MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Grizzlies center Marc Gasol insists he isn’t being charitable when credits his teammates for winning his first NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. Playing great defense is just what they do in Memphis.
He said Wednesday that he believes the entire team has been recognized for how the Grizzlies play defense, crediting guards Tony Allen and Mike Conley for having a big share of the award with him.
“It’s a team game, and there’s no way around it. That’s how we play basketball,” Gasol said. “We play as a unit, and defensively, you need five guys to play. One of us is not playing defense, we cannot do it. We play as a team. It actually feels much better when we do it like that. You create something bigger than yourself. It’s not just about you.”
Gasol anchored that defense, and he received 212 points and 30 first-place votes to edge Miami’s LeBron James, who had 149 points and 18 first-place votes. Gasol appeared on only 60 of the 121 ballots cast, with James on 47 ballots despite his 129 steals and 67 blocked shots.
The 7-foot-1 Spaniard became the first European to win the award, though just the latest big man following Tyson Chandler of New York last year and Dwight Howard three straight seasons before that. Gasol called being the first European to win this award an honor.
“Now I think my kids are going to believe me when I tell them I played in the NBA,” Gasol said, smiling.
Gasol averaged 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals for a Memphis defense that allowed a league-best 88.7 points per game. The five-year veteran ranked 12th in the league in blocks. Memphis became the first team to hold opponents below 90 points per game in a season since 2005-06 when both the Grizzlies (88.5) and San Antonio (88.8) accomplished the feat.
Teammate Zach Randolph sat on the front row for the news conference and applauded enthusiastically. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins sat a couple seats down from Randolph and later posed for photos with Gasol and the award.
“It’s a great honor,” Hollins said. “Marc’s played well. There’s a lot of other guys that are worthy, you know. They saw fit to give Marc the award, and he was deserving.”
Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka was third with 122 points and 14 first-place votes.
The 28-year-old Gasol is the first Grizzlies player to earn defensive player honors, and he did it in a season when he wasn’t an All-Star. His older brother, Pau, was the Rookie of the Year in 2002 when he still played for the Grizzlies.
Gasol also had to beat out two teammates in Tony Allen, who received 102 points and nine first-place votes, and guard Mike Conley, who received a point. Allen was picked for the NBA’s All-Defensive team a year ago and finished sixth in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. The Grizzlies held opponents to an average of 6.8 fewer points with Gasol on the court, the same stat with Allen on the court. Allen said he was happy for Gasol.
“Somebody else would’ve got Defensive Player of the Year, I would’ve been highly upset,” Allen said. “It just goes to show you how big our Memphis Grizzlies have grown on the defensive end. You look back, the Memphis Grizzlies have never been looked at as a defensive team. You look how we put that brand of basketball into this organization, it’s just a big compliment. I’m glad he got that award.”