Denton: Howard Earns Defensive Honor; Makes History

By John Denton
April 18, 2011

ORLANDO – Dwight Howard’s illustrious seven-year career with the Orlando Magic has been marked by several historic firsts along the way as he’s shattered rebounding records and blocked shot marks while the double-doubles have piled up on a daily basis.

But this first for Howard – becoming the first player in NBA history to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards – is special to the superstar center because it is a sign of his determination to constantly improve his game and do what’s best for the Magic to win.

``It means so much to me because I pride myself on playing great team defense and being the anchor for my team. To know that nobody has ever done this three years in a row, I just thank God for allowing me to get through another season without any major injuries,’’ Howard said. ``I could have just stopped after winning one (Defensive Player of the Year) award, but I want our team to be successful and I know it starts with me and it starts on the defensive end. Me playing defense is about helping my team win. And I think that shows every night when I’m out there trying to be there for my team and erasing the defensive mistakes.’’

Howard was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year by the NBA on Monday in what proved to be a landslide vote. Also the winner in 2009 and ’10, Howard is widely considered to be without a peer when it comes to blocking shots, rebounding the ball and being a fearsome enforcer in the paint. Howard, who had 46 points, 19 rebounds and a blocked shot in Game 1 of the playoffs on Saturday, will be presented with his Defensive Player of the Year trophy Tuesday night at the Amway Center prior to Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks.

A player has won the award two years in a row seven times – Ben Wallace in 2002 and ’03 and again in 2005 and ‘06, Alonzo Mourning in 2000 and ’01, Dikembe Mutombo in 1997 and ’98, Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993 and ’94, Dennis Rodman in 1990 and ’91 and Sidney Moncrief in 1983 and ’84 – but Howard is the first to capture the award three straight years. He joins Wallace and Mutombo, both four-time winners, as the only players with at least three Defensive Player of the Year honors.

``I would say that we are one of the top defensive teams in the league and that’s largely due to Dwight. On the defensive end we’d go from one of the top three or four teams defensively to clearly in the bottom half of the league if not even lower without Dwight,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``He’s a major impact defensively. He’s the best defensive player in the league and I don’t even think that’s close.’’

Van Gundy challenged Howard, 25, last year after repeating as the Defensive Player of the Year to put together an untouchable run as the game’s best defender. The Magic’s coach feels that Howard could win the next four or five top defensive awards, and Howard has taken that challenge to heart. He admitted that trying to win several defensive awards in a row and leaving an indelible mark as a defender is a motivating factor.

``It’s a great honor to have three in a row, and hopefully I can keep it going. God has blessed me with a great ability to play the game, a great mind to understand the game and also the ability to do all of the stuff that I do,’’ he said. ``I just think if I continue to stay healthy, continue to work night in and night out and keep my focus on being the best defender for our team, the sky is the limit for me. I’m going to keep doing my job and hopefully I can keep winning these awards.’’

Howard is also a leading candidate to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award after nearly becoming just the 10th player ever to finish in the Top 10 in scoring (11th at 22.9), rebounding (2nd at 14.1), field goal percentage (2nd at 59.3) and blocked shots (4th at 2.38). He also registered career highs in steals (1.37) and scoring while winning the NBA’s Player of the Week award more times (six) than any other player in the league.

Michael Jordan (1987-88) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94) are the only players ever to win the MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.

Howard notched several notable achievements along the way this season, becoming the youngest player ever to 7,000 rebounds (25 years, 83 days), the fifth-youngest to 10,000 points (25 years, 95 days) and only the fifth player ever to have 6,000 rebounds and 1,000 blocked shots in his first 500 games in the NBA. After registering another 1,098 rebounds and 186 blocked shots, he topped 1,000 boards and 100 blocks for the sixth consecutive season. Since blocks became an official statistic in 1973-74, only Moses Malone (seven seasons) has accomplished that feat more.

Swatting shots and grabbing tough rebounds in traffic are areas where Howard has made his greatest marks. He blocked three or more shot 29 times this season and the Magic were 21-8 in those games. Throughout his career, the Magic have won 70.2 percent of the time when he blocks at least three shots, 79 percent of the time when he swats four shots and 80.4 percent of the time when he has five or more rejections. One such instance came early in the season when Howard blocked a franchise-record six shots in the third quarter and eight overall against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

And his consistency could was most reflected in his ability to grab at least 10 rebounds on a nightly basis. His 66 double-doubles were the most in the NBA, and his 414 since he entered the NBA in 2004-05 are far and away the most in the league.

Howard’s one complaint is that defense – roughly half of the game – is often overlooked by the media, those who vote for the MVP award and the highlight shows. By averaging almost 23 points a game, being the game’s most feared shot-blocker and it’s most consistent rebounder, Van Gundy believes that no player in the NBA affects more possessions per game than Howard.

And the Magic’s superstar center hopes that by him becoming the first player ever to win three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards – an award that he hopes to win for several more years to come – that he can help show how important defending and rebounding is in basketball.

``They don’t show anything on (ESPN’s) SportsCenter unless it’s a cross-over dribble or a fade-away shot or some dunk,’’ Howard said with lament. ``But defense wins games and win championships. You can score a lot of points and still lose if you don’t defend. To me, being considered a good defensive player is a great honor and a blessing.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.