Kevin Durant's Defensive Player of the Year campaign is picking up steam

Kevin Durant controversially blocks LeBron James. (AP)

Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant may be Draymond Green’s teammate, but the supremely confident reigning Defensive Player of the Year isn’t one to cede his status as the league’s top stopper lightly. So, when Green dubs Durant his DPOY pick nearing the halfway point, that still carries weight.


“I don’t think it’s really a race right now, the way he’s been playing on the defensive side of the ball,” Green said following Golden State’s win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.  “It’s been spectacular. It’s a thing now, which is impressive, because it always seemed like it wasn’t possible to be a thing, but he’s getting more and more attention for that, and obviously he’s helping our defense tremendously with the way he’s playing defensively on that side of the ball. If I had a vote, I’d vote for him right now.”

Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder entrenched as one of the NBA’s most dynamic offensive weapons, having led the league in scoring four times in his seven previous seasons, but he joined the Warriors in pursuit of basketball growth, and he seems to have found it on the defensive end.

“It’s cool that people are starting to recognize me for more than just a scorer,” added Durant. I’ve been trying to shake that rap for about since 2012. So when people start to notice what you do, I mean obviously, it’s not all you do it for … but when fans watching the games, and anybody watching the game, you want them to see what you do. I try to impact the game as much as I can on both ends of the floor.”

After primarily playing small forward in OKC, Durant split time between forward positions on the Warriors last season, and this year he’s taken on added responsibility at center. The result has been a league-leading 70 blocks and one of the NBA’s best defensive field goal percentages at the rim.

Opponents are shooting 50 percent inside of six feet opposite Durant, or 10.6 percent worse than their season averages, which is fourth only to Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid and Hassan Whiteside among players who contest five or more shots in that range per game. Add the fact that Durant is also often picking up the opposing team’s best wings on the perimeter, and that’s a skill-set tough to replicate.

“He’s right up there, if not the best,” Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James told NBC Sports Bay Area of the league’s top quick forward defenders, even as he took issue with a missed whistle on Durant’s late-game block of the four-time MVP that helped seal the Warriors’ Christmas Day win.

LeBron lumped Durant in with San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who won the NBA’s two previous Defensive Player of the Year honors before Green supplanted him last season. Leonard missed the first 27 games of this year, and he doesn’t have nearly the rim-protecting responsibilities Durant has been given this season. With Jazz center Rudy Gobert also missing significant time and Green ceding his title to his teammate, it sure does seem like Durant is becoming the frontrunner.

The Warriors eclipsed the Boston Celtics as the league’s top defensive team on Christmas, and they’ve only strengthened their stranglehold on the top spot since, holding opponents to 100.6 points per 100 possessions on the season. This is how Golden State thrives without an injured Stephen Curry (ankle), winning nine of the last 10 games. During that stretch, the Warriors have been average offensively, but they’ve been the league’s best defensive team — by more than two points per 100 possessions.

LeBron has never won Defensive Player of the Year, although he’s finished top-five in the voting on five occasions, including runner-up twice (2012-13 and 2008-09). And LeBron has made six All-Defensive teams to Durant’s none. But a DPOY honor on the heels of a Finals MVP would be one more arrow in the quiver for KD and others as they make their “passing the torch” case against LeBron.

For the record, Green still ranks ahead of Durant in almost every defensive advanced metric, and the Warriors are a better defensive unit with Green on the floor and Durant on the bench than they are the other way around, but who are we to argue with Green when he says his teammate’s been better?

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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