Brittney Sykes is a DPOY candidate

Whenever Los Angeles Sparks guard Brittney Sykes has a spectacular block, you can’t help but be wowed by her athleticism. When she skies for a rebound or uses her wingspan to rack up steals, it’s a similar feeling of awe. 

But are traditional defensive stats like blocks, rebounds, and steals what quantify an unquestioned defensive stopper? Sykes is trying to answer that question in her current self-proclaimed quest to be named 2021 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY). 

“DPOY is my goal and first-team defense is my goal,” said Sykes, who is currently averaging 8.8 points, 4.4  rebounds, 2.0  assists, and 1.8 steals, while playing a career-high 26.5 minutes per game.

Sykes is currently third in the league in steals and—unofficially—first in the league in defensive highlights.

https://twitter.com/lwproductions4/status/1408600024079011847?s=21

 

According to WNBA Advanced Stats, with Sykes on the floor, the Sparks allow 17 fewer points per 100 possessions. Simply stated, the Sparks are significantly better when she’s on the court.

Sykes is currently seventh in defensive rating at 91.7 in the league, among players who play at least 20 minutes per game. For comparison, 2020 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Alysha Clark’s defensive rating was 90.9 in the Wubble.

In 2020, Clark averaged nearly identical stats to Sykes’ 2021 campaign. Clark is renowned as a defensive stalwart and ultimately headlined the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive First Team, along with Betnijah Laney.

However, it is rare that guards actually win the coveted award. 

“The last guard to win (DPOY) was Alana Beard back-to-back in 2017 and 2018,” Sykes said. In fact, Beard is the last player under 6’0” to win the award since 5’2” Debbie Black of the Miami Sol won DPOY back in 2001.

After watching Sykes play like a human highlight reel for 18 games this season, I think she has a legit chance to wow voters for both DPOY and All-Defensive First Team. The most successful candidates create memorable impressions that elicit an emotional reaction in voters, much like Sykes’ recent unforgettable block against Ariel Atkins.

 

In addition, Sykes willingly accepts the toughest perimeter defensive assignment night after night. That must be respected. Sport is about competition, and what is more competitive than guarding an All-Star every single night. 

Though Sykes was named to the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2020, the 27-year-old 5’9” guard wants more in her fifth season in the W.

Sykes told Winsidr, when it comes to DPOY, she really wants to challenge the actual title—“Defensive Player of the Year”—because, in her opinion, voters in the past have tended to reward taller players. 

“I’m not taking away the defensive players that have won in the past years, we’re talking about NBA and WNBA. We really need to sit down and really discuss what makes a defensive player because if it is rebounds and steals, then everybody should be defensive player of the year,” said Sykes.

In the past ten seasons, 50 percent of the WNBA DPOY’s have been 6’6” or taller. Similarly, in the past ten seasons, 70 percent of the NBA DPOY’s have been 6’11” or taller.

“When we really look at DPOY, I look at the people that they are primarily guarding, what are their stats. How was their game versus you and versus everybody else in the league, versus everybody that’s going for DPOY,” Sykes continued.

“Rebounding and a couple of steals, that’s not defense,” Sykes explained.

“Having your presence felt. Every night I step on that court, that coach on the other side, they are trying to figure out how the heck can I get my player open, how the heck are we going to figure out these offensive sets with Brittney on the court,” said Sykes. “That’s my goal every game. I go and sit with LT [Sparks Assistant Coach Latricia Trammell], we break down film on myself, and we break down film of other players that I have to guard.”

Sykes believes she’s still growing defensively after establishing herself as an offensive threat during her time with the Atlanta Dream.

“I just want to make it very clear that I am a two-way player… I didn’t play defense my first three years in the league, everybody knows that I can score, that I’m a scoring guard,” Sykes added.

“I can score, I am a bucket,” Sykes concluded.

 

Bubble Slim

“I call her Bubble Slim every time she has a breakout game. I’m like that’s Bubble Slim,” began former Los Angeles Sparks center Kristine Anigwe. “In the Bubble, Slim was so focused every single game.”

In 2020, Sykes averaged a career-high 1.5 steals per game, a number she is currently exceeding.

“I was like why did Atlanta trade her, how did Atlanta trade her,” Anigwe went on. “With that energy she brings, she makes me want to play harder.”

Anigwe told Winsidr why she believes Sykes is a model defender.

“I feel like the definition of defense is activity and energy and that’s what she does.”

However, it takes a team to play defense. It takes more than effort. Similar to offense, ultimately it takes the execution of small details to be great on defense. 

“She’s going to stop the best player on the other team but she can’t do it alone. We all have to build around her, help her,” said Anigwe.

With that in mind, the LA Sparks will have to improve their overall team defensive rating of 98.7 per 100 possessions, which currently ranks them fifth.

“Also she understands other players’ weakness, so she pushes them into their weaknesses,” Anigwe continued. “[Slim is] a player that really understands the game, understands her ability, has a high basketball IQ, and also brings that energy and intensity every single game.”

“I know when I see Bubble Slim, that’s the Defensive Player of the Year,” Anigwe concluded. 

 

Ultimately, whether Sykes wins DPOY and is selected to the All-Defensive First Team will be up to voters. However, Sykes is doing her best to let her play do the talking, to leave voters no choice but to recognize that she’s the best defender in the WNBA.

 

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