Thanks to his rare ability to lead when opposing teams have the ball, Panathinaikos guard Dimitris Diamantidis has been voted winner of the Best Defender Trophy by Euroleague head coaches for the fifth season in a row. As the Euroleague head coaches have made clear again, no player in recent years has enjoyed so much impact on the defensive end of Euroleague courts as Diamantidis, His impressive statistics only hint at his true value in helping the Greens stop other teams. Indeed, the player nicknamed as "Spider Man" by the Greek media for his amazing reach and quickness, has been the one and only Best Defender Trophy winner since the award was started five seasons ago, coinciding with his rookie Euroleague season. This season, the 28-year-old Diamantidis mastered the gamut of defensive skills - from hawking ball-handlers to making steals to blocking shots and grabbing rebounds - like no few players. He finished the season as the only guard ranked among the Euroleague’s best 25 players in the three most indicative defensive statistics: 10th in steals, 21st in defensive rebounding and 25th in blocks. Historically speaking, Diamantidis is one of only three players - and the only guard - ranked better than 25th during this decade for his totals in those three categories, too. Considering that he also assigned to shut down the top scorer on any opponent that Panathinaikos faces, it is no wonder that the Euroleague coaches have decided again that nobody does defense better than Dimitris Diamantidis!
Montepaschi Siena big man Shaun Stonerook finished second in the voting for Best Defender award. Stephane Lasme of Partizan and J.R. Holden of CSKA finished tied for third place, followed by Tau Ceramica guard Pablo Prigioni and Regal FCB swingman Gianluca Basile, who shared fifth place. The Best Defender Trophy is the second of several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Already announced has been the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, which went to Igor Rakocevic of Tau Ceramica
. Others still to be announced include: the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy for players under 22, the All-Euroleague first and second teams, and the Euroleague MVP, the last two to be revealed at the Euroleague Basketball Awards Ceremony on May 2 during the Final Four. The Aleksander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year are post-season awards.
His numbers for the 2008-09 season add to the unique position Diamantidis holds in defensive statistics for the decade. He is now ranked fourth overall in accumulated steals and boasts the best steals-per-game average of anyone in the top 10. He is tied for the 15th-most blocks all decade, with no other guard present in the top 75. He ranks 23rd for the decade in total defensive rebounds, while only six players - forwards and centers, of course - have more in fewer games than Diamantidis has played. This season, his importance to Panathinaikos reaching the Final Four is clear from one look at the team leaders. Diamantidis ranked first among the Greens in minutes, three-point accuracy and steals, second in rebounding and assists, and third in blocks. What's more, his leadership and determination provide the extra intangibles that make Diamantidis a true superstar. His fifth Best Defender Trophy is added to a stocked trophy case that includes the 2007 Euroleague crown, as well as the Final Four MVP honor and a spot on the All-Euroleague first team that season. He has also been European champion and World Championships silver medalist with his Greek national team. Diamantidis will receive the Best Defender Trophy at the Euroleague Basketball Awards Ceremony on May 2 in Berlin.
Dimitris, congratulations on being named again by coaches as the Euroleague’s best defender. Are you surprised to keep winning this award?
“It's something I don't seek out. I just want to play and enjoy basketball, to help my team. If an award comes with it, I am happy. The only thing I feel is that I am happy."
How much did defense have to do with Panathinaikos becoming a Final Four team?
"Defense is definitely a big part of our game. It's a part of the game that is very important for our team. It gives us a great push, in every single game. Even when the team has a bad day offensively, if you are effective defensively, the basis is there to build whatever is needed to get the win. It's a very important part of the game for our team and we try to be as good as it gets on defense, every time we step on the court."
You seem to be able to guard anyone. How does Coach Obradovic decide your defensive assignments before each game? You discuss it together?
"No, we don't discuss it. It's the coach's decision who I am going to guard. My job is to guard whomever he asks me to guar and to do whatever he asks me to do."
-One of your specialties is guarding a big man in the low post after a switch, but not letting that "mismatch" hurt your team. How do you stop bigger players so well?
"There are players who are difficult to defend. When you switch on defense during the game, a certain mismatch can be created. When this happens, what's most important is for the team to stay focused on the plan it has. This is what helps in such cases: your teammates. Our team's game has to do with getting help from everybody on the court in the case of a mismatch, covering players, space or both. Everything comes back to the basics, which is the good team work in defense. Defense is not an issue of one player alone."
What do you consider the key to defending the most-used play in basketball these days, the pick-'n'-roll?
"Pick-'n'-roll is a game between two players, so the most important is the player who is 'covering' for you; your teammate. Your other three teammates who are on the floor are also very important, because they must be ready to cover space and also the passing lanes. It's a play for two, but once more, it's essential to have defense from five!"
Looking ahead to the Final Four, are you happy to be playing the Greek derby with Olympiacos in the semifinals?
"I am neither happy nor sad. We knew that the schedule was going to be like this. We are focusing on our team. We know that it's important to prepare ourselves in the best possible way for the semifinal. We are going to face a very good team. The only different thing is that both teams are from Greece, but I really don't believe that it's different from any other semifinal. Our goal remains the same: To get to the final."
With two teams that know each other so well, what will be the key to winning?
"The keys are two: focus and turnovers. We need the first, we don't need the second. It's a challenge that doesn't change no matter what the game is or who the opponent is."
Two years ago, you were celebrating at OAKA and MVP of the final. Is that night going to be inspiration for you going to Berlin?
"The new title in itself is a huge enough motivation. I don't need to remember what happened in OAKA, or that I was the MVP. The motivation is that we want to get the win. We want to get the positive result in the semifinal and then to go to the final with the goal to celebrate one more title. It's something that every team wants. It's our thought, too. We have the will, a big will, for the title!”