Posted Apr 24 2012 11:53AM
The Defensive Player of the Year vote will not necessarily be given to the NBA's best defensive player. If it did, Dwight Howard would have it locked up.
No matter your feelings on the subject of what will (and should) be a tight race for the award, it is hard imagining any defender being held in higher regard than Howard.
It's like Karl Malone winning MVP in 1997 (when Michael Jordan was still at the height of his powers). Was "The Mailman" really the best player in basketball? Nope. Voters had Jordan Fatigue. They were tired of him winning.
That's the issue here in 2011-12. Are we so weary of seeing Howard grab an award he has won three seasons running that voters will look to deprive him? Is there an Anybody But Dwight campaign gaining speed?
Not to say there aren't deserving candidates. There are, so our debate begins with Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, Miami's LeBron James and New York's Tyson Chandler, the only three worthy of discussion (no diss to Memphis' Tony Allen and Denver's Arron Afflalo).
Serge Ibaka: Did you see the other night in L.A. against the Lakers? He swatted seven shots, including one of Kobe Bryant's that finally came back down to earth in Encino.
That was a statement game for Ibaka, the best natural shot-blocker in basketball. He makes it look so smooth and easy, and also makes you forget he isn't some 7-footer with more wingspan than a 747. He's a normal-sized 6-foot-10 forward but brings elasticity, hustle and hunger. He wants badly to play defense, whereas others play defense because they must.
This season, in shot blocking alone, Ibaka has been without peer. At his current rate of 3.69 per game, it would be the highest since Theo Ratliff swatted 3.74 back in 2000-01. Nobody who's currently considered for the award -- LeBron, Chandler or Howard -- ever rejected shots at this pace.
Bill Russell would probably tell Ibaka to keep his blocks in bounds, but that's nitpicking. Oklahoma City is a contender because of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ... and defensive ace Ibaka. That's high praise for someone who does only one thing extremely well (though not a bad rebounder, at 7.7 rpg this season, either).
LeBron James: Let's all agree James is among the best inch-for-inch defenders in the game. OK? Because it's true. Because few players his size are a better perimeter defender and have quicker hands and play man-to-man more efficiently than James. It's the part of his game that's greatly underappreciated.
After Durant (who has 473 defensive rebounds), James is second among all non-centers and non-power forwards in defensive rebounds (398) and leads all frontcourt players in steals (115) and steals per game (1.86). He's a freak because of his speed and strength, and also because he puts an equal amount of energy on both ends. That's quite rare for someone who will finish top-three in scoring.
If anything, his freakish nature will work against him in the defensive player vote. James will be so admired for his all-around game that folks will just skip the defensive award and pencil him in for MVP.
Tyson Chandler: Is it possible to be the team MVP when Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudamire wear the same uniform? If so, then Chandler's that guy. The Knicks didn't become a better team until they took a cue from their center and began to make defense a priority.
Chandler is indispensible because he means so much defensively. He bails out teammates, starts the break and does what others cannot do or will not do. He ranks in the top 20 in rebounds per game (10.0, ninth), rebounds (607, 11th), blocks per game (1.44, 18th) and blocks (88, 16th).
"Tyson is our anchor," Anthony said. "He gets us going."
It would be a stretch to say the Knicks' identity is suddenly defense. No, Chandler hasn't been that infectious. The Knicks will always be about scoring as long as 'Melo is on the floor.
They lack the personnel, except for maybe Iman Shumpert, to go all-in on defense. That's why Chandler is so important to them. He's the only big guy crashing the boards, the only Knick going after shots.
Dwight Howard: You can come up with reasons why he shouldn't win again, and they'd all be a stretch.
Quite simply, Orlando is zip without Howard. If you remove his defense and rebounding -- and rebounding is a form of defense -- then you're looking at the Sacramento Kings ... or maybe worse.
The Magic lack a single player in the rotation other than Howard who has a reputation as a good defender (does Quentin Richardson count?). Opposing players regularly give the Magic guards whiplash by blowing by so quickly. Howard's teammates always beg him to erase their mistakes, which he does.
And here's the ultimate compliment to Howard: Some teams don't even venture into the lane, knowing what lurks.
Even with the contract distractions, this was a typically strong defensive year by Howard before his back gave out two weeks ago.
He lost his crown as the rebound king last season to Kevin Love, but he's back up at the top again, averaging an NBA-best 18.2 rpg. His 10.8 defensive rebounds per game bests both Chandler (6.5 drpg) and Ibaka (4.7 drpg). On defensive rebounds alone, Howard would rank seventh in the league in overall rebounds. Because he is a defensive rebounder deluxe, Howard keeps teams from fattening up on second chances.
Howard also blocked 2.15 shots per game and will likely finish third to Ibaka and Denver's JaVale McGee. Chandler? He's at 1.44 bpg.
Finally, without Howard's defense, Orlando is a deer at a hunter's convention. If you remove Ibaka from OKC, the Thunder will survive. Same is true for Miami and LeBron because of Dwyane Wade. And the Knicks would at least win a fair share without Chandler. The Magic without Howard are 3-6 and fading fast, giving up 99.8 points a game. With him, they allowed 92.0 ppg.
We all know the other reason for an anti-Howard vote: In addition to Howard Fatigue, voters might not like him for the way he handled his contract situation and coach Stan Van Gundy. The Daily Dwama surrounding Howard was indeed irritating, but what does that have to do with the award?
Those twin forces working against Howard -- his award winning streak and his bumpy off-court -- must be ignored, though.
All bias aside, Dwight Howard should win this award. But Tyson Chandler, a fresh face with a cleaner slate, will get it.
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