With a month of the NBA season already in the books, a number of players have already established (or strengthened) their standing among the league's best defenders. Defense doesn't always get the glory, yet a select few will be properly recognized at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
The two all-defensive teams aren't selected until May, but that doesn't prevent us from looking ahead to see which players will receive their just due five months from now.
When it comes to effectively shutting down their respective assignments on a nightly basis, a few standouts have already emerged from the pack.
Note: Statistics are accurate as of Nov. 30.
There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and Kobe Bryant's presence on one of the NBA's two all-defensive teams.
He's been a mainstay since the 1999-00 season, and once the ballots are counted in May, the genius behind the "Kobe System" will be honored as one of the league's best wing defenders for the 14th year in a row.
The most telling statistic about a player's defensive impact is how well (or poorly) his team performs whenever he's not in the game.
When Bryant is on the floor, the Lakers allow 100.8 points per 100 possessions. While he's on the bench, opponents score 114.5 points per 100 possessions. And as the saying goes, numbers never lie.
There's a growing number of people who believe that a point guard's defense isn't all that important. Fortunately for the Los Angeles Clippers, they have the best playmaker on both ends of the floor.
Chris Paul's offense may get him on the nightly highlight shows, but his defensive prowess is what separates him from his peers.
Paul has been named to the league's all-defensive team four times in his career, and with good reason: He's led the NBA in steals on four separate occasions.
While steals aren't directly correlated to one's defensive ability, Paul's career-low defensive rating of 102 is proof that he gives opposing point guards fits every time he steps onto the court.
"Defense" and "Kevin Durant" are two things that most people don't associate with one another, but the Oklahoma City small forward is now a standout player on both ends of the floor.
Durant can cause havoc defensively with his unique blend of quickness and length, and he's using those traits more effectively than he ever has before. The 6'10" Durant has held opponents to 0.85 points per possession (per Synergy Sports) this season and has a defensive rating of just 98.
If his renewed commitment to defense leads to All-NBA honors at the end of the year, Durant could possibly even overtake LeBron James as the best player in the game.
Atlanta's Josh Smith has quietly become one of the league's best defenders over the past three-plus seasons. And while he's always blocked a lot of shots (fourth among active players in blocks per game with 2.2), the evolution of Smith's game makes him one of the NBA's most versatile talents.
Smith led the league in defensive win shares in 2011-12 (4.9), and with a defensive rating of 96.3 this season, there's no reason why he can't win NBA all-defensive honors for just the second time in his career.
His lack of global star power definitely doesn't help his case for a first-team bid, but Smith's overwhelming numbers will make it nearly impossible to deny him his rightful place.
There's no denying Dwight Howard's dominance in the post, but so far this season, Howard is only the second-best defensive center in the NBA.
Not only is the Lakers' scoring defense pretty much the same as it was in 2011-12 (they allow 95.9 PPG this year as opposed to 96.2 PPG last season), L.A. actually performs better defensively with Howard on the bench.
So even though Howard is only allowing 0.62 points per possession in 2012-13 (according to Synergy Sports), the impact that he's had on the Lakers defense has been minimal to this point.
Unless that changes, it's unlikely that Howard will earn a first-team all-defensive nod this year.
Tony Allen has been one of the league's best perimeter defenders for years, but he's taken his game to a completely different level in 2012-13. According to Synergy Sports, Allen is holding opposing players to a ridiculous 0.59 points per possession (third in the NBA).
Perhaps no one in the league takes more pride in playing defense than Allen, a 6'4" guard who doesn't even like to pay compliments to those he guards on a nightly basis.
The voters for the NBA's all-defensive honors are all but certain to pay Allen a compliment this year when they name him to their first team.
The jersey that he wears may be different this year, but the Denver Nuggets' Andre Iguodala is still one of the best wing defenders in the entire league.
It's an absolute travesty that Iguodala has earned all-defensive honors only once in his career: In 2010-11, he was named to the league's second team.
He's well on his way to securing a few accolades for his defense this season. Iguodala has held opposing players to 32.3 percent shooting from the field (per Synergy Sports), and according to 82games.com, he's limited his defensive assignments to Jared Dudley-level production.
As the owner of the league's best defensive rating (94.5), Tim Duncan is putting together a very solid campaign, one that could result in him winning the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in his career.
Even at 36 years old, the 6'11" Duncan is still one of the league's best interior defenders.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has taken special measures to limit Duncan's minutes, so the 13-time All-Star has become remarkably more efficient. His block rate, steal rate and defensive rebounding percentage are all at career highs.
Statistically, LeBron James hasn't been all that dominant on defense this season. But after earning his fourth consecutive NBA all-defensive first-team honors in 2011-12, it's a pretty good bet that he'll add a fifth award to his trophy case at the end of the year.
We've seen James guard every position but center (and remarkably well, no less), and despite having to carry much of the load on offense for the Miami Heat, he still manages to hold his assignments to 32.2 percent shooting (per Synergy Sports).
Many teams don't even try to test James defensively, and a number of those who do ultimately wish that they hadn't.
Roy Hibbert's early struggles have been well documented over the past month. But what isn't getting enough credit is the fantastic defense he's been playing this season—defense that has allowed the Indiana Pacers to effectively tread water with Danny Granger on the shelf.
And while some questioned his All-Star selection last year, his phenomenal work on the defensive end makes him a viable candidate for the league's midseason showcase once again (provided that his offense improves).