Defensive Player of the Second Trimester: Dwight Howard, Rockets
Indiana's Roy Hibbert remains the strong favorite to win the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year award.
He was the only choice considered in this category after Trimester 1 and is widely regarded as the league's universal front-runner for this particular piece of hardware.
Hibbert, after all, is not only the defensive factor feared most by the two-time champs from Miami, but also the undisputed anchor of the defense threatening to record the first opponent field goal percentage reading below .409 since the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks did so at the end of last century (.402 and. 403, respectively, during the lockout-shortened 1999 season).
We feel compelled, in this cyberspace, to broaden the discussion. It's time, frankly, to show some overdue respect to a defender who, in the space of just two years, went from annual DPOY near-lock to DPOY afterthought -- which just ain't right.
No matter how much you might have soured on Dwight Howard in the wake of his messy exit from Orlando and that solitary nightmare season as a Laker, there's no denying his impact in this debut season with the Rockets. Houston entered Thursday's play with the league's best record (18-6) since Jan. 1 and has quietly worked its way up to No. 8 in defensive efficiency, with much of the credit belonging to Howard.
And since the calendar flipped to 2014, Houston actually sports the league's sixth-best team D, allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions.
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka is another top-flight interior defender who -- thanks to all of the attention Kevin Durant commands -- hasn't been getting sufficient recognition for his contributions to the Thunder's 22-8 success without the injured Russell Westbrook. The Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan is yet another blossoming rebounds-and-rejections force whose strides this season have been routinely overlooked.
But this is really all about Howard's turn to be recognized for the one-man wrecking crew he still very much is defensively. Especially when you remember that Houston is by no means blessed with the sort of defensive quality on the perimeter that Indiana can field with Paul George, George Hill and Lance Stephenson flanking Hibbert.
The Pacers are the best defensive team on the planet. The best defender of the group -- Hibbert -- is destined to be recognized as the league's most elite individual on D when ballots are officially cast during the final week of the regular season. Consider this your friendly lecture, though, about how unfair it is that Howard gets so quickly nixed from the DPOY debate because the 2012-13 Lakers flamed out so spectacularly instead of taking note of the influential D he's actually playing.
P.S. -- Totally agree with LeBron James' recent proclamation that he is DPOY material. No one on earth can touch King James' versatility as that rare dude who is legitimately capable of guarding all five positions on the floor. But let's be real: The big guys who play goalie, fair or not, have a clear DPOY advantage because their rim protection is the easiest stuff for us mortals to spot. LeBron, furthermore, has too many other responsibilities to be plugged in on D at the standard he'd need to be to truly contend in this category. So it's going to take more than occasional crunch-time flashes, if it means that much to LeBron, to win this award someday.