Defensive Player of the Year is an incredibly difficult award to judge. Picking a DPOY is not as challenging as actually playing effective defense against the world’s best scorers, but it is a tough task nonetheless.
Unlike metrics on the other side of the ball, individual defensive statistics are intrinsically intertwined with the overall success of the team. Because of this, the award is often given to the best defender on the strongest defensive unit in the league.
Unfortunately, that line of logic does not account for much of the nuance that goes into whether a team makes stops or not. A sole individual simply cannot control some defensive factors, such as the coach’s scheme, the buy-in (or lack thereof) from teammates and the amount of athleticism on the floor.
If voters can find it within themselves to look past the flawed model that centers team defensive success, the choice for the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year is clear: Sylvia Fowles.
Fowles is no stranger to the award; she has been Defensive Player of the Year three times already, receiving the honor in 2011, 2013 and 2016.
Two players have won Defensive Player of the Year in their 13th season: Candace Parker in 2020 and Alana Beard in 2018. They pushed the limits of what we previously thought was possible from a defender at that stage in their career. Can Sylvia take that a step further and become the first player to win the award in their 14th season?
It certainly seems like she can. Despite the fact that the Lynx rank third in overall defensive rating, falling short of the Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces, the case for Fowles as the best defender this year is as bulletproof as DPOY cases come, especially when you factor in how much of the Lynx’s defensive success comes solely from Sylvia.
All-Around and Indispensable
Being a truly great defensive player means you’re solid in all areas: protecting the rim, controlling the glass and locking up talented scorers on the perimeter. That type of versatility is invaluable to a team with mistake-prone or inexperienced players on the roster.
Fowles checks every box as a defender, and the proof is in the numbers. She ranks in the top five in every major defensive category. No other player in the WNBA can say the same thing.
|Rebounds Per Game||Steals Per Game||Blocks Per Game||Defensive Win Shares||Defensive Rating|
|1. Jonquel Jones (11.0)||1.T Brittney Sykes (1.8)||1. Brittney Griner (2.0)||1. Sylvia Fowles (2.5)||1. Sylvia Fowles (89.7)|
|2. Sylvia Fowles (10.1)||1.T Courtney Vandersloot (1.8)||2.T Sylvia Fowles (1.8)||2. DeWanna Bonner (2.3)||2. Jonquel Jones (90.3)|
|3. Breanna Stewart (9.9)||1.T Rebecca Allen (1.8)||2.T Breanna Stewart (1.8)||3. Jonquel Jones (2.1)||3. Liz Cambage (91.6)|
|4. Tina Charles (9.6)||1.T Sylvia Fowles (1.8)||4. Liz Cambage (1.7)||4. Breanna Stewart (2.0)||4. DeWanna Bonner (93.5)|
|5. Brianna Turner (9.4)||5. Ariel Atkins (1.7)||5. Jessica Breland (1.5)||5. Brionna Jones (1.9)||5. Candace Parker (95.2)|
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference and current as of 9/6/21
The only other player on the Lynx roster that plays significant minutes and has a defensive rating under 100 is Napheesa Collier. After Collier, the drop-off is significant. Natalie Achonwa is a capable wing stopper off the bench, but her offensive deficiencies have forced coach Cheryl Reeve to keep her scoring guards and wings on the floor for longer stretches.
Perimeter defense, frankly, has been a liability for the Lynx this season. Having Fowles in the middle to clean up mistakes has been absolutely imperative, and the Lynx’s current ranking of third in the league in defensive rating is a testament to that.
While Fowles is largely responsible for the Lynx’s defensive performance, the league’s top overall defenses present a uniquely challenging question to DPOY voters: When you have multiple plus defenders, how can you weigh what one individual’s impact is on the unit?
In Connecticut, for example, 11 of the 14 rostered players boast a defensive rating under 100. The front court of DeWanna Bonner plus Brionna and Jonquel Jones is as defensively talented as any group of three players in the league. While Jonquel leads the league in rebounding, we cannot forget that basketball is a team sport, which means that Jonquel’s stellar defensive performances are likely bolstered by having exceptional defenders on the court alongside her.
Unlike in Connecticut, Fowles is the sole defensive pillar in Minnesota, and the Lynx’s defense stands and falls with her.
Will the Media Narrative Turn to Sylvia’s Side?
As we so often see with these individual awards, media narrative can play a huge part in who is ultimately chosen. With Maya Moore out of the picture the past two seasons, it has been easy for the national spotlight to shine more on teams like Las Vegas and Seattle. And with the year Connecticut is having, there has been a lot of hype on its players in these award discussions.
With limited national exposure, it is important for Fowles and the Lynx to capitalize when opportunities are presented. And on a night when the Lynx found themselves matched up against the defending champs, Sylvia did not disappoint.
— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) August 25, 2021
In a thrilling upset of the Storm on national television, Fowles absolutely dominated. Her 29 points, 20 rebounds, four steals and three blocks were the talk of WNBA Twitter for the next few days.
Luckily for Sylvia, all five of the Lynx’s remaining games will be featured on either national television or free streaming services:
- 9/8 – Lynx at Aces (NBA TV)
- 9/10 – Fever at Lynx (Twitter)
- 9/12 – Fever at Lynx (NBA TV)
- 9/17 – Lynx at Fever (Facebook)
- 9/19 – Lynx at Mystics (ESPN3)
This type of national exposure could, ultimately, seal the award for Fowles. Assuming, of course, that the Lynx can take care of business in a schedule that features more games against teams in the bottom half of the standings than the top.
In her 14th season in the WNBA, Sylvia Fowles has a great case to be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. Now it is up to the voters to make it happen.
About Michael: Girl dad, marketing professional, sports fanatic and founder of HoopSocial.