The NBA’s popularity has long been predicated on incredible offensive feats. We all remember Kobe’s 81-point night, and Lebron’s historic triple doubles in the 2016 Finals. These feats are obviously remarkable, and worthy of historic perspective,but there is a whole other side to the game of basketball. We are of course talking about the defensive side of the ball. To be considered one of the greatest players of all-time, you have to be able to do more than just score the ball.
We have all heard the old expression “defense wins championships,” and that could not have been made more clear than it was last year in game seven of the Finals. Lebron James showed the world how important and impactful great defense can be. Obviously, Lebron is the kind of player that would be on a list like this.
Players like LeBron, players who demonstrate dominance on both offense and defense, are incredibly hard to find. There have been players such as Dominque Wilkins, Tracy McGrady, and Carmelo Anthony, who have carried teams on their back with their will to score, but players like that don’t make the cut on this list due to their lack of defensive toughness. It is rare to find a player who plays as hard on defense as they do on offense, but today we will countdown the top 20 all-time who were able to do it better than the rest.
20. David Robinson
The Admiral was the gold standard for centers during much of the 90s. He represented the blue collared, hard working big man every team desired. In his career he led the league in scoring, rebound and blocks at least one time. He was also the Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. Robinson was a perennial All-NBA Defensive Team member with eight selections.
When Robinson was paired with a young Tim Duncan the NBA had no answers. The duo was unstoppable on both ends of the floor, led by Robinson’s example. Duncan would go on to surpass the accolades of Robinson, but Tim himself would tell you that he owes a lot of what he earned to The Admiral. If you want the definition of an all-around player, look no further than David Robinson. The man averaged over 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks for his entire career.
19. Walt Frazier
It was clear Walt “Clyde” Frazier was going to be great from the moment he stepped on an NBA court. The Hall of Fame guard played the bulk of his career with the New York Knicks, a franchise he would lead to two NBA titles. During his thirteen years in the NBA, Frazier was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team an amazing seven times.
To show his versatility Frazier would often times match up against the opposing team’s best offensive player, usually shutting them down while still putting up great numbers himself. In thirteen years, Clyde was able to maintain an average of 19 points, six assists, and six rebounds per game. He did all that while still being one of the very best defenders in the NBA.
18. Gary Payton
Since retiring in 2006, Payton has become more known for his defense than his offense. He was nicknamed “The Glove” for good reason. Nine Defensive First Team selections, and a Defensive Player of the Year Award will take away from anyone’s offensive abilities. It should not be overlooked, however, what a great talent GP was on the offensive end of the floor.
During the 1995-96 season, Payton led the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals. Ultimately, Payton and the Sonics were outmatched by the great Bulls team of the Michael Jordan era, but Payton did his part that season to earn serious consideration for league MVP. First of all, he was named Defensive Player of the year that season, but maybe more impressively he averaged twenty points, eight assists, and three steals per game. Payton would go on to capture that elusive title with the 2006 Miami Heat along side Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, but his greatest seasons came as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics throughout the 90s.
17. Kawhi Leonard
At only 25 years old, Kwahi is only entering his prime. If he keeps on this trajectory, he could find himself atop a list like this someday.
His accomplishments are already on par with some of the all-time greats. He is the proud owner of back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards, and looking for his third straight this season. Kawhi has also won an NBA championship, in which he was named Finals MVP. The 2014 Finals was a real coming out party for Leonard, he was able to establish himself as a bonafide elite defender. The work he did on Lebron James that series has never been duplicated. Kawhi is now the leader of a title contending San Antonio team, and Leonard is looking like an early MVP candidate. Give this kid a few more years and he could easily be rivaling some true NBA royalty.
16. Dwyane Wade
D-Wade is still writing his story, now back home in Chicago. Wade has been a superstar since the day he broke into the NBA back in 2003. When Shaquille O’Neal joined Wade in Miami back in 2006, it didn’t take O’Neal long to acknowledge that the team belonged to Wade. That simple acknowledgement from a future Hall of Famer is what enabled Wade to take flight and become one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Wade was known as “flash” during his early years, mainly due to his ability to blow by defenders and attack the rim as very few could. Along the way, Wade has already captured three NBA Championships, including a finals MVP. Wade has seemingly done it all from championships to scoring titles, he even holds the all-time NBA record for blocks by a guard. His skills transcend every aspect of the game and he is now passing his wisdom onto the next generation of superstars.