Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
If LeBron is on, and Dwight Howard on, who is Defensive Player of the Year?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Howard would win it, for several reasons – none of which would take anything away from James’ prowess or defensive versatility. But a big man’s defense, a.k.a., rim protection, is more valuable than any one perimeter player’s (though James’ run-down swats qualify). Also, the DPOY has been sort of an unofficial big man’s award through the years. Most of all, Howard at the top of his game – even on just one end – would be big news based on his last two seasons, and grab a lot of attention with his new team, in his new city. Oh, and one more thing: LeBron already wins all the important stuff.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If Howard returns to his Orlando form and becomes a constant stopper at the rim in the middle of Houston defense and raises the Rockets into the upper echelon of team defense, they probably do get a top 3-4 seed in the West and he’ll get the votes.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Dwight. The big guy always wins. Just look at the award winners over the last 20 years and try to find a non-center/power forward. Ron Artest won it in 2004 and Gary Payton won it in 1996. Just last season Memphis big man Marc Gasol beat out runner-up LeBron James and Grizz teammate Tony Allen. In a close race, put the trophy in the mail and address it to the center.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That would depend on what else goes on around them, and probably what happens with the Miami and Houston offenses. Part of the success of James and Howard will be measured in the team records. There will be a big difference in credit being handed out if Miami stays at this level or falls off the pace, for example, just as Howard will receive more praise if the Rockets take a step forward in the regular season.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A lot of different elements go into this. LeBron would be the better defender, but centers anchoring the paint and protecting the rim can have a bigger impact on their team defense. But LeBron is less replaceable than Dwight (and would play more minutes), as long as Omer Asik is still on the Rockets. Also, LeBron is more important to the Heat’s defensive system (trap and recover) than a typical small forward is in other systems. But if Dwight can take the Rockets from 16th in defensive efficiency to top five or six, that would certainly be a convincing argument. So … ask again at the end of the season when I’ve seen the numbers.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with Dwight because I think he’s more of a specialist in that regard and because he’s more inclined to focus on that part of his game than he is any other. LeBron’s clearly capable of doing whatever he sets his mind to. And I think he’s a far more versatile defender, meaning he can guard any one of five different positions on a given night. A healthy, motivated and defensive-minded Dwight, however, is the rim-protecting, game-changing monster we saw in Orlando a few seasons ago. That’s the kind of player you can surround with average individual defenders and craft a stellar defensive outfit (just ask Stan Van Gundy).
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Dwight. As versatile and powerful as LeBron can be, with the ability to defend basically every position on the court, I still believe a healthy Dwight is the most dominant defender in the NBA. Not only can he control the boards on both ends and block enough shots to rank among the league leaders, but his presence covers for all sorts of defensive inefficiencies from his teammates on nearly every possession. I’m pretty sure there’s some Schuhmann stat to back all this up. I’d still take LeBron as the better all-around player, but a dominant big man is the rarest of things these days.
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: LeBron is a defensive machine, the only player on planet Earth that can guard from a point guard to a center and not break a sweat. But, defense goes hand-in-hand with the “5″ spot. Blocking, rebounding, putting a body in the lane and a hand up for a deflection are the everyday tasks for a big guy. Basketball is played in a fashion that the guy in the middle is the cornerstone of defense, so my answer has to be Dwight Howard, a player that when aggressive, becomes a game changer solely with his defensive presence in the key.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: My money is on LeBron here. Yes, Dwight at his best is a blocking machine and an intimidating presence under the rim, but LeBron can guard basically all opponents and simply erase them from the floor. What he did to then-MVP Derrick Rose in 2011 East Semis is still fresh in the mind. And while Howard is a great defender only under the rim, LeBron can chase his opponent around the floor.
Karan Madhok, NBA India: Neither. Although both Dwight (3x DPOY) and LeBron (5x All Defensive First Team) are game-changing defenders, both of them will be expected to play more advanced roles for their teams beyond just focusing on defense, and their energies -– particularly in LeBron’s case –- will have to be shared among other matters on court. I predict that the Defensive Player of the Year will be someone that will solely concentrate on terrorizing opponents on the defensive end and will be the linchpin of a historically good defense: the Bulls’ Joakim Noah. Noah will spearhead Coach Thibodeau’s trademark defensive schemes and will be rewarded for it by the end of the year.