The best defenders are the ones that are in the thicket of the highlight-reel. The defense is a team skill but it takes quality individuals to contrast a defensive identity. For starters, the defense seems to follow New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau wherever he goes. In his first season, the Knicks are allowing the lowest points per game among any NBA team.
After the Knicks, the likes of Frank Vogel and Quinn Synder have the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz in close pursuit, while the addition of Chris Paul has helped change the defensive identity of the Phoenix Suns. When looking at the landscape of the best defenders in the league, who are the top 10 right now?
The Knicks were able to go from one of the worst defensive teams last season to the best. Part of that reason is due to the transformation of their center. In his sophomore season, Robinson has elevated his game to be one of the best rim protectors in the league. There is widespread speculation that he is one season away from becoming the next Myles Turner.
An injury will cost Robinson 4-6 weeks this season but when he is on the court, he is a perfect complement to the team. Nerlens Noel, a similar player, is proving that as he has been stepping in for Robinson.
10. Chris Paul
The Phoenix Suns are fourth in allowed points per game and it's fair to say that Chris Paul and Jae Crowder have everything to do with that. For starters, Paul is a nine-time All-Defensive selection, so he knows how to work pieces around the court. It's almost unfair to have a coach as a player on the floor.
What's stood out the most is how Paul's influence has helped Deandre Ayton grow as a defender. He ranks ninth in the league in defensive win shares and has become a true rim protector. The Thunder were a solid defensive team last year and that again has everything to do with his presence.
9. Anthony Davis
Despite missing time, Davis was playing like an elite defender once again this season. If he didn't get hurt, there's a great chance that Davis would have potentially won Defensive Player of the Year. The Lakers lead the league in blocks per game (6.2) and that starts with Davis anchoring the defense. The team has played well in his absence but he is the one that makes the team a top-3 defense consistently.
When Davis plays, the team holds the opposition to around 103 points per night. Davis takes away dribble drives and forces teams to shoot outside. The team was in the top-5 in rebounding before he went down and have now slipped to seventh in the league.
8. Kawhi Leonard
Leonard doesn't show up as frequently in the advanced analytics for defense but you can't deny his impact during a game. Leonard has frequently switched guarding the best player throughout its entirety while having to play as the team's best offensive option. Leonard remains the best two-way player in the league for what is being asked of him with the Clippers.
With that said, his knack for anticipating the pass in the passing lanes is second to none. Leonard ranks fifth in the league in steals (1.7). Nothing fancy is ever going to get past him.
7. Mikal Bridges
According to advanced analytics, Bridges has drawn the toughest defensive assignment in nearly every game. He has handled pick-and-roll situations a league-high 219 times and limited those possessions to 0.91 points per possession. Opponents have scored on him only 42% of the time.
With numbers like that, we should expect to see Bridges make his first All-Defensive Team this year. Bridges was a good defender last year, but one has to wonder how much of an impact Paul has had on his defensive transformation.
6. Julius Randle
Randle ranks fourth in the league in defensive win shares and is the true foundational rock of the Knicks defense. Seeing Randle grow into an All-Star is somewhat of a surprise this season given his career trajectory. With that said, the 26-year old is giving the Knicks a glance at a player like Patrik Ewing on offense and defense.
Randle owns a high-rebounding percentage for a team that is not post-player heavy. Even with Robinson out, Randle is picking up the hard post assignments and keeping the Knicks atop of the league.
5. LeBron James
LeBron is an MVP candidate for his offense alone and how he can lead a team far into the regular season. With that said, his defense might be the reason he wins the MVP and becomes the oldest player to ever accomplish that feat. He is second in the league in defensive win shares, trailing Rudy Gobert by 0.1. He is changing the nature of the game on both sides of the floor.
Even at the age of 36 years old, LeBron is flying up and down the court. While we will remember him most for his block on Andre Iguodala in the 2016 NBA Finals, we should pay attention to the game film this season.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis is third in the league in defensive win shares and fifth in total rebounds. In reality, we can throw the advanced metrics out the window because his length is what changes games. Teams have to prepare differently when they take on the Bucks because of the two-time MVP. With his strong build and length, driving to the paint is not going to be an option.
Even when teams do challenge the post, he guards at a superb level. There is a reason that he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Myles Turner
Turner is the shot blocker heard around the world. Leading the league with 3.5 blocks per game, if this was a regular 82-game regular season, Turner would have a chance to break the league record for blocks in a season. Turner leads the league in block percentage, meaning that he blocks a shot 9.6% of the time when a shot is attempted.
Despite not being known as a strong rebounder, his shot-blocking changes the landscape of how teams prepare to play against the Pacers. Turner once recorded a game with eight blocks earlier this season and has recorded six or more in a game six times.
2. Ben Simmons
When you watch Simmons play defense, you forget that he shoots 16.7% from the three-point range. Simmons leads the league in deflections (3.9) and loose balls recovered (1.5) per game. While he may not be racking up the rebounds or steals, his win defense could be the best in the league.
When it comes playoff time, the team doesn't need Simmons to play lead man. They need him to continue to play as a highly-touted role player, who can distribute the ball and guard. Whoever has to play Simmons 1-on-1 will have a difficult assignment.
1. Rudy Gobert
If the season ended right now, Gobert would win his third Defensive Player of the Year Award in the last four seasons. Gobert leads the league in defensive win shares (2.2) and ranks third in rebounding percentage (13.5%). Having Mike Conley and Royce O'Neal certainly helps lighten the load but it allows Gobert to play his main position and flourish down low.
There are no easy shots with Gobert roaming the paint. He is the second-best blocker (2.8 BPG) in the league. The Jazz remains a top-3 defensive team in the league because of how Gobert anchors the defense.