The NBA started handing out Defensive Player of the Year awards in the 1982-83 season. Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief won the first 2 awards. He and 85-86 winner Alvin Robertson were the shortest winners at 6'3". The only other true guards to win the award were Michael Jordan, 6'6" in 87-88, and Gary Payton, 6'4" in 95-96.
Most other DPOY winners were big men who blocked shots and dominated the paint. From Mark Eaton to Dikembe Mutombo to Ben Wallace and now Dwight Howard, the media usually rewards guys who put up big numbers in boards & blocks. More than half the awards have been won by centers and there hasn't been a true guard winner in 14 years since Payton.
However, shot blockers in today's NBA usually don't guard the most dangerous player on the opposing team. What dominant center is Dwight Howard shutting down? Magic guard Matt Barnes is dealing with Kobe for 35 minutes while Dwight shuts down Bynum. And Dwight gets an award for that? Howard doesn't guard any of the top MVP candidates like LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo, Durant, Dirk or Wade, and yet he was named defensive player of the year by the media voters.
Having a big guy who is ready to block shots and help out on defense is valuable. Rebounds are a big plus as well. But how about the guards who lock down the best players without needing help? How about the small guys who stay in front of their man, disrupt the offense's rhythm and force steals?
Basing the award on who does the best job guarding the best offensive players as well as providing help when needed, Miami's 6'4" guard Dwyane Wade should be this season's Defensive Player of the Year.
Wade finished the season first among guards with 1.07 bpg, fourth among guards with 1.84 spg and eighth among guards with 4.9 rpg. Jason Kidd was the only other guard in the top 10 of all 3 categories. Wade is one of the best on ball defenders in the league, effectively guarding the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James & Deron Williams.
Wade is also an outstanding help defender, capitalizing on passing lane steals and weak side blocks. In a win against Charlotte in March, he had a game high five blocked shots including one instant classic on 7'1" center Tyson Chandler. Nine inches of height difference was no obstacle for Wade.
Rajon Rondo of the Celtics is another guard who had an outstanding year on the defensive end. Rondo led the entire league in steals and was effective guarding the league's best offensive point guards. But he also had help with Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace patrolling the paint behind him. That enabled Rondo to take more risks than Wade who had a fading Jermaine O'Neal in his front court.
Dwyane Wade faced the toughest defensive challenges with the best results night after night. Perhaps the coaches will give him more recognition when the All-NBA Defensive Teams are announced.