The defense is a huge factor in the game of basketball. In order to become an elite player or team, it is important to get a stop on that end of the floor to create more opportunities on offense. Here is the NBA All-time defensive list.
Since the NBA was inaugurated in 1946, there have been a numerous amount of defensive anchors who have changed the dynamic of their team. With them making defense the main priority to their game, they tend to be feared on the court by opponents. Their physicality and attention to detail on that end gives them recognition as some of the best defenders in NBA History. Let’s take a look at some all-time great defenders in NBA History.
Of course when you are recognized as the GOAT, you have to be known as an all-time great defender as well. Michael Jordan won defensive player of the year in 1988 and was on the All-Defensive First team nine times in his career.
Jordan was a fierce defender who would pick his defenders from half-court. His toned body and big hands always have him an advantage against players at his position. His competitive edge and fierce on-ball defense resulted in him being known as one of the best defenders of all time.
2. Gary Payton
His nickname “The Glove” didn’t come from anywhere. Gary Payton was fierce on defense being the leader in steals in 1996 and earning nine All-Defensive First Teams.
Payton may have been small, but his confidence made up for his frame. Payton was a sneaky pest on defense who would get in your grill to make you uncomfortable. His trash-talking would take players’ confidence away and that would just fuel him even more. In an era that was very physical and allowed a lot of hand-checking, Payton took advantage of anyone that was in front of him. And his killer instinct would rub off on the rest of the team.
When a person speaks about all-time defensive players, you can never leave this guy out. Dikembe Mutumbo is arguably one of the greatest shot blockers to ever defend the rim. His energy on that side of the floor earned him four Defensive Player of the Year awards along with being the leader in blocks from 1994-1996.
When you had this guy on your roster, you were automatically a defensive threat in the NBA. Mutombo took great pride on that side of the floor and never allowed easy opportunities for any player. Without his presence on the floor, none of his teams would be any threat in the NBA playoffs without him setting the tone. When anyone speaks of defense, one of the names that should always come up is Dikembe Mutombo.
Without Scottie Pippen’s defensive ability, that 90’s Bulls may not be as great of a dynasty without his mentality to stop his opponents. Pippen’s defense was able to earn him eight All-Defensive First Team and was the steals leader in 1995.
Although his leadership was always a question throughout his career, Pippen was always one of the defensive anchors for Chicago. He stepped up to every challenge and made sure whoever was in front of him had anything easy. Pippen at one point shut down Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals, then took the defensive test to shut down Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics. Pippen was a physical and tenacious defensive mind who would show no mercy to anyone on the other side.
5. Metta World Peace (Ron Artest)
Put aside his temper tantrums, Metta World Peace was an elite defender during his prime. Through his illustrious career, World Peace won Defensive player of the year in 2004 along with two All-Defensive First Teams.
Anyone who watched World Peace play knows that his defensive presence made any of his teams better. Even when his offense was in question, he always would bring that defensive mindset on that end of the floor. World Peace knew how to keep his body attached to his opponents to make sure to stay in front of him. He has given guys in Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, and other great wing players problems on that side of the floor. When it comes to that side of the floor, everyone should make sure to acknowledge the greatness of Metta World Peace.
6. Kobe Bryant
Kobe was one of the greatest defenders of all time. Bryant’s physical defense allowed him to receive nine All-Defensive First Teams and three Defensive Second Teams.
Aside from his greatness on offense, Kobe loved the challenge on the defensive end. At times, he would take on the best player on the opposing team and put them in their misery. Bryant would trash talk his opponent along with hand checking and getting away with a few elbows. His fuel to win ball games caused him to do anything necessary to get a stop on that end of the floor. When it comes to his greatness, Kobe Bryant was arguably known as one of the greatest defenders.
Rodman was able to win championships for a reason. The defense he played through the course of his career won him, two defensive players of the year, along with All NBA Defensive Team seven times.
Rodman is one of the smartest defensive players in NBA history. He understood ways to take big men out of position in the low post and made things uncomfortable. Rodman was a scrapper and made all the hustle plays to provide a spark for his team. Any of his former teammates will tell anyone that without Dennis Rodman, it makes things more difficult to win a championship without his presence. Rodman will always be known as one of the most memorable defensive anchors in NBA history.
8. Ben Wallace
A name that everyone may have forgotten about. Ben Wallace was a physical beast in his prime. With his energy on that end, he was able to win four Defensive Player of the Year along with five All-Defensive First Teams.
Wallace was one of the best rim protectors in the 2000’s. He put his body on the line against other bigs and seemed to have always come out on top of the matchup. Wallace being in the middle was a huge contribution to Detroit’s success and one of the reasons behind their championship run.
His memorable defensive assignments were his matchups against Shaquille O’Neal. Wallace was able to make things difficult for Shaq in the low post in the 2004 Finals and the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals. Anyone who watches basketball recognized the defensive anchor Ben Wallace was for his teams.
9. LeBron James
Even though the narrative is that he doesn’t play as much defense anymore, LeBron James at his best is one of the most premier defenders in the league. The physical gift that he displays on the court gives him the ability to make his opponents uncomfortable due to his size. LeBron has been able to win five All-Defensive First Teams during the course of his career.
LeBron’s defense makes turns the dynamic of his team in an entirely different direction. He takes pride in sacrificing his body and taking the beating in getting a stop. LeBron has also proven to be one of the NBA’s elite shot blockers on the fast break. His chase-down swats on Andre Iguodala and others bring new energy to the arena and fuels everyone on the floor.
Even though he doesn’t give much energy on that side of the floor due to age. But when focused and locked in LeBron, has proven to be an elite defender in the NBA.
10. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi has proven himself to be one of the top 3 most elite defenders in the NBA today. His wingspan and his large hands give him an advantage to easily strip the ball from his defenders. Through the course of his career, Leonard has won two Defensive Player of the Year awards along with three All-Defensive First Teams.
Before he became the great scorer we know him to be, Leonard has always made defense his No.1 priority. He has been a defensive pest since his days at San Diego State and it has carried over to his NBA career as well. Leonard is arguably one of the best at understanding defensive schemes and how to cover perimeter players. His size at the Small Forward position makes opponents uncomfortable and forces them into a bad shot or a turnover. Without Leonard’s impact on that side of the floor; it makes a huge difference for his team as far as a contender in the NBA.
This is the end of the first edition of the all-time great defensive list. These guys made their mark as great defensive players and influenced future generations to match their intensity level. Stay tuned to see who will be the next 10 players to make the list come soon.
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