Defense can tend to go unnoticed when we think about the best in the NBA. We digest things in flashy clips and packages of slam dunks and as a result, we tend to value offensive prowess over defensive prowess, even though we might not even realize it. Still, defense is just as important as offense and with that mind, here’s a look at the 10 best defenders currently playing in the NBA
This was the year age and injuries finally caught up to the Celtics, as they failed to win a playoff series for the first time since Garnett joined the team in 2007-08. Still, it could hardly be blamed on KG, who continues to be a strong force in the post even as he enters his late 30s. Garnett is still a great defender who can go toe-to-toe with some of the best big men in the league. With two years left on his contract, it’ll be interesting to see what he does now. He certainly still has a lot to offer and one can only wonder whether he’ll stay with the Celtics, or try to help out somewhere else.
George succeeded in just about every aspect of his game for the Pacers this season. With Danny Granger out, he assumed a greater role on offense, while also adapting to the small forward position. Also, his defense, along with that of Roy Hibbert (who we’ll see later on this list), was a big part of why the Pacers were so stingy on that end this season. He’s a solid perimeter defender and he’s capable of guarding the 2 and the 3. With George’s strong skill set on both sides of the ball, he has a long, bright future in the NBA.
There are few things Kawhi Leonard can’t do; he’s an excellent shooter, and even better defender. Since Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan have to start aging at some point, Leonard represents the future in San Antonio, the guy who can keep in the playoff race after the current stars are gone. Leonard is especially valuable due to his ability to defend forwards and guards. In the upcoming years, Leonard will likely play a larger and larger role in the Spurs’ operations. In the mean time, he’s already one of the best defenders in the league.
One of the biggest breakout players of the year, Sanders went from being barely a rotation player to an indispensable starter for Milwaukee and his defense was the primary reason why. As the season went on, Sanders earned a reputation as one of the scariest defenders in the NBA, to the point that opposing players were afraid to even enter the lane when he was defending. Sanders finished second in the league in the blocks per game and established himself as a major part of the Bucks future.
Without Derrick Rose, everyone on the Bulls needed to step up for them to contend this season. No one did a a better job of that than Noah, who earned his first All-Star selection and was quite possibly the best center in the Eastern Conference. As always his defense was top notch, as he was seventh in the league in defensive rating. In the first round of the playoffs, Noah played hurt against the Brooklyn Nets and was a major catalyst in their eventual seven-game victory. A team player if there ever was one.
5. Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Hibbert’s offensive game declined considerably this year, which meant that a fair amount of the press about him was negative. But it’s worth noting that this was his best year on the defensive end. His defensive rating went down to a career-low 97, as he continued to his his immense size to his advantage in scaring away would-be scorers. The Pacers would love it if Hibbert improved his shooting next year, but as long as he’s still holding down the fort on the other end, he’s going to be a very valuable player.
Allen has always been a solid defender, but his career didn’t really take off until he joined the Grizzlies in 2010. Given more minutes by coach Lionel Hollins, Allen has established himself as the best perimeter defender in the league. It’s just about impossible to get around him, due to the extreme intensity with which he plays. Star players like Kobe Bryant and James Harden are frequently flummoxed by Allen, as he leaves them with nowhere to go. Allen’s offensive game might be limited, but the Grizzlies don’t care. His D is off the charts and one of the biggest reasons why the Grizzlies are such an intimidating team.
3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Duncan doesn’t play as many minutes as he used to, but when he is on the floor he is as solid a defender as he’s ever been. This year, he had the league’s lowest defensive rating at 94 and earned 4.9 defensive wins shares, while acting as the anchor of the Spurs defense. Duncan turned 37 in April, but when he’s on the court, he’s shown no signs of aging whatsoever. He can still shut down just about anyone defensively and he can also still dominate in the post offensively. At some point, Tim Duncan is going to have to deal with the effects of getting older, but it might not be as soon you think.
It gets boring to talk about how good LeBron is because, well, he’s good at everything. He’s also the only player in the league who can defend all five positions. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has the luxury of being able to assign James to the best offensive player on the opposing team and knowing he’ll do a solid job of keeping him at bay. It may not be interesting to talk about anymore, but LeBron’s ability to do anything and everything for his team is unparalleled
1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
This year’s Defensive Player of the Year and with good reason, Gasol is the anchor of the toughest defense in the league. His tough play in the post confounds some of the most talented big men in the league, like LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard. As Gasol’s Grizzlies look to make a deep playoff run, Gasol’s defense is one of the biggest factors on their side. He can go against some of the biggest superstars in the NBA and render them completely ineffective.