Stats & Info's Defensive Player of the Month: Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard makes the Spurs' already stout defense even stouter. Chris Covatta/Getty Images

At the end of November, we handed out the first Stats & Info Defensive Player of the Month award to Tim Duncan.

A month later, San Antonio’s defense still reigns supreme and is still on pace to be the best in more than a decade. In terms of efficiency, the gap between San Antonio’s league-leading defense and the second-best defense is larger than the gap between the second-best and the 17th-best defense.

So, yeah … we’re sticking with the San Antonio theme and handing out this month’s award to Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard ranked first in the NBA in December with 1.5 Defensive Win Shares and now leads the NBA for the season.

With Leonard on the court in December, the Spurs’ defense allowed 90.6 points per 100 possessions, 2.4 points per 100 possessions fewer than when Leonard was off the court. Although it’s a testament to Gregg Popovich that the Spurs’ defense performs at a league-leading rate even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year off the court, that difference of 2.4 points is the largest on-court/off-court impact of any of the 11 Spurs players who played at least 100 minutes in December.

Leonard recorded at least one steal in all but two games in December and finished the month with 34 steals, more than twice as many as any other San Antonio player.

Similar to how the best cornerbacks aren’t targeted much in the NFL, Leonard wasn’t tested much one-on-one in December. He was the primary defender on plays in isolation only 14 times. In those 14 plays, he held his opponents to 3-of-12 shooting and 0.57 point per play.

If you’re a starting wing, good luck having a big game against San Antonio. In their 16 games in December, the Spurs allowed exactly one starting shooting guard or small forward to score more than 20 points, the fewest such games allowed by any team in December. Of the 28 points that DeMar DeRozan scored Dec. 9, only 14 of them came with Leonard on the court.