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NBA / Sep 23, 2010 / 2:00 pm

Josh Smith could end Dwight Howard’s hold on NBA Defensive Player of the Year

Josh Smith, Dime #55

As a player who came into the NBA with few discernible skills aside from leaping, dunking, and impeccable timing while blocking shots, Josh Smith has put himself into the conversation as one of the premier defensive forces and most unique all-around talents in the League

From the time he burst onto the scene as a high school phenom at Oak Hill Academy (VA), Smith has always been a threat to send ill-advised layups into the fifth row. But the 24-year-old Atlanta Hawks star has learned how to play the pro game at two positions (small forward and power forward), and has since become a defender who can wreak havoc on an opposing scorer by doing more than just swatting a shot or two per night.

Going into his seventh season, Smith is ready to challenge for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Smith placed second in the DPOY voting last season behind Dwight Howard in a landslide, Howard’s second straight honor. And while Dwight could easily put together a string of 4-5 trophies in a row recognizing him as the game’s top defender, Smith is improving at such a high rate that he can very well snatch the award from right under Howard’s nose.

Aside from putting up All-Star caliber numbers (15.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 2.1 bpg) and helping guide the Hawks to the second round of the playoffs, Smith also became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 1,000 career blocks. He was also the shortest player at 6-foot-9 to rank in the top 10 in blocks (2.1 bpg) and top 10 in steals (1.6 spg). In terms of defensive WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), Smith created 15.3 wins for the Hawks on his defensive talents alone, the highest number in the League for a power forward. Howard registered 19.2 defensive WARP as a center.

But in order for Smith to be considered anything more than a spectacular weakside shot-blocker and thief, he’s going to have to make Atlanta better defensively as a whole. The Hawks ranked 14th last season in defensive efficiency — Smith ranked 4th individually in defensive win shares — and tied for 13th in Defensive Plays Rate (charges, steals, blocks).

Defense wins in the NBA, and the Hawks will be a better defensive team this year thanks in part to replacing aging PG Mike Bibby with youngster Jeff Teague (ideally cutting down on opposing dribble-penetration) and acquiring rugged vet Etan Thomas to help Al Horford and Smith defend the paint. Smith will be the lynchpin of that defense, both in guarding his position and making the highlight reels every night, two key components in winning the support of DPOY voters.

With consistent play on the court and smart decision-making, I expect big things from J-Smoove this season as he makes a run for the DPOY award. Smith has an extremely high ceiling and a chance to become the League’s best one-on-one defender (Howard is only average in this area) while carrying Atlanta on his back defensively. Oh, and not to mention he’s left-handed with a 7-foot wingspan, which gives him an advantage in blocking and altering the shots of right-handed players.

Who are your favorites for 2011 Defensive Player of the Year?

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  • JA

    Has Teague been confirmed as the starter as the article somewhat suggests? Hadn’t heard that yet. If so, what do you think his line will look like this year?

  • Heckler

    Andre Iguodala is the early favorite
    Ron Artest
    Shane Battier
    Tayshaun Prince
    Dwyane Wade
    Joel Pryzbila

    and ofcourse Dwight. I think Dwight won last year by default. No one stood out and separated themselves as a dominant defender every night.

  • Heckler

    by the way, instead of signing etan thomas and josh powell (not to mention flirting with shaq), why didnt the Hawks just trade marvin williams to the clippers for deandre jordan?

    clips were desperate for a starting caliber small forward. and with blake and kaman, jordan is/was expendable.

    if the Clips turned it down, then they turned it down. but atlanta should at least of made the call. you know damn well the hawks dont want marvin williams anymore (btw, he is a bust as a #2 pick?…yall decide).

  • http://www.dimemag.com Andrew Macaluso

    @ Heckler

    Is that your own personal list?

    Iguodala wasn’t even on the list last season with 24 other players. Pryzbila is injured, Wade received only 13 points, Prince will never win it at this point in his career, Battier received 5 points last season and Artest had 29.

  • Heckler

    @ Andrew

    nah man, just my own personal list.

  • TommyMcSandwich

    Its a shame that one-on-one defense isnt more highly regarded in the NBA. Theres a bunch of great defenders in the league who dont get credit because numbers dont show their talent. I think that voters should stop being so lazy. Instead of just looking at a box score, maybe they need to actually watch some of these dudes play. Or just give the award to the guy that blocks the most shots a game.

  • jryu

    i misread the title and thought it said “josh HOWARD could challenge dwight for DPOY” and was gonna come in and say GTFOH but after re-reading it, it came back down to earth…

    the big IF in your argument is this:
    “With consistent play on the court and smart decision-making,”

    as an atlanta native (not fan, i don’t like the hawks) that’s been the BIGGEST knock on his game so far. talented and can jump out of the gym, but there’s 3-4x a game when he makes you hold your breath out of fear–whether it be continuing to hold on to the ball on a fast break, launching an outside J early in the shot clock, or shooting crunch time free throws (almost always goes 1-1)

    there’s plenty of times where he gets caught looking on defense or just tries to block everything and doesn’t play straight up post D.

  • Alex “Robocop” Murphy

    The Vanilla Gorilla?

  • Thrillah

    No mention of Josh Smith and Dwight Howard playing for the same team in high school ? Now that’s a defensive frontline you wouldn’t want to deal with.

    @Heckler
    That’s a decent list, but I don’t see any of them really winning it other than Tayshaun, who might of deserved it in years past.

  • WinDelRoj

    “Could end” but wont. Dwight benefits from being on a team where he is the primary rebounder with all those shooters I think it stays that way. Hes not just going to stop blocking shots either. He actually seems to be getting better defensively. Josh Smith is good and could challenge. I just dont see Dwight losing this award any time soon.

  • the truth

    @ heckler

    i like that list, in my opinion definitely some of the best 1 ln 1 defenders in the L. they don’t get the stats like dwight and j smoove (mostly weakside blocks) but they guard the best players in the league day in and day out, which in my opinion is much more impressive than averagine 2 blocks per game; especially when the blocks usually go out of bounds or are recovered by the offense half of the time.

  • Chris

    “He was also the shortest player at 6-foot-9 to rank in the top 10 for a season in blocks (2.1 bpg) and top 10 in steals (1.6 spg).” I wouldn’ve thought Shawn Marion had done that a few years ago but I guess not.

  • karizmatic

    I don’t think Josh Smith will ever become a great one on one defender, he’ll probably be content to swat shots and hawk passing lanes, as such he still could be DPOY next year or any year for the next 5. I think Howard will probably take another one home though.

    I think its
    Dwight Howard
    Josh Smith
    Lebron
    and as a darkhorse Kevin Durant. I think he might start swatting shots and getting in the passing lane more this year.

  • Alex “Robocop” Murphy

    I think you are thinking of the player formerly known as Andrei Kirilenko at 6’9″

  • Alex “Robocop” Murphy

    I think some people overlook the better position(ing) defenders in the league who know how to be in the right place at the right time (taking charges) or not giving ground when posted up (Perkins), not letting his man drive or if he does drive make sure he funnels him into the defense (Battier).

    I really do think that getting steals by being in or jumping in front of the passing lane is overrated. It means anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a pass is thrown. They should count steals as actually hawking the ball handler to give it up a la Lindsay Hunter used to do on weak ball handlers and what Manu Ginobili still does occasionally when healthy.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Andrew Macaluso

    @ Alex “Robocop” Murphy

    No, I’m actually thinking of the player Josh Smith who did it last year at 6’9. Kirilenko barely even played.

  • http://twitter.com/Chris_Barrio C Money

    In my opinion I feel Josh is a better HELP defender than a one on one defender. I do like Josh but again in my opinion I feel (and though not a “great defender” him self) i feel Lebron James is a BETTER defender than Josh sSith. That being said I dont feel that the NBA gives the DPY to the deserving players anyway.Its all about IMAGE and NAMES living in a capitalist world/economy. I dont have league pass so i couldnt make a game by game 82 game season distinction cause at the most all i see are HIGH LIGHTS!
    And on a side note they (the NBA) needs to stop ALL THE Fan VOTING!

  • Marcus

    Damn J Smoove has some serious all around game. He gets every single cat, except for 3’s…he duznt get 3’s just cuz he doesnt take that shot.

    Look for him to AVG 18-8-5 with 1.8 stls 2.1 blks

  • SJ

    @Macaluso,

    I think Ben Wallace pulled down top 10 in steals, blocks, AND rebounds in early 2000s… He was a BEAST that year in defensive stats.

    And Kirilenko did it before – same year as Big Ben if I remember right. I don’t know if either were the shortest to ever do it, though.

  • SJ

    @Macaluso

    Just looked at the 09-10 stats and see Smith was 3rd in blocks and 11th in steals per ESPN. SJax beat him by 2 steals.

  • Stunnaboy09

    I dunno, Dwight to me will win like 2-3 more DPOY just because he is so dominant in it. He is the leagues best shot blocker and arguably best post defender (between him and Perkins)

    J-Smoove has talent and the body for it, but to really beat Dwight hes got to show lock down talent one-on-one. Ya’ll remember J-Green driving by and smashing on him? He’s got to make sure stuff like that doesn’t happen. Right now he is a GREAT weak side but iso on him one on one and its a whole nother ball game…

  • http://www.dimemag.com Andrew Macaluso

    @ SJ

    That statistic isn’t for all time, I’m talking about during the 09-10 season. I know Wallace did it and AK47. As for steals, it was a five way tie at 1.6 steals which put Smith at exactly No. 10 on the list – Jackson was 8th.

  • Larry

    Howards going to win it.

  • jzsmoove

    i think this is the first valid macaluso article i have seen. its right on point. Josh Smith got what it takes to supplant Howard, just got to get that voting crew on his side.

    The real and only darkhorse i think for DPOY is Lebron. i dont need to explain nothin. jus let it soak in. Lebron.

  • SJ

    Smith is on the cusp of the award, but we all know it takes more than the stats. It might happen when Dwight grows offensively, because right now he’s known for his defense and domination on the glass. If he becomes more known for his post moves (hook, fade, etc), it’s possible he’ll be losing that DPOY.

    Only if you round to the nearest tenth do you get the tie, Jackson beat him out though when you look at the numbers.

  • snyde

    um…its dwight and should be for the next few years barring injury. he’s leaps and bounds ahead of josh smith and its ridiculous that one would even consider voting for j-smoove over dwight. just watch ONE game and its clear as day. no one comes within a mile of dwight on the defensive end in this league right now.

  • flegman

    josh who?!