Grant Hill making case for Defensive Player of the Year honors
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry has been busy campaigning for Grant Hill to be named to the 2011 Western Conference All-Star team. However, barring a number of West forwards being shipped to Eastern Conference teams in the next month or so, that is not likely to happen, especially with the Phoenix Suns sitting at 13-16.
But while an All-Star birth is a long shot, there is another honor that is actually more plausible than it would sound for the 38-year-old living Fountain of Youth — Defensive Player of the Year.
Now, conventional wisdom says that a Suns player is as likely to win Defensive Player of the Year as Ronald Reagan is to rise from the grave, yet there is nothing conventional about the way Hill has been playing this season.
Hill is averaging his most points (14.9 per game) since he averaged 15.1 in an injury-shortened 2005-06 season with Orlando. If he keeps his average above 14 points this season, he will become just the sixth different player in NBA history to average at least 14 points at age 38 or older, joining Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, and Robert Parish.
He is also shooting 52.5 percent from the field, good enough for 15th in the NBA and tops amongst players who are not either centers or power forwards.
And for those who think he did this early in the season when old legs still feel fresh, think again. He posted 30 points and 11 rebounds Dec. 19 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, all while defending Kevin Durant. It was his first 30 point, 10-rebound effort since April 2, 2000 with the Detroit Pistons.
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But the most impressive aspect of his play has not been his offense so much as his defense.
Ever since last season’s playoff run when he shut down Portland’s Andre Miller and San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili before defending Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant as well as anyone could have asked, he has been the Suns’ best defender. That defensive focus and effort has carried over to this season, as he usually is assigned to the opposing team’s best player.
To wit: The Suns had a stretch recently where they played Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Miami, and the Los Angeles Clippers. Over that span, Hill was asked to guard Dirk Nowitzki, Durant, Ginobili, LeBron James, and Blake Griffin.
But he did not just guard these players; he made each one work for everything he got:
Few, if any, player can go from guarding James and Durant to Nowitzki and Griffin — and be successful at it in the process.
Unfortunately for Hill, he does not have gaudy defensive numbers (5 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks per game) and that will undoubtedly cost him votes against the likes of a Dwight Howard, who puts up monster rebounding and blocked shots numbers.
But if not Defensive Player of the Year, then an appearance on an All-Defensive team should at least be forthcoming. He is probably deserving of First Team but will most likely be overlooked in favor of other, less-deserving forwards who have defensive reputations (Ron Artest, Gerald Wallace, Josh Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett) or play for defensive-oriented teams (again, Artest, James, and Garnett).
But if the voters can look past the numbers alone and consider Hill’s total body of work this season, then he may just have a shot.
After all, Bruce Bowen was named to the 2007-08 All-Defensive First Team with averages of 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals, and 0.3 blocks per game and finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting as well.
Does that mean the NBA’s Mr. Nice Guy could be bringing home a postseason award besides the NBA Sportsmanship Award for the first time since the 1999-00 season? We shall see…
By: Eric Lorenz
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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