Once the media and the fans settle for a narrative, it's quite hard for players to change that perspective. If the audience decides you're not good in the clutch or you're a bad defender, that reputation is likely to stick with you forever.
Sadly, some players don't get the recognition they deserve for their defensive contributions to their teams. Some because they weren't good defenders when they entered the league, some because aren't that popular, and some because they just don't get enough playing time.
Everybody knows that Rudy Gobert, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Ben Simmons are great defenders. But what about those guys no one talks about? Or worse, what about those who most people believe are bad defenders when they're not? That's why today, we're going to dig deep into the stats and let you know about the top 10 most underrated defenders in the NBA right now.
10. Larry Nance Jr
Larry Nance Jr has flown under the radar for most of his career. But, besides his never-ending energy on both ends of the glass and his emphatic dunks, he's actually quite the defender. Despite missing a lot of time this season, he logged 1.3 Defensive Win Shares (19th best)and is currently seventh in the league with a Crafted Defensive Box Plus-Minus of 2.3.
9. Jakob Poeltl
Jakob Poeltl is by no means a superstar but he's the second-best defender in the San Antonio Spurs, and it's not even close. He's currently sixth in the league in blocks (86) and seventh in block percentage (5.4). He's fourth in the league in Crafted DBPM with 2.9 and has 1.9 Defensive Win Shares this season.
8. Fred VanVleet
Fred VanVleet has been an underrated player throughout his entire career so it's not like this is new to him. Lately, he's earned a reputation for being a great shooter and a solid scorer and playmaker, but more than that; he's also a lockdown defender in the backcourt. He's piled up 1.6 Defensive Win Shares this season while also being tied at the 3rd spot for most steals per game with 1.7.
7. Mike Conley
Mike Conley has to be the most underrated player of his generation. He was never selected to an All-Star Game until this season and people barely talked about him despite being a steady contributor on both ends of the floor. The Utah Jazz boast the best defense in the league mostly thanks to Rudy Gobert, but Conley has also chipped in with 1.6 Defensive Win Shares, 1.3 steals per game (18th-best), and he's a great off-ball defender as well.
6. Kyle Kuzma
Kyle Kuzma gets a lot of criticism on social media because of his antics and the occasional offensive blunder. That shouldn't distract you from the fact that he's made great strides as a defender and only continues to get better in that aspect of the game. Right now, he's 20th in the league in Defensive Win Shares (2.3) and 12th in Defensive Rating (107.2). His long arms and lateral quickness give him a huge edge as a switcher and he's learning how to make great reads in real-time.
5. Julius Randle
If you told anybody three years ago that Julius Randle was going to be a plus-defender, they would've laughed straight at your face. Fast-forward to today and he's not only posting All-Star caliber numbers in the offensive end but also locking other players up. As a matter of fact, he's second in Defensive Win Shares (3.4), 30th in Defensive Plus-Minus (0.8), and 10th in Defensive Rating (106.8).
4. Chris Boucher
It took him a while but Chris Boucher has finally established himself as the best option in the paint for the Toronto Raptors. He can play both forward spots and at center, and besides his ability to knock down three-pointers, perhaps his best trait is his rim protection. He's currently 15th in Defensive Win Shares per 48 minutes (.202), 3rd in blocks (107), and 3rd in Block Percentage (8.0%) and averages 1.9 blocks per game despite playing just 23 minutes a night.
3. Deandre Ayton
Back when Deandre Ayton was in college, the only two flaws in his game were his lack of range and his poor defensive instincts and skills. The potential was there but he simply refused to play defense, and that reputation followed him during his first two years in the league. Now, however, the former first-overall pick is actually making a huge contribution on that end of the floor. Ayton currently ranks 4th in Defensive Win Shares (2.7), 12th in blocks (62), and 9th in Defensive Rating (106.7).
2. Tobias Harris
Tobias Harris drew a lot of criticism last year for his performances in the playoffs and some claimed that he was one of the most overpaid players in the league. He's now playing at an All-Star level as a scorer and is also one of the best defensive wings in the league, contrary to what most people believe. He's 10th in Defensive Win Shares (2.6), and 14th in Defensive Rating (107.3), yet some people still call him a liability in that regard.
1. Nerlens Noel
I think we can all agree that Nerlens Noel failed to live up to the expectations when he made it to the league. He was often hurt or careless, so even if he was a good shot-blocker, he wasn't making a positive impact as a defender. Now, coach Tom Thibodeau has really taken his career back from the ground, and Noel is currently leading the league in both Defensive Rating (100.8) and Defensive Box Plus-Minus (3.3). He's also 5th in Defensive Win Shares (2.7), 5th in blocks (104), and 2nd in Block Percentage (8.9). Those are Defensive Player of the Year kind of numbers, and he's doing that in just 23 minutes per game.