Yet, before his team met the Chicago Bulls Thursday night, McHale said his vote for the award would go to the matchup's other man in the middle—Joakim Noah.
"He’s played very well. He should be Defensive Player of the Year," McHale said of Noah, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, determination and confidence."
When hustle plays haven't been enough, the Bulls big man has blitzed the box score with a skill set so versatile, it's potentially historically significant:
Joakim Noah has a chance to join Kareem, Wilt & Russell as just 4th center in NBA history to avg 12 ppg, 11 rpg & 5 apg over a full season.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) March 10, 2014
"He's just more confident in what he's doing," McHale said, via Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago. "He's making plays with the pass. He's driving and kicking."
All of that praise came before Noah went for 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in Chicago's 111-87 rout of Houston, as the two-time All-Star narrowly missed his fourth triple-double of the season.
McHale might be the latest to join the Noah bandwagon, but he's lucky to have found a seat. It's suddenly a crowded mix of sideline savants and hardwood heroes.
"They won’t choose him as the MVP, but I think it’s great that he’s in the conversation and he should be," San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. "It’s got to go in the basket for you guys (media) to pay attention to somebody. But he’s pretty damn valuable in my opinion."
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is a longtime member of the Noah fan club.
"Noah's terrific. He's such a great passer," Rivers said in late 2012, via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago. "He's just an extremely high IQ basketball player. I've said it for four years now, and it's getting higher and higher."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't need to share his opinion of his center. Noah's nightly dose of 34.4 minutes (down from 36.8 last season) communicates it clearly.
Still, the coach will gush about his big man if given the chance.
"Joakim is doing just about everything. Laundry, everything," Thibodeau said in late January, via Bulls.com's Sam Smith. "You can’t play any better than he is playing right now in every aspect of the game."
Even Noah's NBA peers have gotten in on the act.
Kevin Love, one of the league's premier passing bigs, said he marvels at Noah's distributing skills:
Joakim Noah can really pass that thing...crazy respect for his game— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) March 2, 2014
Dwyane Wade said Noah's passion is what sets him apart.
If you haven't bought your ticket to the Noah bandwagon, there are still a few of them available. I have to warn you, though, it can take a while to board this many bodies.