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Dwight Howard Not as Dominant as Third Straight Defensive Player of the Year Award Suggests

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard won the 2010-11 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Dwight has now won three consecutive DPoY awards, making it the first time any NBA player has done so since the award was introduced in 1982-83.

Howard led the NBA with 66 double-doubles, ranked second in rebounds (14.1 rpg) and fourth in blocks (2.38 bpg). Overall, his impact is hard to quantify into a single stat like P.E.R. because some aspects of defense just aren’t quantifiable. But the eyeball test tells us that Dwight is nothing short of a beast in the middle. His 3rd DPoY award is the 3rd most all-time, behind the four both Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo won. And the way things are looking, Dwight might win five or six by the time his career is all said and done.

While the voting wasn’t unanimous, it was oblongly lopsided. Dwight received 585 points with 114 first-place votes out of a 120 possible. Five sportswriters gave him 2nd place votes and one inexplicably left him off of their ballot. While I won’t defend that one person, I will admit that there are some people, including myself, who don’t see Dwight as the bar-none best defensive player in the league.

Dwight is a terror to all foes who try and enter the painted area. He stands 6’11″ and can seemingly jump just as high off the ground. He is blessed with a body almost too perfect to waste on basketball, one that would give Hercules some series self-confidence issues.  Those arms seem chiseled out of marble with elbows as sharp as samurai swords, all of which extend out of shoulders that are massive like the pillars of the Golden Gate Bridge protruding out of San Fransisco’s exposed bedrock. Despite such robust features, Dwight is somehow able to glide fluidly across the hardwood in a flash, whether by foot or through the air, to send fear straight into the soul of any penetrator. Would you like to challenge Dwight’s wrath? I certainly would not, at least not without body armor. But do all of these physical attributes really make Dwight the league’s best defender?

The argument isn’t that Dwight is not deserving of praise or even his third consecutive award — he is. My point is that Dwight Howard is not head and massive shoulders above everyone else in the league defensively. 

While Howard’s overall game is dominant, he doesn’t lead the league in any “defensive” stats, and I put quotations around “defensive” because we don’t really have a pure defensive stat like we have for offense. Defense is hard to quantify and we don’t really have a metric like P.E.R. or even one as simple as points, so there is a healthy mixture of subjective data in any defensive argument. With that in mind, Dwight’s team is in the top three in defensive efficiency but they don’t lead the league. Likewise, Dwight accumulates a ton of rebounds, steals and blocks every game yet he doesn’t lead the league in any of those categories.  Likewise, the value of some of his blocks are blown out of proportion considering he typically bats them into the upper deck, returning possession to the other team.

As for advanced metrics, some help Dwight’s case while others hurt his cause. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Dwight leads the NBA in Defensive Efficiency. He also leads the NBA in Defensive Win Shares, which is an estimate of wins contributed by a player due to their defense. Both stats are good signs, but Howard’s 0.80 Points Per Possession allowed (PPP) doesn’t lead the league, according to synergy sports. And in a game where scoring is the main objective, shouldn’t defensive prowess be based on how much a player prevents the opposition from scoring? In fact players like LeBron James (0.76 PPP) and Tony Allen (0.78 PPP) give up less points while defending better players. And that’s my main issue with Dwight.

Who does Dwight Howard defend? He happens to match up with  some of the lowliest players in the NBA on a nightly basis while perimeter defenders are having to check some of the deadliest scorers the league has seen in decades. If there is one position that lacks consistent talent, it is the center position. Most big men in today’s game are there by virtue of their genetics and not due to their basketball skills. Dwight, who happens to be one of the few very skilled big men, has the luxury of being able to provide help defense off his man or not having to go 100% in defensive battles. This allows him to rotate over and block shots, or box out a weaker opponent to nab a rebound. And it is those highlight blocks and plethora of rebounds that keep his name atop of everyone’s list.

Congrats, Dwight, on another Defensive Player of the Year award. Just be thankful that you have never had to try and keep Derrick Rose contained for 48 minutes.


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  • Anonymous

    You know Shane, this is probably one of THE worst articles you have ever published. Your argument basically hinges on the premise that, because he has NO equal – no Chamberlain to his Russell impersonation, no Bird to his Magic – he isn’t a great defender. WATCH a game where Howard is manning the post. I defy you to simply watch how many shots are changed, altered or where the offensive player is given pause with his shot selection due to the mere fact that Howard is in the lane. This type of journalism – expressing the need to tear someone else down simply for the sake of doing so – has absolutely no place in the modern sports world. It adds nothing constructive to the discussion.

    Unless of course you’re also one of the apparent legion who believe that Derrick Rose really is the MVP this year. Seriously? With a supporting cast of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Kyle Korver?!? Compare that to what Dwight is saddled with on a nightly basis: an inferior supporting cast AND Referees who are so obvious in their bias against him, so brazen in their need to try and whittle the giant down that they let two, three and sometime four people foul him – repeatedly – before ever calling a foul in his favor. Yet in comparison they will hit him with a foul ANY time he retaliates after being hacked and slashed – and what you truly have is highway robbery for the MVP as well this year.

    Isn’t really that great of a defender?!? That’s like saying that William Shakespeare wasn’t that great of a writer! Please, spare us any further indignity and APOLOGIZE for hoisting such drivel upon us!