The top defenders of all time stick out because they don’t mind doing the dirty work. Over time, these players have guarded the toughest opponent or had to out battle players in the paint. This outlines those special players that were the best of all time.
When Draymond Green announced to the world that he is the greatest defender of all time, it certainly swung many heads to social media. To think of all the great defenders to ever play the game, Green believes that he is at the top of the list. Unfortunately, Green may be a great defender but he doesn’t even crack the top-1o of best defenders of all time.
One day, Green is going to have his jersey hung with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for his contributions to the three-time NBA champion dynasty. Green has made the All-Defensive Team five times and won the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Award; other great defensive players stand out over him. Not even Tony Allen, potentially one of the greatest perimeter defenders, is not on this list.
The Reasons Why Rudy Gobert Is Not On The List
Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and is potentially on his way to winning his third recognition. With that said, this era has not focused much on defense unless you have played for coach Tom Thibodeau in the last decade. Plain and simple, the hard-nosed days of the 90s and mid-2000s are over. The league has changed to an offensive-orientated league.
Fans don’t want to see closely contested games in the 90s. They want to see instant offense, dunks, and three-point attempts. A team shooting close to 40 three-point shots is considered normal these days, which means players are not looking to drive to the basket, so rim-protectors are just used for big bodies to rebound. All in all, there simply 10 better defenders that played in tougher eras that cut.
10. Gary Payton
Career Highlights: Defensive Player of the Year (1996), 9x NBA All-Defensive First Team (1994-2002), NBA steals leader (1996)
“The Glove” is one of four players to ever record nine All-Defensive First Teams. When Payton won Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, he truly able to show off his defensive skills. When the Seattle SuperSonics met the Chicago Bulls the first time in the regular season, Payton held Michael Jordan to 22 points on 6-0f-19 shooting in Seattle’s victory. In the end, the Bulls were able to win the series when Payton sustained an injury before the series that kept him from being 100%.
Pound for pound, Payton was one of the best defenders. All nine of his appearances on the Defensive Team came on the First Team. When the two teams met in the NBA Finals, Seattle was down 3-0 before head coach George Karl moved Payton to guard Jordan. The series ultimately ended in six games, but it would not have been as close if Karl had not made the move.
9T. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s Career Highlights: 9x NBA All-Defensive First Team (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006-2011), 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2001, 2002, 2012)
Bryant stretched his career out to two different eras but what is impressive is that Bryant made an All-Defensive team in every season during the 2000s. While Bryant was looking to score every major basket, Bryant was also doubling up by playing great defense. Bryant is one of four players to record status on the First-Team nine times. Bryant is tied with Kevin Garnett for the second-most appearances on the All-Defensive Team.
He has enough credentials to support that he is one of the best wing defenders of all time. On the ball, off the ball, Bryant had pride in being a two-way played because he wanted to replicate Michael Jordan’s game. In terms of similar players like Jordan, Bryant could be the closest player we will ever see.
9T. Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett’s Career Highlights: NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2008), 9x NBA All-Defensive First Team (2000-2005, 2008, 2009, 2011), 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2006, 2007, 2012), 4x NBA rebounding champion (2004-2007)
When it came to protecting the basket, Garnett provided some of the best post-defense in the league. Garnett was a power forward that played defense on power forwards, but he was able to guard centers as well. Garnett is tied with Bryant for the second-most appearances on the All-Defensive Team. When the Boston Celtics made their run to the NBA championship, Garnett was the anchor of the team.
Before Garnett came to town, he was one of the best rebounders in the NBA, which is why he led the league in rebounding for four straight seasons. Every time the opponent came down the floor, it was likely going to be a one-shot possession. Garnett, like Bryant, played similar opponents and made an appearance on the All-Defensive Team each year in the 2000s.
9T. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan’s Career Highlights: 8x NBA All-Defensive First Team (1999-2003, 2005, 2007, 2008), 7x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1998, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015)
Duncan spanned a run of dominance from 1998 to 2015 and is the leader in All-Defensive Team appearances with 15 overall. Duncan is one of the best defensive centers in the NBA to ever play the game because of his length. Mr. Fundamental was true to his name and one of the original rim-protectors.
You might be asking yourself how could the leader in All-Defensive Teams be only ninth on the list. For starters, he was truly just a rim protector. His length allowed him to contest shots at a high rate. Outside of the paint, he did not make much of an impact. His length is what allowed him to contest some shots but his speed kept him from being an effective wing defender.
8. Dwight Howard
Career Highlights: 3x NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2009-2011), 4x NBA All-Defensive First Team (2009-2012), NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2008), 5x NBA rebounding leader (2008-2010, 2012, 2013), 2x NBA blocks leader (2009, 2010)
When Howard was in his prime, there was not a more fearsome defender in the NBA. For three consecutive seasons, Howard captured NBA Defensive Player of the Year. From 2009 to 2012, there was no better center in the league that could disrupt shots and rebound.
The Orlando Magic’s entire defensive scheme was based on Howard’s size, athleticism, and skill. Even when Howard moved onto the Lakers, he was able to keep up his intense defense and lead the league in rebounding, something he did five times over a six-year span.
7. Ben Wallace
Career Highlights: NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), 5x NBA All-Defensive First Team (2002-2006), NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2007), 2x NBA rebounding leader (2002, 2003), NBA blocks leader (2002)
When you look at his career highlights, his stats speak for themselves. Wallace was an all-time defensive force that caused havoc in the 2000s. He is a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, something he accomplished in five seasons. During the early 2000s, Wallace was a force on the boards and disrupting shots in the paint.
Wallace was like Duncan due to his size kept him from being quick. However, he made up for it with his hard work. The Pistons won a championship thanks to hard-working players and Wallace was the leader of that charge.
6. Dikembe Mutombo
Career Highlights: 4x NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001), 3x NBA All-Defensive First Team (1997, 1998, 2001), 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1995, 1999, 2002), 2x NBA rebounding leader (2000, 2001), 3x NBA blocks leader (1994-1996)
Remember the signature finger-waving antics that Mutombo gave after blocking a shot. For a three-year stretch, Mutombo was one of the most fierce shot blockers in the 90s. His defense even carried after the 90s when he led the league in rebounding for consecutive seasons.
Mutombo’s defensive tendencies were connected to shot-blocking and rebounding power. Over his career, he averaged 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. He is second on the all-time blocks chart, behind only Hakeem Olajuwon, while he is top-20 in all-time rebounds.
5. Scottie Pippen
Career Highlights: 8x NBA All-Defensive First Team (1992-1999), 2x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1991, 2000), NBA steals leader (1995)
Pippen would have likely won an NBA Defensive Player of the Year if shot-blocking wasn’t so popular during the 1990s. Outside of Payton’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, long, athletic guards were not hailed as many centers. Pippen was one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, which helped his cause leading the league in steals in 1995.
His eight-year run on the All-Defensive First Team is impressive because of his versatility. Pippen was asked to guard the best player on the opposing team no matter the position. From guard to power forward, Pippen was able to accomplish that task. He would have been considered the best defender ever in the Bulls history if it wasn’t for one special teammate.
4. Michael Jordan
Career Highlights: NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1988), 9x NBA All-Defensive First Team (1988-1993, 1996-1998), 3x NBA steals leader (1988, 1990, 1993)
Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time for his ability to produce on both sides of the floor. He is one of four players to ever make the First-Team nine times, but his feat is impressive for his era. The 90s were a time when smash-mouth basketball was real. You were going to get knocked around and fouls weren’t always going to be called. Jordan’s intensity dragged opponents down.
Many remember Jordan for his gravity-defying dunks and clutch shots, but many forget that he won a Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1988. He led the league in steals three times, including the year the Bulls secured their first three-peat in 1993. Jordan never backed down from a challenge and having Pippen and Jordan in your face was a terrifying task.
3. Dennis Rodman
Career Highlights: 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1991), 7x NBA All-Defensive First Team (1989-1993, 1995, 1996), NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1994), 7x NBA rebounding champion (1992-1998)
Rodman helped the Bulls secure their second three-peat for his defense, especially rebounding. Before Rodman came to the Bulls, he had already led the league in boards for four straight seasons. The acquisition of Rodman to Chicago is hands-down one of the best moves in Chicago sports history.
His best trait on defense was his rebounding, so he concentrated all of his skills on that. Many have said that Rodman loved the battle of rebounding because he was battling with his own troubled mind. In other aspects, Rodman was able to guard the power forward and center positions. He was one of the quicker centers in the league, so he could come out and guard the wings as well. Overall, Rodman is one of the three-best defenders of all time.
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
Career Highlights: 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1993, 1994), 5x NBA All-Defensive First Team (1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994), 4x NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1985, 1991, 1996, 1997), 2x NBA rebounding leader (1989, 1990), 3x NBA blocks leader (1990, 1991, 1993)
Olajuwon had the size and strength to battle every center in the league but also had the quickness of his feet and hands to handle the guard positions. From positions one through five, Olajuwon was a defensive powerhouse. While many remember Olajuwon for his shot-blocking ability, as he leads the NBA in career blocks, we forget that he ranks 10th all-time in steals. At the time of his retirement, he ranked seventh.
What makes Draymond Green’s announcement laughable is when we look at Oljawon’s career blocks. Green owns a career-high of 1.4 blocks per game dated in 2015 and 2016. That would rank last in Olajuwon’s 18-year career. Olajuwon can do everything and is close to being the best overall defender of all-time.
1. Bill Russell
Career Highlights: NBA All-Defensive First Team (1969), 4x NBA rebounding champion (1958, 1959, 1964, 1965)
Russell has a case to be considered the best interior defender of all time. The NBA All-Defensive Team didn’t start recognizing players until the 1968-1969 season. By that time, Rusell had already played for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1968. In his final season in the NBA, he recorded All-Defensive First Team honors. Thanks to Russell, his fundamentals dominated the defensive end and helped change the game of basketball.
Even though Russell is not the all-time block leader, he revolutionized the idea of blocking shots. It was art when Rusell completed the act. He didn’t foul shooters because he had mastered perfect timing. After the block, most times his team regained possession because he would tip to himself or his teammates.
Russell is No. 2 on the all-time rebounding list after he averaged 22.5 rebounds per game. He remains the all-time playoff rebounding leader with 24.9 per game. Had the All-Defensive Team been around from the start of his career, he would have likely earned an appearance in each season, meaning that his total would be 14 selections.