At the beginning of each month, we'll take a look back at the previous month and name a stats-based Defensive Player of the Month. Some months it will be obvious, some months it won't be. And while there's no definitive criteria for this incredibly unofficial award, the one constant will be that it will always be numbers-driven.
With that out of the way, the inaugural Stats & Info Defensive Player of the Month is … drumroll, please … Tim Duncan.
The San Antonio Spurs are in the midst of a defensive renaissance, allowing 93.4 points per 100 possessions, which would be the best by any team over the last decade and the fourth-best over the last 30 seasons (behind two other Duncan-led Spurs teams and the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons).
And while conventional wisdom would say that reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard is the linchpin (he is incredible), it’s the 39-year-old Duncan who continues to be the pillar on which San Antonio's defense rests.
Let's start by looking at Real Plus-Minus (RPM), which looks at the impact a player has on his team per 100 possessions and has separate defensive and offensive components. Duncan rates by far the best in Defensive RPM, adding a value of 5.89 points per 100 defensive possessions. The next-best player in Defensive RPM in November was Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (plus-4.34).
Just how much better than Jordan was Duncan? The gap between those two is larger than the gap between Jordan and the 14th-rated player in Defensive RPM.
It’s early, but Duncan’s Defensive RPM in November is better than any other player's over the last eight full seasons. In the 10 seasons before this, three players posted a higher Defensive RPM for an entire season than Duncan did in November. Duncan's Defensive RPM currently is better than he's posted dating to the 2000-01 season, which is as far back as RPM goes. A pretty scary thought considering he's had seven First-Team All-Defense selections over that same span.
Duncan ranked fourth in November in Defensive Win Shares while averaging more than two blocks and one steal per 36 minutes. San Antonio's defense allowed 92.8 points per 100 possessions with Duncan on the court, 94.1 with him off the court.
As a rim protector, Duncan held opponents to 40.9 percent shooting. Only Rudy Gobert and Serge Ibaka allowed a lower field goal percentage at the rim among qualified players who contested at least six field-goal attempts per game.
And don't ignore Duncan's prowess on the glass, especially when it comes to limiting opponents' second-chance opportunities. Duncan averaged 2.3 contested defensive rebounds per game in November, third in the NBA behind Andre Drummond and Kevin Love. This despite playing 28 minutes per game -- far fewer than both Drummond and Love.
Add it all up, and we think Duncan deserves the love. Although -– somehow –- he has never won an NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, Duncan now has the honorable distinction of owning more Stats & Info Defensive Player of the Month awards than any other player.