CHICAGO – Arrayed as they were on the head table – two Kia Defensive Player of the Award trophies to his right and a brand new one to his left – the little bronze men in front of Dwight Howard on Monday afternoon looked almost like the Orlando Magic setting up in its halfcourt defense. Jameer Nelson must have been upcourt, pressing the ballhandler.
The figure on the DPOY trophy, after all, surely is a perimeter guy, squatting down the way Naismith or Wooden would have taught, arms flared out in a defensive stance. Howard, of course, rarely assumes that position; he patrols inside the paint for the Magic, either lurking and banging behind his man, flashing over to give help or licking his chops at the shorties funneled his way by Magic teammates. That’s how he looked at the news conference, looming large, having his guys’ backs.
Squat down? No thank you, not when a fella can intercept or alter the flight of the ball 11 or 12 feet above the floor. Some people think the NBA needs a new Logo Man to reflect the game’s above-the-rim reality. Well, it surely seems to need someone longer and more imposing on the DPOY trophy, which now has been won by big men 20 times in its 29 years of existence, all but once in the past 15 years.
Howard was honored with the 2011 edition, his third consecutive year as the NBA’s top defender. Only Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo, with four each, have won as many. He received 585 points, including 114 first-place votes, from the 120 media members who cast ballots, winning in a bigger landslide than in 2010 or 2009. Boston’s Kevin Garnett finished second with 77 points and Dallas’ Tyson Chandler was third with 70, with first-place votes worth five points, second-place votes worth three and third-place worth one.
The Magic’s “Superman” wound up with 97.5 percent of the available points, after winning with 94.4 percent in 2010 and 91.1 percent two years ago. He remains a strong candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player award after a season in which he improved significantly as an offensive threat – he led the NBA with 66 double-doubles, including six games of 20 points and 20 rebounds – but no player affects opponents’ strategies on the other end of the court more than Howard.
He finished second in the league in rebounding (14.1 rpg) to Minnesota’s Kevin Love and ranked fourth in blocks (2.38 bpg). Orlando, without other notable individual defenders, ranked fourth in points allowed (93.5) and in defensive field-goal percentage (43.6).
And the thing is, Howard believes he can get better defensively, by limiting his “silly fouls” and maybe setting up in a squat once in a while.
“I’m going to try to learn how to take charges,” Howard said, tongue in cheek. “Maybe when I ‘m a little bit older I’ll start taking [charges]. Not flopping but just making sure I take good charges. I think that’s something I can be pretty good at.”
That sparked laughter in the room, with Magic GM Otis Smith offering to donate a car in Howard’s name with the first charge he takes. Howard won a Kia Sorrento CUV for his DPOY season, passing it on to the BETA Center charitable organization in Orlando. He also drew just seven offensive fouls on opposing players all season, which indicates he is more aggressive going for the ball than he is in planting his feet.
Howard thanked Smith for inspiring him to stay dominant on defense “when everybody was challenging me to be a better offensive player, but not forgetting about what wins games.”
He added, grinning: “I also want to thank my teammates for allowing their men to get to the basket again, forcing me to block shots and pick up fouls. Sometimes technical fouls. So thanks, teammates, you’re the best!”