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MONROE: Wallace the easy choice on defense

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 
At last, a no-brainer selection among the NBA's postseason awards. Detroit's is our defensive player of the year winner for the second consecutive season. Since his regular season is over, unfortunately truncated last week by a knee injury the are praying won't keep him out of the entire first round of the playoffs, Big Ben this season became the first player in league history to lead the league in blocked shots and rebounds in consecutive seasons. (A statistical caveat is in order: Blocked shots didn't become an official statistic until 1973, four years after Bill Russell had retired. Russell on two occasions led the league in rebounding in back-to-back seasons. I'm thinking he probably led in blocks those seasons as well. At any rate, I'm pretty sure Russell would have been defensive player of the year in those seasons, except the award wasn't created until 1982.) Wallace averaged 18.8 rebounds in March, when the made a run to the top of the Eastern Conference. He grabbed 20 or more rebounds in five consecutive games in the month, and has had 20 or more in 15 games. He has blocked five or more shots in 16 games. He became just the eighth player in league history (remember that caveat) to register a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double twice in his career. More than his statistics, though, it is the defensive presence Wallace brings to the interior that has earned him my vote for a second consecutive year. Wallace owns the painted area against every big man in the league but , and it's his ability to watch his teammates' backs that makes the ' defensive scheme on the perimeter so efficient. How much difference does Wallace make? Ask , whose ability to get to the rim from the perimeter is what makes him a legitimate MVP candidate. "Man, it's a big difference," said Iverson, whose might slip past the during Wallace's absence. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. Last game, he blocked nine shots and it seemed like eight were on me. They are a totally different team without him." Oh, there was a time this season — right through the first half, for that matter — when I was prepared to vote for Indiana's for this award. Artest is precisely the kind of intensely focused, nearly maniacal devotee of right-up-in-your-face man defense that even the best shot creators in the game hate to face. Simply stated, he is the best individual defender of perimeter players I've seen since Bobby Jones, a tremendous combination of physical strength and cat-like quickness. Trouble is, Artest too often went from nearly maniacal to, well, maniacal. An e-mail appeal on Artest's behalf from president Donnie Walsh, whose opinion I value as much as any basketball executive in the league, beseeched votes to focus more on Artest's skills than his numerous suspensions for flagrant fouls and aberrant behavior. "As for Ron," Walsh wrote, "he has obviously received a lot of attention and publicity for his suspensions this season. But as a basketball player, there is no question Ron is one of the best, if not the best, defensive players in the NBA and I ask that you give that some thought when voting for Defensive Player of the Year." Walsh understands the problem Artest created for himself. I gave his candidacy serious thought — along with Sacramento's , San Antonio's , Phoenix's , the Lakers' , Seattle/Milwaukee's and Philadelphia's , among others — and could not bring myself to give him, or anyone else, my vote over Wallace. can be reached at his e-mail address, mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Pistons, Pacers, Lakers, Bucks, 76ers, Suns, Kings, Spurs, Metta World Peace, Ben Wallace, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Bruce Bowen, Eric Snow, Shawn Marion, Doug Christie, Gary Payton

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