Defensive Player of the First Trimester: Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Gregg Popovich made it pretty clear the other night what he was hoping for this Christmas.
A few more Spurs, namely, playing with as much tangible care and desire as Tim Duncan.
Pop understands better than most that Duncan is giving San Antonio more than any team should reasonably expect from a 38-year-old, who happens to turn 39 during the first week of the playoffs in April. And he doesn't want Duncan's age-defying effort and effectiveness to go to waste.
A third of the way through his 18th NBA season, Duncan has been the league's most impressive defensive force. Despite the frequent injury absences of key defenders Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio ranks No. 6 in the league in defensive efficiency, thanks largely to Duncan's work as the Spurs' anchor.
Duncan remains one of the league's top five shot-blockers despite his advanced age and is surely playing more (at 32.1 minutes per game) than his coach wants to be using him during the regular season. But it must be hard for even Pop to resist when Duncan sits atop ESPN.com's shiny new DRPM table, which estimates a player's on-court impact defensively based on points allowed per 100 possessions.
Golden State and Houston have consistently ranked in the top two in defensive efficiency throughout the season's first 30 (or so) games, but Andrew Bogut and Dwight Howard have missed eight and 12 games, respectively.
Chicago's Joakim Noah, Memphis' Marc Gasol, Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, Dallas' Tyson Chandler and the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan are six more big men who have undeniably made their presence felt defensively -- as has Sacramento's oft-chided DeMarcus Cousins when healthy -- but it has to be Duncan leading the DPOY race, on this scorecard, heading into Trimester 2.