Ranking Dwight Howard and the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year Candidates
The Defensive Player of the Year award has turned into the Dwight Howard show over the past three seasons. This year, it's essentially a two-man race, but more candidates have emerged to challenge Howard's dominance as the NBA's best defender.
Chalk it up to offensive fatigue due to the the lockout and shortened schedule or maybe just the old "defense wins championships" mantra, but there are some engaged folks on the defensive end of the court this season.
Since Orlando currently boasts the award, it will be tough to pry it from Dwight's hands. But this is the best year for an upset in the announcement, and here are the top 10 candidates to give the trophy a new home for the upcoming season.
Honorable Mention: Josh Smith, ATL
There are two players who are in the top 15 in both blocks and steals in the NBA rankings this season. One is Dwight Howard. The other is Josh Smith.
Surprised? Don't be for too long; Smith has been expected to use his athleticism to be a consistent defensive force for some time now in Atlanta, and he's quietly been sending shots into the seats for several seasons.
Coming in the top of both of these rankings show that he's cranking it up for the Hawks. He can guard multiple positions, ranging from LeBron James to even Howard in stretches when Atlanta had big-man injuries and foul trouble in the last couple of postseason series between the Hawks and the Orlando Magic.
Smith could be this year's LaMarcus Aldridge—in line for an All-Star appearance in the very near future.
10. DeAndre Jordan, LAC
DeAndre Jordan was almost blocking shots and holding down the paint for the Golden State Warriors this year. I contend that with him in that lineup with a healthy Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis (who might not have been traded), that they would have made the playoffs.
Jordan has become one of the NBA's best defensive centers. He rebounds at a high rate, plays solid post defense on both power forwards and centers and also blocks shots at a very high rate. He's tied with Dwight Howard at 111 shots sent away this year—good for third in the league.
In the coming years, Jordan should challenge Howard and any other player in the league for this honor. He's only 23 years old, so he's got plenty of room for improvement and growth on both the defensive and offensive end.
I think he's still a little outgunned this year but watch out for DeAndre Jordan for both the award and the respect of staying out of the paint when he's in the game.
9. Luol Deng, CHI
Coach Tom Thibodeau has been credited with the entire defensive shift that's returned Chicago to the top of the Eastern Conference, and in some regards (if you count the absence of D-Rose), the best team in the league.
If there was a poster child for that kind of effort, it would be Luol Deng. His 6'9" frame, combined with long arms and a knack for getting his hands into passing lanes and shot trajectories, has made him one of the best on-ball defenders in the league.
The turnaround in Chicago isn't all on Deng's shoulders. And is also hard to pinpoint one man as being better than the rest when they all are pulling the rope toward one singular goal. I think that kind of team effort will hurt players like Deng who should probably be higher on this list, but if you ask the players, they'll take team wins over individual trophies any day of the week.
In the playoffs, Deng will take Chicago's most difficult assignments, and he will do so in such a way that will have Chicago going as far as their defense will take them.
8. Tony Allen, MEM
No DPOY list is complete without Tony Allen. The man who made a name for himself in the Celtics' defensive monster a couple years ago is doing the same thing with the Memphis Grizzlies, who've had great success over the first two seasons of Allen's time with the squad.
I don't think those facts are unrelated. Allen brings some of the most tenacious "D" found on earth, whether you're talking about Jack Black and the pick of destiny or locking down each team's best offensive threat. Maybe most importantly for Memphis, he's helped them enter the top eight in defensive efficiency.
Allen guards point guards, shooters and scorers, doing whatever coach Lionel Hollins needs him to do. He was a member of the All-NBA defensive second team last year, and that shouldn't change this year.
I'd even contend that he should be one of the first-teamers. Memphis doesn't get much press in a small market but watch a Grizzlies game and you'll see that Allen is one of those Bruce Bowen-types—a guy no one wants to face when the game is on the line.
7. LeBron James, MIA
Individually and on his Miami Heat team, LeBron is a great defender.
He makes this list as the catalyst of his team's communication efforts as coordinated by coach Erik Spoelstra, and also because in any fast-break situation, people look over their shoulder expecting him to be coming.
LeBron might have the pound-for-pound best closing speed in the game—on either end of the floor. Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose might have something to say about that, but I've never seen a guy with LeBron's size and strength also show the kind of fight he does when he tracks down a block from behind.
He's in the top leaders in steals (third) and also might be the most feared help side defender in basketball. Sometimes his on-the-ball defense is lacking, but he's going to lock you down when it matters most.
LeBron is the MVP of the league, and it's encouraging for defense everywhere that he finds himself in the mix on this list, as well.
6. Andre Iguodala, PHI
Philadelphia, statistically, is the NBA's best defensive team. What they lack in offensive fireworks they make up for in coach Doug Collins' team-oriented defensive approach.
The best defender on this 76ers' team is Iguodala. He takes on the best player on the opposing team, which means he is usually the reason the offense on the opposing squad is having trouble getting in a groove on any particular night.
His length and athleticism make him one of the league's best, and this year is no different, racking up 87 steals and passing on the defensive intensity to his teammates.
The kind of effort he posts during the playoffs will be key to the success Philadelphia has taking on powerhouses like Miami and Chicago. He'll likely guard LeBron, Dwayne Wade and even Derrick Rose in the process, should the 76ers make it that far.
5. Kevin Garnett, BOS
Many people give Kevin Garnett the credit for the defensive intensity that Boston pours out. I'm right there with them, because they are second in the league only to Philadelphia in defensive efficiency with an aging roster and injuries ranging from heart surgery to broken bones.
Garnett, at the ripe old age of 35, with 17 years of NBA experience, is having one of his most stellar campaigns at the defensive end. He's shifted into playing center more than he has in recent memory and has done an admirable job in doing so.
Boston's success starts and ends with Garnett. He calls out screens and tendencies to his teammates. He plays outstanding on-the-ball defense against the league's best power forwards and centers.
Since he's stayed healthy and helped Boston faithful feel there's one more shot at an NBA title, KG deserves all the love in the world for DPOY. Boston takes a dip in both intensity and defensive effort when he's not on the court, so much so that it can't be ignored.
4. Tyson Chandler, NYK
The man credited for the defensive turnaround in Dallas, a city once labeled to never play any "D", is doing the same sort of thing for the New York Knicks this year.
Sure, the Knicks are going to show some offensive firepower with guys like Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire demanding shots. But look at the statistics, and the Knicks also find themselves on the right half of the points allowed per game.
They're also 11th in opponents field goal percentage. Chandler personally is 11th in total blocks, and he makes penetration less possible when he's clogging the paint. The best stat, however, is the defense efficiency rating of New York, where they fall in nicely at fourth place.
He hasn't been as dominant as he was in Dallas, but he still deserves a nod in the voting, especially in making one of Mike D'Antoni's teams greater than last in defensive rankings. Lin is going to get the press for the resurgence of the Knicks, but Chandler has been a consistent force since he arrived in the Big Apple.
3. Shawn Marion, DAL
If I told you Shawn Marion had never made the All-NBA defensive team or even really been in the running for defensive player of the year, would you believe me?
Dallas Mavericks fans know this because of Mark Cuban's campaigns to get his forward noticed, but outside of Dallas, not many are paying attention to the Matrix.
He's taken on assignments far exceeding his pay grade. He's chased around point guards from Jeremy Lin to Chris Paul to Goran Dragic. He's taken on the overwhelming job of guarding Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He can still body up with power forwards, but Dallas hopes Lamar Odom's resurgence will allow him to avoid that.
Here's a great performance where Kobe Bryant was held scoreless on 0-of-10 shooting when guarded by Marion. It can't be overstated that Marion affects the offense of the opposing team in ways that forces opposing coaches to adjust in an unorthodox way.
Not many players have the versatility Marion does after over a decade in the league. He's been pivotal to Dallas remaining in the top tier of defense efficiency this season, and if they want to repeat as champions, he'll likely be in the middle of that as well.
2. Serge Ibaka, OKC
The big man protecting the rim for one of the NBA's best teams is doing so very successfully in his third season in the world's best league. Averaging 3.4 blocks per game, Ibaka is making it hard for teams to score on the Thunder. Combine that with their offensive prowess and they are tough to beat, as evidenced by their 40-13 record.
Although I can't see Ibaka overtaking Howard for the award, he's certainly more competition than we've seen over the past three seasons. Not many people put up the kind of block numbers he has, leading the league for the second consecutive year with 175 so far.
Ibaka has an advantage that Howard doesn't. He has Kendrick Perkins protecting the rim behind him, giving him a little more freedom to roam the paint and contest everything. Nick Collison is also one of the most underrated defenders at his position, making things easier on the big man from the Congo.
He's only 22, so there's plenty of room for improvement and a chance to make a run at Howard and the award in the very near future. The sky is the limit for Ibaka and OKC who have assembled some of the best young talent at both ends of the floor in a very short time.
1. Dwight Howard, ORL
We know that at least on paper, Dwight Howard will be staying in Orlando for the 2012-2013 season. Go ahead and chalk up a fourth consecutive DPOY for the big fellow, too, putting him in the elite category with Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo as the only four-time winners.
Ibaka has had a better season than Howard, statistically at least. Marion, James and Iggy are more versatile, but nobody else could play on this current Orlando squad and have them third in the Eastern Conference.
I think that showed in Orlando's 104-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets Sunday night. Ty Lawson exploited the interior defense of the Magic. Glen Davis did a nice job in a few one-on-one situations, and Ryan Anderson has come a long way, but Orlando is a lottery team without Howard, simply put.
He limits possessions with his rebounding. He turns teams into jump shooters when he is in the game because of his 2.1 blocks per game. He does more for his team on the defensive end than any other player in this league.
Simply put, I think he's on pace to shatter the current record of four DPOY trophies. It's his award to lose until someone unseats him, and while Jordan, Marion and Ibaka have had quality seasons, no one quite plays "D" quite like D12.