- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The funny thing is, though, Chandler never thought he'd get the award this season.
"To be considered the best defensive player in the league this year was just the ultimate for me," Chandler said. "As much as I thought about it while I was in the gym every single day training, it's kind of one of those things where that always goes to the glamorous guy. It's been that way my entire career. So to finally get this, it means the world."
Chandler received 311 points and 45 first-place votes from a panel of 121 sportswriters and broadcasters. The Thunder's Serge Ibaka finished second with 294 points and the Magic's Howard, who had won the award each of the previous three seasons, finished third with 186 points.
Chandler has been arguably the most valuable player on the Knicks' roster this season. He is the driving force behind the Knicks' turnaround on defense.
Last season, the Knicks ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions. After Chandler was obtained via a three-team sign-and-trade in the offseason, the Knicks surged to fifth in defensive efficiency, thanks largely to Chandler.
"When you talk about building a championship team, it starts in the middle and Tyson has been all of that and some (more)," interim coach Mike Woodson said, adding, "He's the perfect fit in terms of what I look for in a defensive center."
Chandler didn't finish the season leading the NBA in blocks or rebounds, but his impact could be felt when he wasn't in the lineup. In the four games he missed, opponents scored an average of 113 points per game.
The 7-foot-1 Chandler was also a defensive linchpin for the Dallas Mavericks during their title run last season. He finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year. Chandler, along with Woodson, immediately changed the defensive culture for the Knicks at the start of the season.
"He's a great all around player, he's an even better teammate," Woodson said. "To even have an opportunity to coach him is like a dream come true.
Chandler is never one to promote himself, but he's fully aware of the impact he's had on the Knicks' defense in his first season in New York.
"You see a guy out there playing hard, going 100 percent every possession, it's kind of hard not to step up to the challenge," said Chandler, whose defensive role model is Bill Russell. "That's what I try to do. I try to give my teammates no excuses because I feel like if I'm going to go out there and I'm going to do it, then (they) can do the exact same thing."
Flu-like symptoms have slowed Chandler the past five days, including Game 1 against the Miami Heat, but said he "felt a lot more like myself" after Tuesday's off day. He hopes to be 100 percent for Game 3 on Thursday night.
New York trails Miami 2-0 in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
Ian Begley is a regular contributor for ESPNNewYork.com.