Kobe's New Goal This Year: Defensive Player of the YearKobe Bryant has been considered one of the NBA's best defensive players for years, making the All-Defensive Team every season since 1999-2000 except for his injury plagued 2004-05 campaign. NBA coaches voted him to the All-Defensive First Team last season, ignoring critics who sniped that Bryant's game slipped a bit at that end of the court. This summer, Bryant was clearly the best defensive player as Team USA rolled through the FIBA Americas tournament and he intends to use that performance as a springboard toward winning his first Defensive Player of the Year award. Several perimeter players won the award in the 1980s and 1990s--including Michael Jordan and Gary Payton--but in recent years it has tended to go to the league's best defensive big man. Another challenge for Bryant is that--unlike Team USA--the Lakers need for him to shoulder a big scoring burden. Bryant believes that some subtle differences in how the Lakers play this season will enable him to score at a high rate while still expending a lot of energy at the defensive end of the court: "You rarely see me in isolations. There's more coming off screens and catching and shooting. There's more ball movement. I try to put a lot of responsibility on my teammates to make more decisions, make more plays at the offensive end, so I don't have to do that. In the long run, I think that's going to make us a better team."
Many interesting story lines are already developing this season, including the rise of the Celtics, the continued excellence of the Spurs and Dwight Howard helping to transform the Magic into contenders. This could lead to a very competitive MVP race, with past winners Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Tim Duncan (an outside shot in recent years due to his limited minutes) battling LeBron James--who is channeling Michael Jordan's 1989 triple double efforts--Kobe Bryant--who could join Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) as the only players to win MVP and DPoY in the same season--and Kevin Garnett, the 2004 MVP who will receive a lot of consideration due to his all around numbers and the Celtics' great record.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:41 PM