April 19, 2011

D12 is thrice the best on D

Most people who know my basketball opinions know that I'm somewhat of a Dwight Howard critic. I call him out on his lack of focus during clutch moments and important games. I call him out for not being the best floor leader that he should be for the Magic. I call him out for his lack of polished offensive moves, and for the fact that he just doesn't seem to be taking the competition as seriously as other elite players in the league. For long, I have maintained that the reason the man known as Superman/D12 is the best Center in the league is because there are very few Centers in the league to come in his way.

But now that my qualms about Dwight are out of the way, I can't help but maintain a grudging respect for his accomplishments. The NBA announced yesterday that Dwight Howard was named the 2010/11 Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), and in the process, he becomes the first player in the history of the game (!!!) to be named DPOY for three consecutive seasons.

Yes! First. One. Ever. The DPOY award was introduced in 1982-83, and I have a feeling that if it was awarded earlier, a certain Bill Russell would've had his name scratched in every corner of the trophy. Nevertheless, since 83, the league has had several great defensive stalwarts (Sidney Moncrief of the Bucks won the award for the first two years), but none of them won it thrice in a row. Not Moncrief, not Michael Cooper, not Michael Jordan, not Gary Payton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman, Alonzo Mourning, Ben Wallace, or Kevin Garnett.

Dwight Howard!

The only people who have won the award more times are Mutombo and Ben Wallace, who each were named DPOY four times, but never more than twice in a row. Dwight won easily with 585 points, receiving 114 of the possible 120 first place votes! Kevin Garnett (77) points came second and Tyson Chandler (70) was third.

So congrats to D12 for making history. Despite the criticisms that many (including I) have been guilty of showering on him, he has continued to be the #1 in the NBA at the defensive end of the floor. Dwight led the league with 66 double-doubles this year, including six 20-20 games (!). He ranked second in rebounds and fourth in blocks. The Magic, behind Dwight, were the league's fourth best defensive team.

In a conversation that I had with my older brother just last night, we even came to the conclusion that Dwight may be the least-tradeable player in the league right now. Don't confuse that with "best player". There are few players as good as Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Dwyane Wade, but Dwight stands above all as a unique commodity in a small man's league, bringing with him the type of game-changing potential that few players in the league possess.

Still, without an MVP or a title to his name, Dwight will always have the reputation of being almost there, just not quite. Even in this season, which was Dwight's most valuable for his otherwise inconsistent side, the big man was overshadowed by the brilliance of Derrick Rose in Chicago, who will most-likely be named MVP in a week or so.

Now, Howard needs to back up this honour and save his side from a surprise upset. In Game 1 against the Hawks, Dwight was allowed to create havoc offensively, as he scored 46 points and brought down 19 rebounds. His team-mates, unfortunately, performed a disappearing act that would've made Houdini proud. The current Magic team will never be enough to take D12 over the hump; and I believe that Dwight alone will never be the leader in a sure-shot championship team. But once you find the right type of dominating perimeter leader to team up with Howard, his teams will surely become damn-near unstoppable.

Until then, congrats, Superman. And in his honour, here's the link to my article/interview with Dwight when he came to India last August. Enjoy!

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