Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are in a somewhat rare situation. Despite playing for the same team, they are competing for the same award. Philadelphia has the NBA's No. 2 ranked defense, and both Simmons and Embiid are Defensive Player of the Year candidates as a result. Obviously, only one of them can win it, and Joel Embiid made it clear who he'd like to walk away with the trophy on an appearance on the Lowe Post podcast.
"I want to be Defensive Player of the Year. I should be Defensive Player of the Year," Embiid said. He acknowledged Simmons' greatness in the process, though, and ultimately acknowledged that he would be a worthy winner. "He's been a monster defensively all season," Embiid said of Simmons. "I do think he should win it. He has an impact on the court, especially every single night guarding the other teams best player...I'm not fighting about it."
Simmons has recently campaigned for himself, and 76ers coach Doc Rivers picked him as well, citing his defensive versatility. Both Embiid and Simmons have solid arguments against one another. Embiid has missed 18 games this season, which would seemingly make him a questionable award winner, but Philadelphia's defense is actually 2.4 points better per 100 possessions with Simmons on the bench. That's thanks in large part to Embiid's dominance.
Both of them are competing with Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, a two-time winner and the obvious frontrunner this season for one simple reason: he isn't playing with another defender as valuable as Simmons or Embiid. Their merits as overall defenders are subjective, but Gobert has the Jazz ranked No. 4 defensively without another All-Defense candidate on his team.
Ultimately, the winner will be a referendum on what voters value defensively in the regular season. Gobert is the NBA's best rim-protector. Simmons is likely its best one-on-one defender, capable of locking down any perimeter star. Embiid falls somewhere in between on the defensive spectrum. He's an elite rim-protector, but far more comfortable stepping out on the perimeter than Gobert is. Historically, rim-protectors tend to dominate this award. In the regular season, that makes sense. Gobert's real value comes in what he allows the Jazz not to do. He is so good at the basket that Utah never needs to send him extra help. They can allow their perimeter defenders to stay at home on shooters and prevent 3-pointers. There are holes in that strategy that teams will find in the postseason, but in the regular season, with limited scouting resources available for specific opponents, it's a lethally simple scheme that only Gobert truly makes possible.
But Simmons and Embiid have both made it clear that they would like to beat Gobert, and they both have cases. It just so happens that they aren't only competing against Gobert, but each other as well, and that is why neither is likely to win it. Some voters will attribute Philly's success to Simmons and other to Embiid, and in the end, that will likely make Gobert the winner.