culprit in its recent struggles as much as anything. The Pacers entered Friday night's ill-fated showdown with Miami sporting an 8-12 record over the preceding 20 games ... and allowing 8.5 more points per 100 possessions during that span than during their 46-13 start. (With Hibbert himself, for the record, down to 4.7 rebounds per game since the All-Star break.)
Noah, meanwhile, has merely played his way onto countless MVP ballots with his leadership and versatility at both ends. His emergence as a top-flight passer has hogged most of the headlines, but Noah's D -- through Friday's games -- had actually helped Chicago climb to the brink of bumping Indiana out of the lead in the DE standings.
The Frenchman has certainly had some help, with at least two more top-flight defenders at his side in Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau orchestrating it all as one of the league's master string-pullers defensively. But Noah, let's face it, is the total package on D, whether we're talking rebounds, blocked shots, team defense, switching pick-and-rolls, steals, taking charges or keeping point guards out of the lane. He checks every box.
The race for the third spot on the ballot, in case you're curious, was crazy competitive as well, with the likes of Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bogut, DeAndre Jordan, Serge Ibaka and young Anthony Davis to consider before even getting the perimeter options such as Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio and a certain LeBron James.
But we ultimately opted for Andre Iguodala there as our No. 3, which reflects the role he's had in joining forces with Bogut and Draymond Green to pitch Golden State into the top five in defensive efficiency ... and how much Iguodala's departure in Denver has contributed to the Nuggets' slide into the 20s.
Stein's ballot: 1. Joakim Noah; 2. Roy Hibbert; 3. Andre Iguodala
October prediction: Dwight Howard