LeBron and Wade’s other race: Defensive Player of the Year

03.11.09 10 years ago 33 Comments

During last night’s Cavs/Clippers game, the L.A. announcers were wondering aloud how many NBA records LeBron James can break before he’s done.

All the records are unsafe with LeBron at the age of 24,” one of them said, right before bringing up the Holy Grail: Kareem‘s all-time scoring mark of 38,387 points. Pointing out that Kobe would have to average 25 points a night for at least the next eight years just to challenge Kareem, they decided that LeBron, however, has a realistic shot.

While that’s a fun little 15-years-from-now bet to make with your boys, there’s an accomplishment for the more imminent future that we can wonder about: Does LeBron have a shot at the 2009 NBA Defensive Player of the Year?

Cleveland has the NBA’s best record (tied with the Lakers) thanks in large part to coach Mike Brown‘s No. 1-ranked defense, of which LeBron is the lynchpin and leader. If we’re going by the Kevin Garnett Criteria set in 2008, that alone gives LBJ a solid case for DPOY. And while his stats aren’t quite amazing, they are good: ‘Bron ranks sixth in the League in steals (1.7 spg) and is clocking a career-high 1.2 blocks per game. Also, nobody except for maybe Dwight Howard has cracked more nightly highlight reels this season via defensive plays than LeBron.

Watching the game last night, you could see LeBron’s impact beyond the numbers. On top of his two recorded steals and two blocks — including a catch-from-behind swat on Baron Davis — there were at least a handful of other plays where LeBron got his hands on balls (GUS JOHNSON) or otherwise disrupted the Clippers’ offense.

But just like the ’09 MVP race, some of LeBron’s toughest competition for DPOY will come from Dwyane Wade. While the Heat haven’t been as stingy as a team (12th in the League), Wade’s individual numbers trump LeBron’s. Flash ranks second in steals (2.2 spg) and 20th in blocks, where his 1.4 rejections per game sit highest among guards. Wade has also been a highlight-reel regular, most recently with the steal that set up his double-OT game-winner against Chicago on Monday.

What’s standing in the way of LeBron or D-Wade copping a DPOY to go along with an MVP? For starters, there’s Dwight Howard, League leader in blocks (2.9 bpg) and rebounds (14.0 rpg). Chris Paul tops the L in steals (2.8 spg), but his reputation as a one-on-one defender isn’t as strong. Marcus Camby has missed too many games, and KG hasn’t been as visible, either. Old standby vote-getters like Ron Artest, Bruce Bowen, Chauncey Billups, Tim Duncan and Shane Battier will be in the mix, but neither is making an overly compelling case to win.

Another obstacle for LeBron and Wade: Perception. They’re not the classic type of players that win DPOY. In the award’s history, it has typically gone to shot-blocking specialists (i.e. Mutombo, Ben Wallace), borderline dirty lock-down bullies (Artest, Dennis Rodman) and 48-Minutes-of-Hell guards (Gary Payton, Alvin Robertson). The only winner who didn’t fall into one of those pigeonholes? Michael Jordan, who won it in 1988. Yet another G.O.A.T. benchmark for LeBron and Wade to aspire to reach.

Who is your pick for Defensive Player of the Year?

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