Because many young players have a love affair with scoring, they can develop poor defensive habits early on. Often, those habits become uncorrectable. Gone are the days of true team enforcers like the Pistons “Bad Boys” contingent or the Bill Russell Celtic heydays. There are, however, still a few superb defenders around today -– guys that have an indelible impact on the game, even when they’re not scoring. That’s the beauty of playing “D.” Even when the shot isn’t falling and rhythm is lost, the defense is always there. Nobody in the league today better exhibits this than Dwight Howard, my pick for Defensive Player of the Year — his third in a row.
1). Dwight Howard (Orlando) – Howard has become one of the most dominant defensive centers in the history of basketball. The ultimate interior enforcer, Howard creates problems for the offense by using his quick feet, leaping ability, length and — perhaps the most underrated element of any great shot blocker — timing. Howard is a freak athlete, but what separates him from other shot blockers is his ability to read when shots are going up and know exactly when to time his jump.
The importance of Howard to Orlando’s defense cannot be overstated. Unlike most elite defensive teams, the Magic do not have any great perimeter defenders. Considering their best wing defender is probably J.J. Redick –- yes, that’s correct -– it’s understandable just how special a presence Howard is. While Redick has greatly improved his defensive tools since his Duke days, he is still at best an above-average defender. And despite perennially terrible defenders like Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson roaming around, Orlando remains third in the NBA’s defensive efficiency ratings.