Kevin Durant's improvements earn Defensive Player of the Year shine with Stein

AP Photo/Denis Poroy

Kevin Durant is not going to win the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year trophy.

Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard are, as usual, your headliners in the DPOY race ... with Andre Drummond quietly faring well in many advanced defensive categories despite the widespread so-so reviews of his play this season.

Yet this will also go down as the season that Durant established himself as a nightly defensive force. As of Sunday morning, in fact, Durant ranked an impressive eighth in the league in individual defensive rating and sixth in defensive win shares, according to Basketball Reference.

So this is no pity vote for Durant merely because he's out indefinitely and could miss the rest of the regular season in the wake of the knee injuries he suffered in Washington just days ago. Consider this our formal (and overdue) hat tip to the commitment Durant has brought to the no-fun end in his debut season as a Warrior, when many expected his new team to suffer greatly on D and on the boards because of a shortfall in the size and rim-protection departments.

Heading into Sunday's Madison Square Garden date with the Knicks, Golden State ranked No. 2 overall in the league in defensive efficiency behind only San Antonio and one spot ahead of the Gobert-led Jazz. Yet the Warriors actually wound up fielding the league's top team defense during trimester 2, allowing just 100.4 points per 100 possessions to finish narrowly ahead of the Spurs (100.8 points per 100 possessions).

And Durant, for his part, averaged 8.3 rebounds over those 28 games to rank second on the team only to Green's 8.5 RPG in the same span. Better yet: As Golden State was going 24-4 in that stretch, Durant held players he directly guarded to 38 percent shooting ‎for the trimester ... better even than Green's 41 percent.

Durant's D has been such a season-long plus that, in the wake of his injury, it became a common reaction to hear various NBA analysts out there opine that the Warriors would miss him as much (or more) at that end as they would offensively.

It's an unarguable statistical fact, whether or not you agree, that Golden State had logged 215 minutes at the time of Durant's injury with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and all on the court and KD spectacting. The Dubs were 11.2 points per 100 possessions worse defensively in those situations.

Durant, mind you, would be the first to say that Green remains Golden State's unequivocal defensive anchor and the co-favorite along with the menacing Gobert to end Leonard's two-year hold on this award. And Green's trimester 2 defense was absolutely smothering; Golden State allowed just 97.3 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor in those 28 games and giddily watched him force a turnover on 13 percent of all plays when Green was the primary defender (according to ESPN Stats & Info player-tracking data).

However ...

Too little has been said and written about the sort of defender Durant has become to offset the departures of Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, while he obviously continues to rank as one of the most-feared pure scorers this game has ever seen. So we decided to rectify that today.

What Green can show us in Durant's absence might prove to be the extra dose of defensive goodness he needs to trump Gobert, Leonard, Drummond, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Giannis Antetokounmpo and everyone else vying for the DPOY award ... as well as stealth Spurs candidate Dewayne Dedmon. But spotlighting Durant in this category for the very first time just felt right.

Don't be surprised if Durant winds up on the NBA's All-Defensive Team for the first time, too.