SECAUCUS, N.J., April 13 -- The days of the defensive stalwart in the middle are over.

The reason being, there is no more middle anymore. Well, it's still technically there. The basketball court still has the painted key, it's just that teams don't like spending as much time in it.

As half-court offense becomes less and less emphasized by NBA coaches with easy transition scoring on their minds, shot blockers like Dikembe Mutombo (four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace (four-time DPOY), Hakeem Olajuwon (two-time DPOY) and Alonzo Mourning (two-time DPOY) become less effective than today's hybrid defender.

But wait, didn't Big Ben win Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons? How could everything change so quickly? It hasn't completely, but it's changing. Out of the seven signature up-tempo teams this season -- Phoenix, Denver, Washington, Golden State, Toronto, Memphis and Sacramento -- all but two of them are in the playoff hunt with less than a week to go. That's a 71 percent success rate.

In a copycat league that saw half its teams center their play around half-court defense in the '90s, a run-and-gun, open-court style of play seems to be the trend, and to do it right a team needs versatile defenders.

Guys can't just hang out in the paint anymore. Steals don't just stop the other team from getting a shot off, they translate to easy buckets on the other end. Defensive rebounds are important, but just as important are the outlet passes following the boards. Blocking a shot into the stands might be intimidating, but it isn't as valuable as swatting it towards a teammate who is ready to push it down the court.

The hybrid defender is long, lean, athletic and quick player that can guard all five positions and has the full skillset to be able to turn defense into offense by changing gears.

Think Velociraptor rather than T-Rex.

Here are my top five candidates for the Defensive Player of the Year (stats through April 13):

1. Marcus Camby, Denver
  • SPG - 1.3
  • BPG - 3.2
  • D RPG - 9.4
    The numbers speak for themselves as Camby is second to only Kevin Garnett (who is on his way to his fourth-consecutive rebounding title) in defensive boards per game and nobody averages more swats per game than the 11-year center's 3.2. But Camby's greatest asset is his mobility. Most 6-11 players and plod up and down the court, not Camby. He covers ground like a gazelle. The Nuggets are 14-8 this season when Camby has two-plus steals and they are 26-13 when he has three-plus blocks. Camby recorded seven blocks in a game nine times this year, and twice he did it in back-to-back games (four wins against the Knicks and Wizards in December and the Lakers and Jazz in April). More importantly, Camby is able to get up and down the court on one of the league's most potent offenses (fourth in the NBA with a 105.2 ppg average) and still have the energy to make plays on defense. Camby made the Second Team All-Defense the last two seasons and it's about time he gets his proper due.

  • 2. Shawn Marion, Phoenix
  • SPG - 1.9
  • BPG - 1.5
  • D RPG - 7.8
    I had Marion as my mid-season DPOY pick and I struggled with giving Camby the nod because Marion really does check everybody from guards to centers for the Suns. I even started off a column highlighting his D. But, unlike Camby who is the lone lockdown defender on Denver, the Matrix has a partner in crime in Raja Bell taking turns going against the opponent's strongest offensive force. Marion is your do-everything guy. He is a higher-performing hybrid than Larry David's car. This was like splitting hairs, but Camby wins by the smallest of margins.

  • 3. Tim Duncan, Spurs
  • SPG - 0.8
  • BPG - 2.4
  • D RPG - 7.9
    San Antonio allows a league-low 89.8 points per game on the defensive end and the man that sets the tone is Tim Duncan. Duncan has made the All-Defensive Team nine straight years (six times on the first team, three on the second) but his defensive numbers are actually down across the board compared to last year. Duncan is a key component on a defensive-minded team, but he benefits from playing with savvy defenders such as Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili on his side.

  • 4. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte
  • SPG - 2.0
  • BPG - 1.0
  • D RPG - 5.2
    Known by casual fans as a fantasy basketball stud, Gerald Wallace is another example of the new-wave defender. At 6-7, 215 pounds, Wallace can match up with a power forward or a point guard. Wallace's fingerprints were all over the boxscore on March 28 in a win against the Hawks, as he collected four steals, four blocks and eight defensive rebounds. The Bobcats rely on him to be their top offensive option (leads the team with 18.2 ppg) but that doesn't deter him from making an impact on the defensive end. He even draws charges.

  • 5. Caron Butler, Washington
  • SPG - 2.1
  • BPG - 0.3
  • D RPG - 5.1
    Butler's 2.1 steals per game average is second in the league, behind only 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest, but what Caron brought to the Wizards before going out with a broken hand was about more than stats. Coach Eddie Jordan nicknamed him "Tough Juice" because amidst a team of jokers like Gilbert Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson, Butler seemed to have something special in his Gatorade to get him to play with such intensity. Butler fits the Marion/G-Wall mold at 6-7, 228 pounds, allowing him to D up on the wing or the post.
  • Others receiving consideration:

  • Ben Wallace, Chicago - He still is just as intimidating as he was in Detroit and brought legitimacy to the Bulls title hopes even if he is 33 years old.
  • Josh Smith, Atlanta - Smith and the Hawks still have a lot of growing up to do, but the raw potential that's there (2.9 bpg, 1.4 spg) is scary.
  • Ron Artest, Sacramento - Say what you want about Ron-Ron, but he remains a brute force that uses his physicality to get his opponents out of their comfort zone.
  • Emeka Okafor, Charlotte - Through the first half of the season Okafor seemed to be a lock for one of the top contenders, but then he went down with an injury for all of March.
  • Kevin Garnett, Minnesota - Sure, 1.2 steals, 1.7 blocks and 10.4 defensive rebounds make your eyes open, but couple that with the Wolves' 32-46 record and you can cue the Price is Right music that plays when somebody overbids.

    Comment on your picks for Defensive Player of the Year in our Fan Voice Forum.