Let's face it. Most casual NBA fans get their entertainment from watching show-stopping dunks and players scoring the ball at will.
Whatever happened to "Defense wins championships?"
All teams in the NBA have players that can put the ball in the bucket and get their team points. But all teams in the league need a balance of good offense and a brick-wall defense on the other end. The players that will give maximum intensity on any given night to stop the other team from potentially winning the game is what every team needs.
The likes of Bill Russell led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA Championships due to his spectacular defensive abilities. His willingness to give 100% of his effort into stopping opponents from scoring resulted in titles for the franchise. The defensive duo of Tim Duncan and David Robinson kick-started a dynasty for the San Antonio Spurs. Speaking of duos, how about Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? Their lockdown defense left offensive players scared to even dribble the ball against them. Jordan and Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles because of their defensive ways.
Sometimes the best offense is a great defense. Offenses pick up and score easy baskets when a ball is turned over because of an opposing player's ball-hawking ways. Many times we see a great defensive play turn into more exciting transition dunks. Defense is an often over-looked aspect of the NBA's past and today's league. The defense provides the heart and soul for any NBA team.
It is about time to recognize the players that led their teams in terms of great defense and effort every night on the NBA court. Some of these players were not the best in the league at the time, but were the best at what they do, which is defense.
15 LeBron James
Too soon? At the age of 30, "King James" still has plenty of basketball left. This is why he deserves to be on the list. He averages 1.7 steals for his career along with 0.8 blocks per game. James has been named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team five times and a one-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection. He is athletic, can hang with any point guard in the league, and is physical enough to handle centers in the NBA. A player that can guard positions 1-5 has rarely been seen and with years left in the tank, LeBron James is one of the best defensive players we will ever see.
14 Sidney Moncrief
Time to throw it back a little bit to the shooting guard for the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. Sidney Moncrief debuted in 1979 and ended his career 12 years later in 1991. During his time, this 6'4 shooting guard was one the best all-around players in the league. From passing to being a disrupting defender, no one wanted to match-up against this guy. Moncrief only averaged 1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks in his career, but he did win the Defensive Player of the Year Award twice. A man that won DPOY twice along with being on the NBA All-Defensive Team five times is no joke.
13 Tim Duncan
Ahhh "Mr. Fundamental," you have never received enough credit for your defense. Tim Duncan has never led the league in blocks since entering the league in 1997. On the other hand, Duncan has made the NBA All-Defensive Team 14 times in his career. 14! He only missed All-Defensive honors only three years out of his 17-year career in the NBA. That is pretty amazing. His ability to block shots and stop opponents from scoring in the paint for as long as he's been doing it is unparalleled. Tim Duncan's defensive consistency throughout his tenure in the league makes his name come up amongst the all-time great defenders in NBA history.
12 Kevin Garnett
What would this list be without the defensive anchor for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the 2008 NBA Champions, Boston Celtics? "The Big Ticket" made a name for himself in the NBA with his relentless, physical play on the defensive side of the court. Garnett has averaged 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per game in his career. His intensity earned him Defensive Player of the Year in the 2007-2008 season. KG is able to guard from small forward to center with ease and always gives opposing players everything that he's got.
11 David Robinson
We already had Tim Duncan on this list, so let's add his partner in crime with the San Antonio Spurs. David Robinson's defense, just like Duncan, went unnoticed at times. We dnm't know what the reason for that is, but let's take a look at the numbers. In his first seven seasons, Robinson averaged 3.6 blocks per game along with 1.7 steals per game. Robinson has earned a spot on the NBA All-Defensive Team eight times and won Defensive Player of the year. Robinson had an equally, if not better, offensive game and that is why his defense is underrated when talking about all time great defenders. Don't worry David Robinson, you won't be overlooked on this list.
10 Bruce Bowen
This defensive specialist gave offensive players bad dreams before a game. Bruce Bowen was a 6'7 small forward who could stop anyone from scoring the basketball. Anyone. Bowen played in the NBA for 13 years from 1996-2009. During that span, he only averaged 0.8 steals per game and 0.4 blocks. However, Bowen made the NBA All-Defensive First team five times along with being a three-time selection on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Bruce Bowen was a lockdown defender for every team that he was on and helped contenders become champions with his defensive ability.
9 Walt Frazier
The first player to make defense all about style and fun to watch. Walt Frazier entered the NBA in 1967 and retired in 1980. His quick hands and speedy defensive reflexes are the reasons for him averaging 1.9 steals in his career. Frazier never made a NBA All-Defensive Second Team. He made the NBA All-Defensive FIRST team seven times in his career with the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Frazier's flashy offensive and defensive ways made him a entertaining player to watch. His ability to jump in the passing lanes to lead to dunks on the other end made him one of the best defensive points guards the NBA has seen.
8 Dennis Rodman
Going from flash to brash, Dennis Rodman was a scary player to go against in practice or a game. This power forward was a man you loved to have on your team, but would hate if he was on the other side. Rodman had the ability to guard any position on the court and give his opponent hell every time they would dribble the ball. Forget all the off-the-court antics and focus on his defensive and rebounding tenacity. Then take a look at his defensive accolades. Rodman made the NBA All-Defensive Team eight times and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Dennis Rodman was a nightmare matchup for any opponent and not because of how he looked at times.
7 Michael Jordan
We might get some hate for Michael Jordan being only seven on this list, but let us explain. Jordan is arguably the greatest defender at the shooting guard position. Of course his offensive game completely overshadows his defensive work. Along with being the only player to average over 30 points a game in his career, Jordan was a one-time Defensive Player of the Year and nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection. It's just there are other defenders that deserve more credit for their ability to impact a game with their defense. Jordan was pretty much the best at everything and there is no denying that. And plus, seventh isn't bad.
6 Ben Wallace
Only two players in the history of the NBA have won four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards and Ben Wallace is one of them. We could stop right there and you would get why he is so high on this list. This center that played for five teams averaged 1.3 steals and exactly 2 blocks per game during his career. His aggressive ways on the court inspired his teammates during the game and could elevate their defensive games to stop opponents from scoring. Wallace's intimidation factor made offensive players not even want to try to score on him and this is where we'll stop because we can go on and on about his merits.
5 Scottie Pippen
We'll say it right here, we believe Scottie Pippen was a better defender than Michael Jordan. We don't think that's too out there. The Chicago Bulls would never have had their three-peat if they did not have the defense of Scottie Pippen. Playing in the shadows of the greatest to ever play, Pippen got it done on the defensive side of the ball. He was a eight-time selection on the NBA All-Defensive First Team and two-time selection on the second team. Scottie Pippen averaged 2 steals and nearly a block per game in his tenure with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, and Portland Trail Blazers. He could guard anyone on the court at any time and his defense was a major factor that led the Chicago Bulls to their championships.
4 Dikembe Mutombo
Earlier we mentioned that there were only two players to ever win Defensive Player of the Year four times? Dikembe Mutombo is the other player to do this. His finger wag after every block and defensive stop became a reoccurring image throughout the decades this center played in the league. He was just that good. Being a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and six-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection makes for a scary resume. Mutombo earned the reputation as a brick wall inside the paint that few could get over.
3 Gary Payton
Gary Payton was the best defender at the point guard position and probably will never be matched in that regard. This bulldog at 6'4 played primarily for the Seattle Supersonics and was a nine-time NBA All Star. Payton's constant trash-talk to players on the court irritated them to no end. Gary Payton knew how to get inside an offensive player's head. He would also win the physical battle on the court due to his shutdown defense. People called him "The Glove" because of all the steals he would rack up. Gary Payton is 4th all time in steals with 2,445. He certainly earned his nickname, as he became known as the best defensive point guard to play in the NBA.
2 Hakeem Olajuwon
We'll just let the numbers do the talking for this one.
As a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a nine-time selection on the NBA All-Defensive teams, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon was a force to be reckoned with. He is the all time leader in blocks in the history of the NBA with 3,830. Olajuwon also led the Houston Rockets to two NBA Championships. In three different seasons, "The Dream" averaged over four blocks per game. He also averaged near two steals per game with 1.7.
We think you get the point. He is one of the best defenders to ever grace an NBA court.
1 Bill Russell
Russel was an 11-time NBA Champion with the Boston Celtics. Bill Russell was the main reason for all of those titles and it was because of his defense. Throughout his career, Russell averaged over 20 rebounds per game at 22.5. We all know a defensive rebound is the last step to a good stop. During his time in the league, the NBA never recorded steals or blocks. So there is no record of how many blocked shots he did have. Also, they did not name NBA All-Defensive teams, so everything is left to the imagination in this case. People that have seen him play say he is the greatest defender ever and it isn't even close. The mystery is interesting. Bill Russell is the meaning behind the popular phrase in sports, "Defense wins championships." Just watch some tape, enjoy, and appreciate defensive greatness from the greatest defensive player to ever do it.