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Howard Repeats as NBA's Best Defensive Player

By John Denton
April 20, 2010


Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

ORLANDO – When Dwight Howard became the youngest player in NBA history to win the Defensive Player of the Year award last April, Orlando Magic players and coach Stan Van Gundy said that the superstar center was in position to dominate the award for several years to come.

On Tuesday, Howard moved a step closer to doing just that.

Howard, who set NBA history this season by becoming the first player ever to lead the league in blocked shots and rebounds in consecutive seasons, won his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award on Tuesday. Howard will officially receive the award at a news conference later on Tuesday and he will be honored at Amway Arena before Orlando’s Game 2 against Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Howard joins Ben Wallace (2001 and ‘02 and 2005 and ‘06), Dikembe Mutombo (1997 and ‘98), Alonzo Mourning (1999 and ‘00), Hakeem Olajuwon (1993 and ‘94), Dennis Rodman (1990 and ‘91) and Sidney Moncrief (1983 and ‘84) as the only players to win the coveted defensive stopper award in consecutive seasons.

Howard received 110 of the 122 first place votes, easily outdistancing Atlanta's Josh Smith. Charlotte's Gerald Wallace and Cleveland's LeBron James finished fourth.

Already the youngest rebounding and blocked shot champion in league history, Howard did something this season that no one else has done in the 36 years since blocks became an official statistic in 1973-74.

By averaging 13.2 rebounds and 2.78 blocked shots a game for the 59-23 Magic, Howard easily won both major defensive categories. Only five players in history – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-76), Bill Walton (1976-77), Hakeem Olajuwon (1989-90), Ben Wallace (2001-02) and Howard (2008-09 and 2009-10) have accomplished that feat, and Howard’s done it in consecutive seasons now.

And to make the feat even more impressive, Howard also led the NBA in field goal percentage (61.2 percent), making him the first player in league history to lead the NBA in all three major categories in the same season.

``I just thank God for allowing my body to stay healthy and keeping me away from injuries. That’s probably the biggest thing,’’ said Howard, who played all 82 games for the fifth time in his six-year NBA career. ``It’s an honor (to make history). I’ve never really thought about it like (making history), but maybe someday I can look back at all of the great things that happened in my career.’’

Howard, 24, easily outdistanced Portland’s Marcus Camby for his third consecutive rebounding title. He became just the fifth player in history to lead the league in rebounding in three consecutive seasons. The others were Wilt Chamberlain (three times for four seasons), Moses Malone (five seasons), Dennis Rodman (seven seasons) and Kevin Garnett (four seasons). Additionally, he topped 1,000 rebounds for the fifth straight season, the longest streak among active players.

Howard blocked at least three shots in 40 games this season and the Magic were 31-9 on those nights. He had at least one block in 73 of the 82 games and topped five blocks 13 times.

Van Gundy feels that not enough attention is given to Howard’s prowess as the game’s premier defensive player. He feels that Howard should be the league’s Most Valuable Player because he affects more possessions on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor than any player in the NBA.

``You take a look at the big guys that you have had in this league over the last 36 years since they started keeping blocked shots and then say only one guy has ever led the league in rebounding and blocked shots more than once – let alone in back-to-back seasons – the accomplishment speaks for itself,’’ Van Gundy said. ``You can’t do very many things in this league that have not been done before.

It speaks to how good Dwight is and it speaks to his focus.

``Once he set (leading the NBA in rebounding and blocks) as a goal he’s owned those two areas,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``It’s a phenomenal accomplishment. And it probably hasn’t gotten as much recognition as it should, certainly not as much as (Kevin) Durant winning the scoring title and it’s just as significant of an accomplishment if not more so.’’

Howard set Magic playoff records for blocks in a quarter (six) and a half (eight) on Sunday in Orlando’s 98-89 defeat of the Charlotte Bobcats. He equaled his own Magic playoff record of nine blocks in the game and likely would have had a shot at the NBA playoff record of 10 had he not been in foul trouble.

Charlotte coach Larry Brown agreed with Van Gundy that Howard’s abilities as a defender often get overlooked around the NBA.

``That kid’s great,’’ Brown said. ``He doesn’t have to score. He had nine blocks, eight in the first half. He intimidates shots, he’s unselfish and he’s a pretty incredible player. You don’t hear enough about him. … He got five points (on Sunday) and he was the Most Valuable Player.’’

Howard could be well on his way to equaling Mutombo and Wallace as the only four-time winners of the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Coincidentally, it was a conversation with Mutombo early last season that helped Howard focus on becoming the game’s most dynamic and dominant defensive player.

``Dikembe told me that I was playing great, but he challenged me to go beyond the limits of what I thought I could do defensively. He told me with the way that I can move and jump that I should be the Defensive Player of the Year every year until I get old,’’ Howard remembered. ``He wanted me to challenge myself to become great. He told me to take advantage of all my talent and skills now and not wait until I’m older. He said I should do everything I could try to and win and be great now.’’

Howard took the challenges from Van Gundy, his teammates and Mutombo and used them as motivation to help himself become the game’s best center. He got the Magic to the NBA Finals last season, he’s a likely first-team All-NBA selection for a third time and he has Orlando in position to compete for a title this season.

``I just had to dedicate myself to the game and dedicate myself to all the things that I could be,’’ said Howard, who also led the Magic in scoring this season at 18.3 points per game. ``People like Dikembe see things in me and they want me to be the best player I can be. We still talk a lot and we did a lot of stuff together in Africa last summer (with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program). He’s an inspiration to a lot of us on and off the court.’’

John Denton writes for Orlandomagic.com. His Magic ``Behind the Scenes’’ segment can be heard each week on ESPN 1080 AM. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com.