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Robert Williams, Marcus Smart Deserve Some Love In Defensive Player Of The Year Race

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Boston Celtics are enjoying an incredible second-half turnaround to their season, thanks mostly to the team's top-ranked defense. Though Jayson Tatum's metamorphosis from Boston's star to a full-fledged NBA superstar has certainly helped, it's the Celtics' nightly stifling of opponents that has led to the Celtics' climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

Simply put, the Celtics are not a fun team to play against for anyone at the moment. Great, good, and bad teams alike have been stymied by Boston's defense since head coach Ime Udoka called out the team's mental mettle after an embarrassing loss to the Knicks in early January, and the Celtics have won 21 of their 29 games over that stretch.

Considering the Celtics own the NBA's best defense, one would assume that the anchors of that defense would be getting some love when it comes to the Defensive Player of the Year award. Grant Williams got the ball rolling for Marcus Smart and Robert Williams on Tuesday night, urging voters to give his teammates some strong consideration.

Alas, it seems like Smart and Williams have an uphill battle for the hardware. Both will probably get some All-Defensive honors when the season ends, but the Defensive Player of the Year will probably land elsewhere. Utah big man Rudy Gobert is the favorite to win the award for the second straight season and fourth time in the last five years, while Giannis Antetekounmpo and Jarren Jackson Jr. are also among the favorites.

Because of his position, Smart will always be fighting voters with the same fury he uses to battle through screens. Guards rarely get much love in DPOY voting, unless they go out and transcend defense as we know it. Smart made light of the situation Tuesday evening on Twitter.

The "GP" he is referring to is Gary Payton, who was the last guard to win the award in 1996. The man known as "The Glove" is one of only five guards to win the award overall.

So it would take a lot for Smart to win the award, which is wild considering everything he already does for the Boston defense. He's the catalyst of the switch-heavy system, thanks to his ability (and willingness) to bang bodies with anyone on the floor. He creates turnovers, with 1.7 steals per game, and is a pest for anyone on the floor not wearing green. He should, at the very least, get a few votes, but All-Defensive recognition will likely have to suffice for the C's heartbeat.

Williams, on the other hand, has a chance, since big men get the most love in the voting process. He has finally broken out in a big way, and it's not just his ability to send a bunch of shots into orbit.

Williams' biggest issue has always been availability. He always showed off some undeniable raw talent when he took the floor in years past, but he wasn't on the floor enough to really advance his skills. This year, the Lord of Time has spent plenty of minutes on the floor. He's started all 53 games that he's appeared in and is averaging 10 more minutes per game than he did last season. With those increased minutes have come some incredible defensive production for Williams -- and a lot less production for opponents. He's averaging an NBA-best 2.2 blocks per game this season, and his 119 rejections are second only to Jackson's 145 blocks. (Jackson has played 13 more games than Williams this season.)

Even when Williams doesn't get his big mitts or a fingertip on someone's shot, he is making them adjust to having his 7-foot-6 wingspan all up in their business. Players are shooting 6.4 percent worse than their normal field goal percentage when Williams is guarding them, according to Statmuse. It's the biggest difference for any defender in the NBA that has defended over 500 shots this season. And it's been a big difference for Boston, considering how often Williams leaves the paint to greet any jump shooter who wants to challenge him.

While it's a little harder to see all the nitty gritty that Smart does each and every night, Williams' impact is right in front of us. That has him firmly entrenched in the Top 10 of DPOY favorites on most betting sites, and he sits with the fourth-best odds on most of the sites.

What both players have working against them is how Boston's defense functions as a whole. It may be anchored by those two, but it depends on everyone doing their part. That group effort -- and group success -- doesn't help their cause to win an individual award.

But the race for the award is wide open this year, especially since Draymond Green has spent most of his season on the sideline. Gobert will probably take it home once again, and if it's not him, Giannis will take it because he's been carrying Milwaukee all season. But Boston's pair of defensive dynamos should get some strong consideration as well, making a tough decision for voters even tougher.

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