Marcus Smart, the 28-year-old guard for the Boston Celtics, won the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award on Monday, stating that he was “blown away.”
“Incredibly honored!” he wrote on Twitter, sharing photos of the historic win. At 6’4″, Smart is the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton in 1996–the award usually goes to 6’11”-7’0″ power forwards and centers.
“Just happy to be able to do get this award with our team and my brothers on the team,” Marcus Smart stated. “This is for you mama! ❤️ I love you.”
Gary Payton was also at the practice facility in Boston on Monday to personally give Marcus Smart the prestigious award, telling him that he reminded him of himself.
“Everybody asks me about it all the time,” Payton said. “You play that D the way you’re supposed to. You play it with a chip on your shoulder and some heart.”
Marcus Smart, a Celtic since he was drafted sixth overall in 2014, was then swarmed by his supportive teammates.
“It’s not easy playing in this league full of guys like Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown], and getting that recognition on the defensive end, trying to guard these guys every night,” Smart said.
“This is eight years, man,” he continued, clutching the clear basketball trophy. “I appreciate you guys, for real.”
“We’re the front line, you’ve got to get past us first and that’s just how we guards feel,” he told reporters Monday night. “So, to be able to be named the Defensive Player of the Year and be the first guard since Gary Payton in 1996 to win this, it just shows not only me but everybody else that it can be done.”
Smart beat out Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, who has won the award three times in the last five years, and the Phoenix Suns’ Mikal Bridges. He helped the Celtics have both the best-rated defensive team in the league and the fewest points allowed per game. Smart was ranked seventh in steals per game and first in the league with loose balls recovered per game.
The award is selected by a panel of over 100 sportswriters and broadcasters, with no input from players or coaches. They select a vote for their first, second, and third place picks, and the player with the highest point total wins the award.
Not everyone felt the love on Monday, however, when Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo stated after practice that he felt “disrespected” by not being one of the top three potential candidates.
“I feel like I can do anything that two out of the three can do, besides, I mean, I can’t teach height,” the 6’9″ center said. A fantastic two-way player on both the defensive and offensive end, Adebayo felt slighted by not being included. He has never won the award, though he finished fifth in the voting in 2020. The Miami Heat also had the fifth-highest rated defense in the league this season.
He told reporters on Monday that he deleted social media and was not aware that he wasn’t being considered by the press for the award until just then at the press conference.
“They all three play on TV more than me. So I would expect that,” Bam Adebayo continued, blaming his perceived snub on television coverage. “They get more TV games and they get more exposure. People like to talk about them more. Don’t nobody want to talk about us. So, it’s whatever at that point.”
According to ESPN, the Celtics had 32 nationally televised games scheduled compared to the Heat’s 22 games.
“I feel like that’s why a lot of dudes do get a lot of awards, in my opinion,” Adebayo continued. “They’re always on TV getting to showcase their talent.”
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who was included in the finalists for 2022 NBA Coach of the Year, supported his big man, adding that he was “stunned” Adebayo was not a top three candidate.
“Just watch any one of our games,” Spoelstra stated. “You have a defensive system that’s built around his toughness and versatility. And it’s not a cliché, it’s not just a thing you throw out there that he can literally guard 1 through 5. You can count on one hand in his association of 450 how many guys that you can legitimately say that can compete on the ball 1 through 5 at all five positions. And he’s at the very top of that list. That’s unique unto itself.”
Marcus Smart feels like the obvious choice, but if you ask me–the players should vote too, and those votes should be worth more than the sportswriters and broadcasters’ picks. May be betraying my own kind, but they’re the guys who have to face them every night, not us.
The Celtics and the Heat remain in the playoffs up 1-0 against their opponents, the Nets and the Hawks, respectively. If they both continue to advance, the teams have a chance to face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals.