Contrary to what you may read in the comments section of your favorite NBA social media post, defense is fundamentally better than it was a couple decades ago. To the casual observer it seems worse, but that’s because the NBA has instituted rules to allow more freedom to offensive players.
On that note, there are no fewer than a couple dozen elite defensive players in the NBA. Some of which toil without notice but go into the game with their lunch pails everyday defending the opposition’s best players.
Front court players tend to be better at defending the rim because of their physical gifts, and there are excellent backcourt players that disrupt plays as a result of the tactical mind and an ability to read the plays before they occurs. Here’s five of the league’s best NBA defensive players.
Giannis Antetokounmpo The Greek is one of the best players in the NBA in general and is an exceptional player when attacking the opposition basket, but his defensive qualities are incredible too.
His 6’11 frame means he is extremely capable of blocking opposition efforts as he possesses a 7’4 wingspan which is tough even for the strongest power forwards to penetrate.
Giannis played a huge part in the Milwaukee Bucks NBA Championship triumph in 2021 and continues to be an invaluable asset to his team in all areas of the court. The team expects nothing less than the best for their 2022 season and bookmakers are following suit. Bodog offers best odds for NBA betting in which the Bucks are one of the early season favorites at +800 to repeat the 2021 Championship winning feat.
Bam Adebayo is one of Miami Heat’s most important players. Not only does Adebayo provide nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, but his defensive abilities were a key part in the Miami Heat’s run to the NBA Eastern Conference final.
Adebayo’s defensive skills and impact are so underrated that at time, it’s laughable. Adebayo speed and quickness allows him to easily keep up with guards. His strength, core and athleticism on the court and gives front court opponents little time to create an opening with his constant pressure.
The series against the Philadelphia 76ers last season was a showcase of everything Adebayo excels at. Though he’s made the all-defensive second team the last three seasons, we think Bam deserves a first team nod for his ability to defend quick agile dribblers like James Harden and he can equally put up resistance against larger players like MVP runner up Joel Embiid.
Marcus Smart The Boston Celtics star won last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year award making him the only perimeter defender to take home the trophy since Gary Payton decades ago. Smart isn’t just his last name, but his ability to outthink opponents and leverage his acting skills makes the Celtics guard the best defender the league has to offer this season. When he was injured at times in the Celtics playoff charge last season his team suffered greatly and the Miami Heat were a much greater threat without him on the court.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 6, 2022
Like Adebayo, Marcus Smart is a versatile, athletic and strong defender who is far from one-dimensional, and can match up with guards and all types of forwards without issue.
Rudy Gobert The Utah Jazz big man was the highest-ranked defender according to Stat Muse last year with an overall defensive rating of 103.2. For all of his relative lack of offensive skills anywhere on the other side of the court, Gobert is still considered one of the NBA’s best players due to his impact on the defensive end.
The Stifle Tower — the worst nickname in the history of nicknames – has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and is in the conversation as one of the greatest defenders of all time. His ridiculously tall frame standing at 7’1 and wingspan means he often dominates the court and his mere presence is enough to convince players coming to the basket to pass the ball back out.
Al Horford Even at his advanced age — for NBA players at least — Al Horford continues the trend and shows that although much more quality is required, boasting a tall frame is absolutely essential to being a top NBA defender.
Al Horford on Boston’s chemistry: “I felt like once we jelled together midway through last year, it carried over and when we got back this season, it’s kind of like buddies, like you’re back to school. Everybody’s back hanging out together every day, practicing, going to work.” pic.twitter.com/Bmi41FrguP
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) October 10, 2022
The five-time NBA All Star is a legend of the game and the fact he lines up alongside Marcus Smart for the Celtics means it is hard to argue they do not have the strongest defense overall. Many more different players could have featured in this list with the NBA being filled with excellent defensive players currently, but here we have looked at the pick of the bunch.
There’s even a longer list of players that make a large part of their salary on the defensive end that are often forgotten when ESPN coverage turns to the success of their respective teams. We’re talking about Mathisse Thybulle, , Mikal Bridges, Draymond Green, Robert Williams III, Kawhi Leonard, P.J. Tucker, Ben Simmons, Jrue Holiday, and Patrick Beverley.