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Steve Aschburner

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Dwight Howard seems destined for a record-setting third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Howard remains in own stratosphere among elite defenders


Posted Apr 8 2011 9:38AM

Dwight Howard, 2011 Kia Defensive Player of the Year.

Okey-doke, our work here is done ...

Oh, there's more space that needs to be filled? Fine. But there isn't much need to break out the persuasive tools to make a case that Howard, the Orlando Magic's strapping specimen of a center, should be recognized -- again -- as the NBA's best defensive force.

It is a title Howard has owned for some time now -- in his Metropolis, most other defenders are mere beat cops compared to Howard's Superman. When he is presented with the award once more in the coming weeks, he will become the first player in NBA history (or to be precise, since the DPOY was created in 1982-83) to win it in three consecutive seasons.

It's a no-brainer pick and it's possible that Howard will exceed his runaway results of the past two DPOY elections. Last year, he received 110 of the 122 available first-place votes (90.2 percent) and 576 of the maximum 610 points (94.4 percent) possible points.

In 2009, Howard was listed first on 105 of 119 ballots (88.2 percent), with 542 of a possible 595 points (91.1 percent). That was the largest share of points since 2002, when Detroit's Ben Wallace snagged 96.7 percent in the final year of the old one-vote, one-point system.

Some of the league's very best defenders have been recognized with consecutive awards; Sidney Moncrief (1983, '84), Dennis Rodman (1990, '91), Hakeem Olajuwon (1993, '94), Dikembe Mutombo (1997, '98), Alonzo Mourning (1999, 2000), Wallace twice (2002, '03 and 2005, '06) and Howard. Only Mutombo and Wallace, with four each, have won more than two.

And Howard presumably has plenty of time to fill a room with this particular trophy; he had two by the time he turned 25 in December -- younger than any first-time winner except Alvin Robertson (1983). Heading into his prime -- head, shoulders and trapezius muscles above the rest of the NBA's centers -- there is no reason Howard can't control this award the way he controls the paint.

Assuming he wants to keep winning it.

That's one of the tricky things, especially with Howard turning the competition into a foregone conclusion. As he continues to make a case for consideration as Most Valuable Player, it would be a shame if the DPOY somehow became viewed -- by him, by Orlando fans -- as a consolation prize.

Yes, Howard has boosted his offensive game in 2010-11 (career-best 23.1 ppg) and the Magic have leaned on him more at that end (13.5 FGA nightly). He finished fourth in MVP balloting in 2009 and 2010 and generally is considered a Top 3 candidate this spring. If he does not win it, he, coach Stan Van Gundy and many others will be disappointed.

"People have always talked about his offense needing to improve -- well, it has," Van Gundy said. "There have been a lot of games where he's had to carry us. There's just not much more he can do on a court for his team than he's done."

The DPOY is no Miss Congeniality award, though. There's nothing congenial at all about the way Howard pounds the glass and protects the rim. He already has logged his sixth consecutive season with at least 1,000 rebounds and 100 blocked shots, tops among active players and second only to Moses Malone's seven consecutive seasons (since blocks were recorded as an official stat starting in 1973).

As NBA.com's John Schuhmann calculated last week, no team defends league's top post players more effectively than Orlando. In their first 31 games against the likes of Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, Amar'e Stoudemire and more, the Magic had allowed a "true shooting percentage" of 48.5 percent. No other defense was below 50 percent.

And on a team not distinguished by the individual defenders surrounding Howard, it seems clear that funneling opposing scorers toward their big guy is a reliable and successful tactic.

"We'd go from one of the top three or four teams defensively to clearly in the bottom half of the league [without him], if not even lower," Van Gundy said.

Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, regarded as the NBA's top defensive guru, said: "Howard, to me, is unbelievable. The way he attacks a game. Relentless shot-blocking, rebounding."

Even Alvin Gentry, the Phoenix coach who has seen veteran Grant Hill mature into a surprisingly versatile and efficient defender beyond his early athletic days in Detroit, couldn't muster much of a plug for his guy over Orlando's.

"What Dwight Howard brings to the table is hard to beat," Gentry said.

Hard to beat if you're another DPOY aspirant, hard to beat if you're reckless enough as a ballhandler to venture into the paint against Howard.

Here are some other players expected to appear on voters' DPOY ballot, most likely in the second or third positions:

Grant Hill, Suns: Gentry thinks Hill deserves a berth on the all-defensive team (selected by the coaches). "He had a stretch of games where we had him guard Kevin Durant and LeBron James and Paul Pierce," the Suns coach said this week in Chicago. "Then he guarded Tony Parker and Monta Ellis and Blake Griffin and Amar'e Stoudemire. ...Tonight, he'll guard Derrick Rose. And if I was him, I'd look at me and say, 'It ain't happenin' "

Andre Iguodala, 76ers: He got strong reviews for his work last summer with Team USA and Sixers coach Doug Collins relies on him to pester the other guy's most dangerous wing scorers.

Kevin Garnett, Celtics: It is difficult to think of another player of his generation who has been able to cover as much of the court, and man-up against the variety of opponents, that Garnett has. He's older now but his instincts are intact and he knows the shortcuts well.

Ronnie Brewer, Bulls: Schuhmann's stats make a compelling case for Brewer as the Bulls' most effective defensive player. Thibodeau, meanwhile, considers Luol Deng to be "by far our best individual and team defender."

• Tony Allen, Grizzlies: When he locks in, his man is due for a long night, from the in-his-shorts proximity and intensity to Allen's ability as an athlete to recover even when initially beat.

Chris Paul, Hornets: Stronger than his size would suggest, and he'll lead the NBA in steals for the fourth time in six seasons.

Tyson Chandler, Mavs: The luxury he has with the Mavericks of focusing on defense and rebounding will earn him votes. He's had bigger numbers in the past but gets noticed more now.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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