We all know offense wins games, but you just can’t win an NBA Championship without defense, and if you don’t believe us, just ask Mike D’Antoni and his Phoenix Suns, one of the most beautifully orchestrated teams that never took home a ring due to their lack of consistency on their own side of the court.
Some guys will always be remembered as fierce scorers, as points are the reason why most fans actually enjoy the game, although some hard working guys should be given a lot more credit due to their defensive ability, as preventing the best ballers in the world from scoring is arguably a much harder task to do.
That’s what’s most impressive about two-way players like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and LeBron James, as they’re all guys that can be lights out on defense while putting 27 on a nightly basis, and that’s not something that most guys can do. So, let’s take a look at the top 10 best defenders in NBA History.
The Big Fundamental became a complete referent in the paint through his entire career as one of the best players to ever lace them up. Duncan was an incredible rebounder and scorer even with his non-orthodox shot and his quiet demeanour, but sometimes people tend to forget how much of a rim protector he was, spending 13 seasons on the NBA All-Defensive teams and constantly leading the league in defensive rating and win shares, becoming one of the most consistent two-way players in league history and leading the Spurs to 4 NBA rings.
This one could actually be a huge controversy, as most Kobe haters tend to highlight the fact that the Black Mamba wasn’t a great defender.
Nevertheless, they’re just way out of line, as the greatest player in Lakers history was one of the most fierce defenders against top opposition, with that clutch gene on both sides of the court and even making 9 NBA All-Defensive team appearances through his 20 year career as a part of the Los Angeles Lakers, even if he never averaged more than 1.9 steals per game.
10. Bruce Bowen
After struggling to establish himself on an NBA court, Bowen became a fan favorite and one of the most important players in San Antonio history thanks to his outstanding defense, a key part of 3 championship winning teams due to his impressive perimeter defense on guys like Kobe, Wade, Allen Iverson and even LeBron James, earning the right to get his jersey retired for the Spurs, as well as making 8 All-Defensive team appearances.
9. David Robinson
Two Spurs in a row? That sounds about right. People tend to forget how dominant this guy was through his 14-year career with the Spurs. The Admiral was a regular member of the NBA All-Defensive team, a 2-time NBA champion, defensive player of the year, leading shot blocker of the league and also an offensive beast.
On top of that, he had to spend most of his career battling against guys like Hakeem The Dream and Shaq, maybe you’ve heard of them before.
8. Bill Russell
Some people actually think of Russell as the best defender to ever set foot on an NBA court, as the 11-time NBA champion was a complete lockdown defender in an era where they didn’t even count blocks.
Russell leads NBA history with over 130 defensive win shares, and through his entire 13-year career, he became the most dominant two-way player in the history of the game, owning both boards and having absolutely no opposition on any side of the court.
7. Michael Jordan
Of course, we all remember MJ as the most dominant scorer in the NBA’s history. His legacy would go on for ages and he’s arguably responsible for the league’s popularity and growth nowadays.
Nevertheless, Jordan dominated every single aspect of the game, and that of course included the defensive end, even becoming the defensive player of the year in 1988 and making 9 All-Defensive team appearances through 14 years as the best player the game has ever seen.
6. Scottie Pippen
Pippen is arguably one of the most underrated players in NBA history just because he spent most of his career playing alongside the best player in this sports history.
Before the arrival of LeBron to the league, Pippen was the ultimate two-way player, with an outstanding scoring ability and the capacity of locking down and guarding the most talented and physically gifted players with great ease, becoming the perfect complement for MJ and one of the main reasons why the Bulls were so dominant.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
Just to give you a glance of how much of a great player “The Dream” was, the Houston Rockets didn’t show an ounce of remorse about drafting him ahead of Michael Jordan. Hakeem was definitely the most offensively gifted center we’ve seen with his outstanding feet movement.
However, he’ll be mostly remembered for his dominant and fierce defense, being the NBA’s leading shot blocker, and one of the most influential two-way players in the Association's history.
4. Dennis Rodman
Rodman was the ultimate role player in all of the most defensively fierce teams he played for, and he was a big part of that harsh lockdown defense that led both the Pistons and the Bulls to 5 NBA Championships. Dennis was eager to get every single board, to swat every shot and to protect his own basket at all costs, even if that meant shoving, pushing or kicking his rivals to win position or prevent them from scoring.
Through his 14-year NBA tenure, Rodman managed to become the all-time leader in rebounding percentage, led the league in rebounding 8 times (with 7 consecutive seasons), owned the highest rebound average in a season not named Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell, became the only player not named Wilt or Bill to record 1500 rebounds in a season, earned 2 defensive player of the year awards and was featured 8 times as a part of the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
3. Gary Payton
The Glove is arguably one of the most underrated players in NBA history, as the two-way point guard and the former Supersonic star was one of the most complete players overall through his entire NBA career.
He earned his nickname due to his smoothness and defensive ability, as he didn’t have any defensive liabilities despite not being the most physically gifted guard. He had great hands and was one of the few guys that could say that they were able to contain Michael Jordan several times, if that’s even possible.
2. Ben Wallace
Ben was the defensive anchor for a team that also featured Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, becoming one of the most dominant and intimidating big men in the league with his physical defense and his determination to put his body on the line for every single board and protect the rim.
Ben Wallace lead the Pistons to the title in 2004 and being the best defender in the league between 2002 and 2006, winning 4 DPOY distinctions in 5 years.
1. Dikembe Mutombo
You can’t block a shot from one of your buddies and not do the “not in my house” finger wag, you just can’t. Mutombo will always be remembered as one of the terrifying guys in the paint, as the 4-time defensive player of the year and probably the best player in Denver Nuggets history, after Alex English.
He earned so many individual defensive distinctions through his entire career that it's difficult not to think about him as the most dominant defender in NBA history, although he was never able to put the icing on the cake by winning a ring.