NBA Awards Rankings: Rudy Gobert re-stakes claim on Defensive Player of the Year race

The 2023 NBA Defensive Player of the Year race is shaping up to involve an unusual bunch of players.

Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves / Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports
2 of 5

. Rockets. 169. 4. player. . Dillon Brooks. 4. Wing. Dillon Brooks

The Houston Rockets can defend, folks. Ime Udoka's squad is home to the NBA's fourth-ranked defense. The whole team is playing inspired, connected defense despite several ostensible weak points in the starting five. Fred VanVleet is undersized, Alperen Sengun has never been much of a deterrent in the paint. Jabari Smith's defense as a rookie was theoretical, not actual. And Jalen Green has never shown much interest in that side of the ball.

So, what changed? It starts with Udoka, who has implemented legitimate structure and defensive principles that were plainly absent during Stephen Silas' time as head coach. But, next in line for credit is the offseason's most controversial $86 million signing. Dillon Brooks catches a lot of heat for his rambunctious behavior, but man can he defend. He brings a palpable energy to the floor, and it has infected the Rockets' entire team.

That's the thing about Brooks. He talks a big game, but he almost always backs it up. He takes more chances than the average defender, and handles more difficult matchups, which increases the odds of a stray poster dunk or a successful crossover. He invites the memes when a player roasts him with a pull-up jumper or loses him on a drive to the rim. But, more often than not, Brooks is a stout point-of-attack presence who consistently wins the most challenging assignments.

He is, quite possibly, the best isolation perimeter defender in the NBA. The stats paint a nice picture, too — 1.1 steals, 0.9 DBPM, 0.5 DWS. Brooks doesn't dominate the ancillary categories as much as other defenders, but he does tremendous work as Houston's primary answer to the league's top creators. His efforts don't show up in the box score, as cliche as that sounds. He deserves his flowers.