The first two months we named the Stats & Info Defensive Player of the Month, we gave it to a Spurs player. With San Antonio in the midst of a historic defensive season, it seemed like the right choice to make.
The Spurs came back down to earth in January, ranking sixth in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency, so we looked in another direction for this month's selection.
For January, we’re going with a player who has put up eye-popping defensive numbers the entire season, but up until January didn’t translate into effective team defense.
Hassan Whiteside, come on down!
The Heat's Whiteside is our choice for Defensive Player of the Month.
Is it odd to give an award to a player who played in only 10 of his team’s 17 games for the month? Yes.
Is it equally impressive to still lead the NBA in blocked shots in January despite playing in only 10 of a possible 17 games? Yes.
January was the third straight month in which Whiteside led the NBA in blocked shots. It was also the first month the Heat were better defensively with Whiteside on the court.
Over the first two months of the season, Miami’s defense allowed over eight more points per 100 possessions with Whiteside on the court. That trend did a 180-degree turn in January, with the Heat allowing just 96.8 points per 100 possessions with Whiteside on the floor, and 102.7 points per 100 possessions with Whiteside off the court. That figure with Whiteside on the floor would have led the NBA in January.
While Whiteside’s hip injury somewhat stalled coach Erik Spoelstra’s growing willingness to play him late in games, the results are there, albeit in limited opportunities. In the 43 fourth-quarter minutes Whiteside played in January, Miami allowed just 86.5 points per 100 possessions.
Nerlens Noel receives January’s honorable mention. Noel’s 54 combined blocks (32) and steals (22) were the most in the NBA in January. He was also a big riser in the defensive component of ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, climbing from 67th entering the month all the way up to 19th. But with the 76ers rating just slightly better defensively with Noel on the court, we gave the nod to Whiteside.