February's top defender: Hassan Whiteside

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Before we reveal our Stats & Info Defensive Player of the Month for February, let’s start with an overarching observation:

It was a very odd month for statistics and defense.

Take, for instance, the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta led the NBA in defensive efficiency in February, allowing 95.7 points per 100 possessions. Paul Millsap tied for first in the NBA in defensive win shares in February, alongside Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan. Only six players had more combined blocks and steals than Millsap, and he ranks as Atlanta’s best player for the season in defensive real plus-minus.

Seems like a pretty worthy selection -- until you see that with Millsap on the court, the Hawks allowed nearly 15 more points per 100 possessions in February than when Millsap was on the bench.

Like Millsap, Al Horford also ranked among the top five in defensive win shares in February. And like Millsap, the Hawks were better defensively with Horford off the court, allowing more than five fewer points per 100 possessions when Horford sat.

It’s the same issue with Jordan. Jordan’s 38 combined blocks and steals ranked in the top five in February, when he anchored a front line without Blake Griffin. The Clippers also were better defensively with Jordan off the court, allowing three fewer points per 100 possessions.

For the second straight month, Nerlens Noel ranked near the top in combined blocks and steals. But he did it for a team that ranked as the fourth-worst in defensive efficiency in February and gave up the second-most points in the paint.

You see the issue.

So it’s with reservation -- and because we like to spread the wealth unless there’s a clear-cut choice -- that for the second straight month, Stats & Info’s Defensive Player of the Month is Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat.

Just as he did in each of the first three months, Whiteside again led the NBA in blocks in February. And in keeping with January’s theme, Miami’s defense was again more stout with Whiteside on the court, allowing 98.9 points per 100 possessions compared with 103.8 points per 100 possessions with him off the court.

A similar case could be made for Drummond, who had a similar impact on the Pistons defense in February and who also had slightly more defensive win shares.

And although Drummond has slightly more defensive rebounds than Whiteside per 36 minutes (12.1 to 11.9), both rebounded 27 percent of contested rebound opportunities, according to NBA.com.

Whereas Drummond enjoyed a slight edge in defensive rebounding, Whiteside’s rim protection is the trump card for February. Whiteside allowed opponents to shoot 41 percent at the rim compared with 52 percent for Drummond. The Heat center did it while contesting 10.8 attempts per game, which ranked second in the NBA, despite playing less than 28 minutes a night. On a per 36-minute basis, Whiteside contested more than five more shots at the rim than Drummond.

It’s because of that extra layer of rim protection that Whiteside is our back-to-back Defensive Player of the Month.