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Power Ranking the NBA's Best Off-Ball Defenders

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2017

Power Ranking the NBA's Best Off-Ball Defenders

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    Off-ball defense often gets overlooked by NBA fans, although the premier defenders in the league tend to be excellent off-ball defenders. 

    As you'll find out while looking through the 10 best off-ball defenders going into the 2012-13 season, big men and lanky wings tend to rule the roost here. 

    These are the players who don't need the ball in their man's hands to play great defense. They prevent them from getting it in the first place, play terrific help defense, cut down passing lanes and block shots from the weak side. 

    Blocks and steals may trump off-ball defense on SportsCenter, but the unglamorous and important aspect reigns supreme here. 

    Note: Advanced stats come from the pages of

10. Andre Iguodala

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SF

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 0.99

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 8.7 by small forwards


    Andre Iguodala might be known as one of the premier swingmen in the NBA, a designation applied to players who line up at both shooting guard and small forward, but the Philadelphia 76ers used him almost exclusively at the 3-spot last year. 

    He was quite effective against opposing small forwards, using his excess speed to terrorize them on a nightly basis. 

    The bulk of Iggy's defensive prowess comes from his status as a lockdown perimeter defender, something that doesn't help him in the off-ball variety of the rankings. He's still solid when guarding a man without the ball, but he doesn't stand out quite as much when discussing off-ball defense. 

    Especially impressive is his ability to see the future and pick off passes, leading to run-outs and thunderous Iguodunkas. 

9. Rajon Rondo

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PG

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 1.00

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 10.7 by point guards


    It's awfully hard for a point guard to distinguish himself as an off-court defender because of the tendency to keep floor generals at or near the top of the key. 

    However, Rajon Rondo has still managed to make an impact when his man doesn't have the ball. His court vision is quite apparent when he's running the show on offense for the Boston Celtics, but it also manifests itself in his defense. 

    You can tell that he knows what the other team is thinking, reading and reacting to plays faster than most defenders dream of. His quick hands aren't the only things that help him rack up the steals—his quick mind does so as well. 

8. Luol Deng

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: SF

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 0.98

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 11.3 by small forwards, 18.9 by power forwards


    Luol Deng has three things working in his favor when it comes to off-ball defense. 

    First, there's his quickness. Pound-for-pound, this small forward is one of the most agile players in the league, bounding from one spot to another in the blink of an eye. He can jump into passing lanes and provide double-teams while still recovering to shut down his man. 

    Secondly, Deng is ridiculously lanky. His long arms make those passing lanes that he jumps into even smaller. Because of his length from shoulder to fingertip, Deng can rack up the steals and prevent passes, much in the same way that shot-blockers alter shots. 

    Finally, there's his energy and intensity. The first-time All-Star understands that he needs to contribute defensively and pours his hustle into that aspect of the game. 

7. Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 1.00

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 10.7 by point guards, 11.6 by shooting guards


    Dwyane Wade is about as good as it gets for a guard when it comes to off-ball defense. He may occasionally gamble too much and leave the Miami Heat susceptible to a de facto fast break—even if playing in a half-court set—but he still wreaks havoc on passing lanes. 

    Wade's effort and constant desire to prove himself show up tremendously well when he's chasing men around and through screens, whether from baseline to the top of the key or sideline to sideline. 

    Plus the greatest shot-blocking 2-guard of all time can recover like no other. He can stray remarkably far from his man and still count on his foot speed to put him in position to contest what once seemed like an open jumper. 

6. Josh Smith

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: SF/PF

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 1.02

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 1.8 by small forwards, 15.7 by power forwards, 12.4 by centers


    Early in his career, Josh Smith was a terrific weak-side shot-blocker, but he didn't do much else on the defensive end of the court. His focus in that one area was part of the reason that he became the youngest player ever to hit four digits in blocked shots. 

    Since he first entered the league, though, Smoove has made monumental strides in his overall defensive play and is now one of the premier off-ball defenders. 

    As is the case with many other players on this list, his ability to play versatile defense and his insane athleticism help him out tremendously. He's a terror in help defense and can shut down half the court with his ability to quickly accelerate from one spot to another. 

5. Andrei Kirilenko

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: SF/PF

    2010-11 Defensive Rating: 1.11

    2010-11 Opponent PERs: 12.2 by small forwards, 14.1 by power forwards


    Andrei Kirilenko has been an underrated defender throughout his career, and his versatility offers teams quite a few unique ways to use his tools. 

    It's AK-47's long arms that impact his off-ball defense the most. He's able to slide over and swat away shots with his tremendous reach, particularly from behind on an unsuspecting offensive player. He's also able to use those arms to interfere with passing lanes and deny his man the ball. 

    While the Russian isn't the shot-blocking stud that he was in his early 20s, he is still an excellent help-defender, much as he's been throughout the 2000s.

    He's a near lock to post at least one block and one steal per game during his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, just as he's done during the rest of his career. 

4. LeBron James

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF/PF

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 1.01

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 10.6 by small forwards, 14.8 by power forwards


    LeBron James might not have been named Defensive Player of the Year at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, but he's the most complete defensive player in all of basketball. His positional versatility sees to that, as he's able to play shut-down perimeter defense and still slow men on the blocks. 

    The reigning MVP also excels when guarding off the ball. He's quick and nimble enough to fight around screens and plays with a motor that never seems to slow down in the slightest. 

    James makes it hard enough to get the ball when he's denying it, and then the challenge continues if the offensive player manages a touch. 

    A terrific help defender and a stealthy jumper of passing lanes, James is as good as it gets at all-around defense and near the top in this category. 

3. Tyson Chandler

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: C

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 1.01

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 12.6 by centers


    If you needed a great summary of Tyson Chandler's defensive value, here's one from ESPN's John Hollinger: 

    As for his defense, his presence transformed the Knicks from well below average into a strong, cohesive unit. They gave up 1.2 points per 100 possessions less with Chandler on the court, an amazing stat because he nearly always shared the court with human turnstiles Anthony and Stoudemire at the forward spots. Opposing centers mustered just a 12.6 PER against him, according to 

    You can't make that type of defensive impact without doing more than just playing good on-ball defense. Chandler's off-ball skills were so great during the 2011-12 season that the Knicks could gamble more on the outside, knowing that the DPOY was both shutting down his man and covering their backsides. 

    The center's mobility is always impressive, and he's a terrifying shot-blocking presence on the weak side. 

2. Kevin Garnett

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PF/C

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 0.99

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 13.8 by power forwards, 15.7 against centers


    According to, the Boston Celtics allowed 25 more points per 100 possessions when Kevin Garnett was on the bench than they did when he was plying his trade on the hardcourt. No other player in the league made a bigger impact. 

    Of course, KG wasn't playing off-ball defense that entire time, hence his failure to earn the No. 1 spot despite that ridiculous stat. 

    Even at 36 years old, Garnett is still one of the premier pick-and-roll defenders in the game, and he continues to show off his skills in help defense, coming off his man to guard drivers and then recovering to guard jump-shooters perfectly.

    Plus, Garnett is excellent at fighting for position and fronting dangerous post men. 

1. Dwight Howard

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: C

    2011-12 Defensive Rating: 1.03

    2011-12 Opponent PERs: 14.0 by centers


    Dwight Howard isn't the best defensive player in the league because of his post defense. If anything, D12 can occasionally get abused when he's posted up by offensively talented big men. 

    Howard's defensive greatness stems from his work guarding players other than his man. His help defense is simply unmatched in this league, particularly when he's out on the perimeter stopping the pick-and-roll. 

    In fact, saying that his off-ball defense is unmatched is an understatement. Howard is in a league of his own in this category.

    A more accurate set of rankings would have Howard occupying the top three spots, just to prove how big the gap between him and the rest of the league is. 

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