SAN ANTONIO — The news caused Dwight Howard to say “it’s funny,” but he wasn’t offering his signature smile.
A reporter just informed him that he finished 14th for the NBA’s defensive player of the year award, receiving one first-place vote and four third-place votes. Memphis forward Marc Gasol, a brother of Lakers forward Pau Gasol, won the award, the league announced Wednesday.
“It’s just funny,” Howard said. “That’s okay. We got next year and I got a long time. This year’s funny.”
Howard lacked the timing, explosiveness and athleticism that he had in past seasons because of offseason back surgery. A torn labrum in his right shoulder also sidelined him for six games. Even though Howard led the league in rebounding (12.4 a game) and fifth in blocked shots (2.45 a game), it didn’t help that the Lakers barely squeaked into the playoffs. More importantly, Howard’s defense hardly translated to the rest of the team. The Lakers finished the regular season ranked 21st in total defense (101 points per game), 29th in fast-break points allowed (15.9), 15th in opponent shooting percentage (45.3 percent) and 14th in opponent three-point field goal percentage (35.7 percent).
Howard become the first player to win the NBA’s defensive player of the year through three consecutive seasons (2008-2011).
“I didn’t know. I didn’t vote,” Howard said. “I don’t know what to do about it. But it’s okay.”
In full disclosure, I had voted Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka for first place, Gasol for second and Howard for third. Miami forward LeBron James finished second, followed by Ibaka and Chicago forward Joakim Noah. The Clippers’ Chris Paul (11th) and Boston’s Avery Bradley (12th) also finished ahead of Howard.
“Serge Ibaka with all the stuff he did this year, he should’ve been the guy to win it this year and last year,” said Howard, though the award went last season to New York’s Tyson Chandler. “With the stuff he’s done on the defensive end. I thought he was the clear cut winner. But people saw it otherwise.”
Ibaka led the NBA in blocks (three per game) but Marc Gasol anchored a Memphis team that finished first in total defense (89.26) and third in opponent field goal percentage (43.5 percent). Howard suggested that the NBA’s defensive player of the year award should predicate on more individual play than team success.
“He led the league in blocks. That’s what defense is all about,” Howard said of Ibaka. “He led the team and was number one in blocks this year. You can’t play defense without having any shot blockers. He was the No. 1 shot blocker the last two years. That’s great defense right there.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org