On Sunday, the NBA announced 2021-22 finalists for each major individual award, kickstarting further discussion about which players should come away with the hardware. As usual, the MVP discussion is in the center of the conversation, but the Defensive Player of the Year award race felt wide open, even after Boston’s Marcus Smart, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, and Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges were anointed as the top three candidates. The NBA did not waste any time, however, as the league announced the DPOY winner approximately 24 hours later, with Smart winning the award for the first time in his career and becoming the first guard to win the honor since 1995-96.
As part of the announcement, Smart was greeted by Hall of Fame guard Gary Payton, the last guard to win the award.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 18, 2022
Smart, a two-time All-Defensive Team selection, is the second player to win the Defensive Player of the Year award as a member of the Boston Celtics, joining Kevin Garnett in 2007-08. Given the wide-open nature of the race, it was not a surprise to see balance in the voting, but Smart won the top honor despite garnering only 37 of the 100 first-place votes. Bridges finished second with 22 first-place votes and 202 voting points, with Gobert narrowly missing a fourth DPOY award with 12 first-place votes and 136 points. Five different players received at least 10 first-place votes, with seven players garnering at least one first-place vote and nine players landing in the top two on at least one ballot.
Marcus Smart is the first guard to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in the 1995-96 season. Smart is also the second player to win the award with the @celtics, joining Kevin Garnett (2007-08).
Full voting results pic.twitter.com/9WX2L25o4M
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 18, 2022
For several years, Smart has earned the reputation as one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, and he ranked in the top seven of the NBA in steals per game and total steals this season. In addition, he was a key cog on the league’s best defense in Boston, with the Celtics ranking No. 1 in the NBA in defensive efficiency, field goal percentage allowed, and three-point percentage allowed.
It took more than 25 years for a guard to win the Defensive Player of the Year award and, in some ways, the balanced field likely helped Smart to top other worthy contenders. Still, the perimeter players were perhaps “due” for recognition, and Smart remains one of the league’s best defenders with another piece of shiny hardware for his shelf.