By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)Thursday afternoon, word came out that Kawhi Leonard had edged out Draymond Green for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. In news more pertinent to Sixers fans, much farther down the list, Nerlens Noel received one 3rd-place vote. It’s not news to people who watched a lot of Philadelphia basketball that Nerlens had a huge impact on that end of the floor.
When @NerlensNoel3 was on the floor last season, the Sixers ranked 6th in the NBA in defensive rating. Off of it, they ranked 21st.
— Max Rappaport (@MaxRappaport) April 22, 2015
However, it’s a great sign for Noel to be getting any sort of recognition on a national scale, overcoming the perception of playing for a tanking franchise. The vote wasn’t some homer pick either, as it was cast by Jason Jackson of Sun Sports, who is a television host and courtside reporter for Miami Heat telecasts. Just the very fact that Noel received any award points as a rookie is a rare occasion.
Nerlens Noel is the first rookie to receive Defensive Player of the Year votes since Iman Shumpert in 2011-12. — Max Rappaport (@MaxRappaport) April 23, 2015
With the Sixers once again having a dominant defensive big man patrolling the back line, I’m reminded of the only Sixer ever to receive the Defensive Player of the Year award: Dikembe Mutombo. Deke won the honor for his work during the 2000-01 season, the fourth and final time the Hall of Famer took home the hardware during his illustrious career. Although Mutumbo actually played over half his games that season for the Hawks, the center still put up outstanding numbers in his 26 games for the Sixers that season.
Per basketball reference, Mutumbo advanced stats over those 26 contests were as follows: 25.7 DREB%, 0.5 STL%, 5.5 BLK%, and a 2.7 defensive box plus/minus.
Those marks are comparable numbers to what Nerlens put up this season: 21.0 DREB%, 2.9 STL%, 5.0 BLK%, and a 4.5 defensive box plus/minus.
What that helps illustrate is that Noel had a similar impact on the defensive end to what’s widely considered as one of the best individual stretches of defensive basketball in recent Sixers history. As the Sixers rebuild continues to take shape and the team emerges from its bottom-feeder status, Noel should continue to garner more attention for his exemplary work on the defensive end of the floor. Hopefully by that time, much like the 2000-01 squad, the Sixers will have a team in place capable of still playing basketball into June.