Perimeter defense is an essential part of winning basketball. The key elements to a great defense are simple, seal off the perimeter and challenge jump shots. Opponents have a harder time sinking a jumper from 15 feet out with a hand in their face than an open dunk.
Therefore there are two elements to a good perimeter defender. First, there's the element of shutting down the defender. Second, there's the element of challenging the jump shots.
Measuring success in these areas is another task altogether. There are some traditional stats, like steals and blocks, which do absolutely nothing to reveal this information.
There is offensive rating, which can be an element of team play.
There is Opponent's Player Efficiency Rating or oPER which measures the PER of the opponent while the player is on the court, but that has flaws too. For instance, it counts assists against a defender. If a player stops his opponent's penetration and that opponent passes out to another player who makes a shot, the player's good defense (stopping the opponent) actually counts against him.
There are also Synergy numbers which are tracked according to the primary defender on the play. These can also be affected by help defense. However, they are better than the general defensive rating.
Synergy numbers can break down play types as well. Isolation defense is less dependent on help defense, so there's a big difference between isolation numbers and overall numbers that we can find out about if the player is helping the team or the the team is helping the player.
Also, some of the best defenders guard the opponents' best players, so that's going to inflate their oPER for two reasons. First, their opponent is going to have a higher usage rate. Second, their opponent is going to be a better player.
Giving up 20 points to Kevin Durant on 18 attempts is a far better defensive performance than giving up 16 points to James Johnson on 12 attempts. If you just look at the overall number you won't get that.
There is no magic formula for defense and while each measuring stick has its own flaws, they also have their strengths. When we look at the composite we can get an idea of what kind of defender a player is.
There's also the old fashioned eyeball test. I agree that you can't just go by the numbers because sometimes the stats can lie. Then again, so can our eyes.
That said, here are the best perimeter defenders on the market along with relevant stats and observations.
Gerald Green broke out near the end of the season last year and actually led the New Jersey Nets in Simple Rating.
That's not bad for a player who had spent the last three seasons out of the NBA trying to land a job in Russia, China the D League or anyone who would take him.
His persistence paid off.
And his defense is a large part of what he brings to the table. While his .91 overall points per play against is not at all impressive, his .62 in isolation defense is ridiculous.
Green did enough to earn himself a contract next year. Teams will be looking at him for whichever side of the ball they need help on.
Matt Barnes has the reputation of a tough defender and it's a well earned one at that. He's got a bulldog mentality and his aggressive style is reflected in his Synergy numbers.
His isolation numbers are flat out impressive as he gives up a meager .71 points per play in iso. He also gives up only .83 points per play on jump shots with a field goal percentage of just 36.6 percent. He also had the best defensive rating of any wing on the Lakers, including Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant.
Barnes doesn't have much of an offensive game but his defense is better than most and he has the kind of mentality that can take opponents off their game. Teams that need a small forward enforcer type would be smart to look at Barnes.
C.J. Miles took a huge step up this year, particularly defending the 2 as his oPER dropped 4.5 points from last season's 18.0 to 13.5.
His overall Synergy numbers are a bit high at .86, but his .72 in isolation and his 33.3 percent field goal percentage against suggests that is more a result of poor team defense than poor individual defense from Miles.
Miles is a player who has been developing his defensive reputation each year. While he's a long way from being an offensive juggernaut, his offensive game is more present than in many of the other defensive specialists who are in the game today.
Grant Hill at one time was known for his offense. After a plethora of injuries he redefined himself as a premiere perimeter defender in the NBA.
Hill's numbers bear out that fact: His oPER of 13.8 is solid and his opponent's points per play of .78 is also very good. That his isolation number is about the same at .79 suggests that he's not benefiting from defensive play as well.
Hill doesn't just bring his own defense either. He brings a high basketball IQ that understands systems and rotations. Hill being on the court automatically benefits any team defensively and as such, will make him a highly-sought after player even if he is going to be 40 when the season starts.
Chauncey Billups is a player that has built a career on leadership, clutch shooting and consistent perimeter defense. Twice he's made it to the NBA's All-Defense team. When he was on the National team he worked with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook to help them improve their defense.
That's the type of player he is. He brings not only defense but defensive leadership to every team he is on.
What's impressive about Billups is that even while he plays on marginal to flat out bad defenses he still is able to maintain a level of personal success. This year he had an oPER of just 13.1, and gave up just .71 ppp both in isolation and against the pick and roll.
DeShawn Stevenson had a pretty awful year last year but the career he had before that is enough to earn him a spot on this list. His defense is still outstanding.
Stevenson's Synergy numbers are ridiculous. He gave up .75 points per play overall, .59 ppp against isolation and .69 ppp against the ball handler on the pick and roll. Those are just extraordinary numbers, especially when you consider that the Net had a horrid interior defense.
The Nets overall defense was one of the worst in the NBA last year, but don't blame their perimeter defenders for it.
Gerald Wallace is the best perimeter defensive player on the market because he's one of those rare players who can dominate a game through his defense. He can guard both forward spots, but he's a lot more successful and consistent as a small forward.
All his numbers were much better in Portland because of motivation, help and position. In New Jersey he was asked to play a lot more power forward.
While Wallace doesn't have the size of power forward like LeBron James does, he does have the strength of one, and he combines that with the athleticism of a small forward. When he's guarding the 3 he almost always enjoys a physical advantage.
In Portland he gave up an oPER of just 12.8 guarding the 3 and his opponents scored just .70 points per play both in isolation and in the pick and roll. He gave up a 36.8 percent field goal percentage on jump shots.
Wallace is the best perimeter defender available, just don't count on him to play power forward.