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NBA Predictions: Top Five Candidates for Defensive Player of the Year

Matt PetersenCorrespondent IJune 22, 2016

NBA Predictions: Top 5 Candidates for Defensive Player of the Year

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    Unlike the Most Valuable Player or Rookie of the Year awards, the Defensive Player of the Year isn't hard to grasp. There's no quibbling about the term "valuable" or splitting hairs about a decent rookie on a playoff team versus a star rookie on a lottery club.

    The best defensive player in the league during the season is named the Defensive Player of the Year. Period.

    That unofficial definition should (unnecessarily) explain why Dwight Howard has won the honor two years running. He has the single biggest impact in terms of making opposing teams completely alter their approach to getting buckets (more on this later).

    Howard could very well be the first three-time DPOY since Ben Wallace's monopoly over the trophy (four times in five years from 2001-06.) Then again, it'd be foolish to discount some other young-and-improving intimidators who also merit consideration.

    With that in mind, Bleacher Report brings you the top five candidates for Defensive Player of the Year for the 2010-11 season.

Gerald Wallace

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    A lot of people weren't aware that at one point last season, Wallace actually led the league in rebounds before dropping to "just" 10 boards-per-game. The 6-7 phenom also punched in 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks-per-game.

    The stats are easy enough to dissect, but those who watch Wallace know his effect goes beyond the boxscore. He's a physical beast with the quickness to stay with wings and the strength to body up against post players. He does so with a tenacity that has landed him concussions twice during his career, leading his coaching staff to wonder if he sometimes goes too hard.

    With Wallace's outbreak season in the books, expect the Bobcats to highlight him even more as their defensive stopper. Wallace himself will likely look to enhance his reputation after surprising outsiders last season.

    Any improvement on last season would vault him from surprise stopper to definite DPOY consideration.

Josh Smith

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    It's easy to get down on Atlanta's Josh Smith. He's a kid drafted right out of high school who seems to carry a lot of negatives associated with preps-to-pros players. Great skills, lack of fundamentals and a bad attitude.

    It's also hard to ignore the fact Smith has pretty much plateued in terms of production since his third year in the league. The 24-year-old is already entering his seventh season.

    On the flip side, it's hard for opposing defenses to ignore Smith's incredible wingspan, hops and timing on the defensive end. In the 2009-10 season Smith chalked up over two blocks and a steal-and-a-half per contest.

    While Smith isn't as strong as Wallace, he's quicker and plays a little bit nastier. Wallace is solid. Smith is scary. He's one of the few guys in the league capable of the latest fad on defense: the chase-down block.

    As if all that weren't enough, Smith is left-handed, making righties' shots  and dribbles easy prey.

Rajon Rondo

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    The last point guard to win DPOY was Seattle's Gary Payton in 1995-96. That streak has to end sometime, right?

    If it does in the near future, expect it Rajon Rondo to do it.

    The young floor general who is arguably the best player on a team featuring The Big Ticket, The Truth, The Big Shamrock and Jesus Shuttlesworth doesn't just ignite his team's offense. He's the Celtics' first line of defense as well.

    That's an intimidating setup for opposing teams, particularly those featuring point guards who need the ball in their hands (see: Phoenix, New Orleans, Chicago). Rondo is a veritable ball-hawk, quick and strong enough to not only keep up with but stick to a playmaker like flypaper.

    Rondo's strength, speed and almost freakishly large wingspan and hands netted him 2.3 steals-per-game last season. As coach Doc Rivers continues the transition from his veteran core to Rondo's reign, we might see more free reign for Rondo on both ends of the floor.

    If it were up to opposing point guards, Rondo's leash would be shortened and nailed to the floor.

LeBron James

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    There are two ways LeBron James is similar to Kevin Garnett:

    1. We found out well into their careers that neither is able/willing to be an alpha dog.
    2. They're defensive beasts capable of guarding anyone.

    The biggest thing going in LeBron's favor for a potential DPOY will be his diminished offensive role with the Heat. Thanks to the load being shared with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James will be able to spend more consistent energy on defense.

    That's not saying his effort last year was inconsistent. Any coach would welcome a high-scoring small forward who can throw in 1.6 steals and a ridonkulous block a game. But now James can some possessions off (a first, according to him, and a habit according to his former owner) in order to contribute even more in other areas.

    James will be especially needed to provide weakside help in the paint, where other teams will attempt to exploit the rail-thin Bosh and the center tandem of Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

    If James indeed makes the Garnett-eque morph to defensive backbone, he may add one more piece of hardware before his first championship ring.

Dwight Howard

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Just like NBA champions, Howard is the guy to beat until the award goes to someone else.

    In many ways, Howard was the Orlando defense, the biggest reason for that being Rashard Lewis playing the "four." If you want an example of how well Howard hides his teammates' defensive lapses, ask the Raptors how Hedo Turkoglu worked out for them.

    13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and nearly a steal-per-game don't do justice to Howard's effect on opposing teams. Routine and relied-upon forays to the rim are either discouraged or dismissed, leaving the offensive player nothing short of dejected.

    Missed shots and weak layups are gobbled by the 24-year-old. The mental impact of Howard's play can't be overstated. Teammates are buoyed up by the knowledge Howard has their backs. Opponents feel a certain air of hopelessness, especially in the rebounding category.

    True to his nickname, Howard is susceptible to his own version(s) of kryptonite, namely foul trouble and free-throw shooting. Fixing even one of those would make him all the more invulnerable both on the floor and on the ballots for DPOY.

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