In today’s NBA, defense is a rarity. Everybody is looking to be the leading scorer on their respective teams or if they cannot score, they awe fans around the world with their flashy style of play. The grit and grind that comes with playing defense is becoming endangered within the league and in my opinion, defense is what makes the game as great as it is. Yeah, I understand a large array of offense is erratically exciting but defense can be just as exciting if not more on some occasions. For example, Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2016 is where the birth of one of the most iconic NBA Finals’ plays occurred. “The Block.” It’s just under 2 minutes left in a tied game to decided the champion for the 2015-2016 NBA season, it’s down to the wire. The Warriors grab a rebound off of a missed shot by the Cavs and race to the other end to create a potential fast break lay-up when a flying Lebron comes from out of the blue to pin Andre Iguodala’s wide open lay-up attempt. One minute later, Kyrie hit’s the most clutch shot of his career. A 3-pointer that brought the Cavs up by 3 with under a minute left in the game and they would maintain the lead until the final buzzer ultimately becoming the champions.
Now, what was more exciting to you? Which play was more memorable? Lebron’s block or Kyrie’s shot?
While Kyrie’s clutch 3 may go down as one of the most clutch shots ever, Lebron’s block will by far be more memorable due to the magnitude of keeping a tied game, tied and giving your team a chance to gain the lead without the anxiety of being down by 2 with 90 seconds left.
Offense may win games, but defense wins championships. Now, with that being said, here is my list for the top 10 defenders in the NBA.
Note: Just like with my list of top 10 offensive players in the NBA, all players taken into consideration to be a part of this list have averaged at least 25 minutes a game and participated in 60+ games throughout the 2016-2017 NBA season.
Honorable mentions: Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Andre Roberson, Klay Thompson, Hassan Whiteside, Chris Paul, and Tony Allen
10. Paul George
Paul George is an elite on-ball defender, especially along the perimeter. The 6-foot-9 forward is a versatile defender with the ability to defend positions 2-4. George excels in jumping into passing lanes at the right times for deflections or steals (averaged 1.6spg), fighting through screens and isolation defense. George keeps his hands and feet active through each play entirely while inviting contact to rattle his opponent resulting in frustration and bad shot attempts. George is one of the few superstars in the league that exceeds on both ends of the court yet takes more pride in their defense rather than scoring ability. With him and Andre Roberson on the wings for the Thunder this upcoming season, it will be interesting to see how teams do against them on the perimeter. George has never been on the same team as another superstar and with Russell commanding a large offensive load, it’s expected that George’s defense will only improve this season.
9. John Wall
John Wall is a player that, in my opinion, was snubbed of his first nomination NBA All-Defensive team. Wall led the league with Patrick Beverley in steals averaging 2.0spg and was 2nd in deflections with 3.9 per game. As a point guard should, he defends the perimeter very well holding his opponent to 40% shooting from 20 to 24 feet (35% from 25 feet and beyond). Another elite on-ball defender on this list, Wall keeps his hands and feet active ultimately causing his opponents to operate their offense in vexation. In August, Wall declared that he believes he is the best 2-way point guard in the league. He has a chance to assist his case on that statement this upcoming season. To make matters more challenging, Kobe Bryant delivered one of his mamba mentality challenges, challenging Wall via Twitter to make the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team for the 2017-2018 campaign.
8. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis could absolutely be a top 3 defender in the league if his abilities were not hindered by the lack of perimeter defense provided by the Pelicans’ guard play. Even with that negative factor, AD ranks 6th on this list. Davis also ranks 6th in the league in shots contested per game and ranked 2nd in blocks per game (2.2bpg). Other than within 5 feet of the basket, AD held players attempting shots over him under 40% from 5-30 feet. His differential percentage is -6.3 which puts him above the DPOY Draymond Green in that category and just under another solid defender Patrick Patterson. Davis is also one of those players willing to sacrifice his body in any way to help his team win. Unfortunately for him, that has caused injury plagued seasons throughout his career. With Demarcus Cousins sharing the front court with Davis, there is more help on the offensive end allowing Davis to focus more on defense whenever his team needs stops more than scoring.
7. Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler has grown into one of the best two-way players in the NBA. His determination to win every game is a testimony to how well he performs on both ends of the floor. He has a keen act for running through screens and jumping into passing lanes for steals. Over the course of the 2016-2017 campaign Butler averaged 1.9spg along with 3.7 deflections per game ranking him 5th and 6th in the league in those statistical categories. The 3x All-Defensive player led the Bulls to the 6th highest defensive efficiency rating with the grit and leadership he played with night in and night out. Butler was snubbed of an All-Defensive nod this year although that does not mean he is not one of the league’s best defenders. Jimmy will guard the best player on the other team as well as anybody else in the league while maintaining a high-octane performance on the offensive end.
6. Lebron James
King James. The current best player in the world. As obvious as this statement is, you simply cannot have that title without being great on both ends of the floor. Lebron holds all of the ingredients that make up a great defender. His size and speed complimented by his high basketball IQ gives him an advantage when defending even the best scorers in the league. He has the strength to keep his opponents in front of him and stand his ground in the post and his speed is only matched by NFL wide receivers. Nowadays he may take a plays off here and there (otherwise he would be ranked higher) due to the load he has to carry on his both ends of the floor night in and night out. Regardless, if a stop is needed at any point in the game he will get it for his team and he proves that over and over again with late-game blocks, steals, deflections, lock downs, etc. Lebron will not be king forever but he will be a threat on both ends of the floor until the day he decides to retire.
5. Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley is one of the grimiest players in the NBA today. His non-stop desire to be the biggest pest to whoever he’s guarding each and every game is astounding. He’s not known for stat stuffing so grading his defense is mainly based off the eye-test. Beverley consistently remains in front of his man inviting any type of contact that comes with the challenge of locking down his opponent. During this previous season Patrick Beverley drew 63 offensive fouls, including a 5th best 22 charges drawn. What sets Pat’s defensive nature apart from other player’s is his hustle. His demand to get his team the ball back every defensive possession is priceless. He averaged 3.1 deflections per game with a 1.7 loose balls recovered average (league best) in complementation. Beverley is the type of player every team would love to have on their roster. While mostly everyone in the league is more concerned with keeping their body healthy, Beverley is willing to sacrifice his body if that’s what it takes to help his team win every night. The perfect role model to any defensive minded guard trying to make it to the NBA.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak! What a suitable name for a very young player that can do almost anything possible on a basketball court. Giannis fills the stat sheet completely in a manner only a future superstar and possible face of the league can do. The 2016-2017 NBA’s Most Improved Player averaged 1.9bpg and 1.6spg through the season in help to his excellent 3.5 defensive box plus-minus rating. With great awareness on the defensive end complimented by a freakish wingspan of 7-foot-3 at the height of 6-foot-11 defenders always have a difficult time getting around him from the perimeter and getting over him in the paint. His body frame is absolutely an advantage for Giannis on not just defense but offense as well. Giannis can defend the 1-4 positions with good lateral quickness against guards and great length against forwards. In a couple of seasons we can expect him to be able to defend the 5 position as well once he grows stronger.
3. Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert or otherwise known as “The Stifle Tower” led the NBA in blocks at 2.6 and ranked 7th in rebounds on the defensive end (8.9 per game) during the 2016-2017 campaign. Gobert’s 4th year in the league was by far the best of his career so far and the 25-year-old was a complete monster for the Jazz defensively in the paint. I mean, the French center was nicknamed “The Stifle Tower” for a reason; he covers the paint with his 7 foot 1 inch 245 pound frame making it difficult for player’s to drive it to the basket while he’s in the game. Gobert ranked at the top of the league in defensive win shares (6 per game) and defensive real plus-minus (6.02). His sole focus has been to hold it down on defense for the Jazz but now that their leading scorer in Gordon Hayward has departed to join forces with the Celtics, can Gobert continue to improve his offense and get it done for the Jazz on the offensive end while maintaining a high level of play defensively?
2. Kawhi Leonard
Nobody in the league today is as great as Kawhi Leonard at defending the perimeter. Leonard doesn’t get the most steals, blocks, or even deflections. But there’s a reason behind his lack of major statistics in those categories. The two-time DPOY (2015, 2016) scarcely allows his opponent to get a shot off. Throughout last season, “The Klaw” defended only 4.9 shot attempts outside of 15 feet. His lengthy wingspan and ginormous hands give him an edge on the defensive end allowing him to disrupt his opponent on the dribble or from even catching the ball with his hand in the passing lanes. Since Tim Duncan retired, Leonard has taken over as the defensive anchor for the Spurs and assists in keeping one of the oldest rosters, one of the most defensively efficient teams in the NBA. Leonard received his 4th straight nod to an All-Defensive NBA team (3rd straight year First Team All-Defensive). Leonard is the only active player to have more career steals than fouls. That stat alone speaks volumes for his defensive efficiency.
1. Draymond Green
This previous season was the best Draymond Green has been on defense and his best efforts we’re not left unnoticed as he received the Defensive Player Of the Year award for the 2016-2017 campaign along with an All-Defensive First Team nod. This previous season he was a part of a 3-way tie for leading the league in steals at 2 per game. The other two players tied with Green are point guards Chris Paul and John Wall. Draymond is a 6 foot 7 power forward with the ability to defend all positions on the court and rather well at that. This makes offenses feel uncomfortable in all situations that involve switching off screens because Green will not back down from the challenge of defending a guard that’s quicker and craftier than him. As great as the Warriors are these days, without Green the dub ship would more than likely sink. Green is the leader of the Warriors’ defense and he shows his willingness to get the job done for the team on that end by sprinting to cover a teammate’s slack and contesting every shot he can. His communication in-game is the epitome of what every coach would love to hear from their players throughout the game. Even while watching the game on television you can hear how loudly he communicates both on and off the court.