Ranking the Most Intimidating Defenders in the NBA Entering 2013-14

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 3, 2013

Ranking the Most Intimidating Defenders in the NBA Entering 2013-14

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    When NBA players see certain defenders waiting for them on the other side of the court, their knees start quivering.

    Already sweaty, they start to glisten with salty droplets to an even greater extent. They know that the ensuing possession is going to be particularly difficult. 

    They're intimidated. 

    Some defenders just have the ability to inspire that type of reaction when they step onto the hardwood. They're terrifying to go up against, and these are the best of the best in that category. 

    It's important to note that these are not the top defenders in the league but rather the most intimidating. There's a massive distinction there, so don't get those confused. 

    In order to determine the most intimidating defenders in the Association, I'm turning to a metric system. On the next slide, you'll be able to view exactly how the rankings were determined. 


    Note: All stats come from Synergy Sports (subscription required) and Basketball-Reference.

How Is Intimidating Defense Calculated?

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    Intimidation isn't something that can be easily determined.

    Do you count the number of scowls? Do you rate trash-talking on a one-to-10 scale? Do you go by reactions when they enter the game? 

    None of those things are easily quantified or tracked, so I'm going to approximate it with a new metric called...wait for the creative name...intimidation defense, or ID. 

    Essentially, it's based around five defensive stats that are intimidating to opponents.

    First we have the glamorous per-game stats: blocks and steals. Then we have the amount that an individual helps his team play better defense, because a more suffocating team defense is inherently intimidating. Finally, courtesy of Synergy, we have the two intimidating types of individual defense: isolation and post-up plays. 

    In order to qualify for the rankings, players had to meet certain thresholds for each of the five categories and play at least 25 games in 2012-13.

    They had to record either (A) 1.0 steals per game, (B) 1.0 blocks per game or (C) 1.5 combined steals and blocks per game. They also had to make their teams better on defense (points allowed per 100 possessions lower when they were on the court). Finally, they had to find themselves in both isolation and post-up situations at least 25 times apiece (the cutoffs for ranking qualifications in Synergy's database).

    That left us with 66 qualified players, all of whom you can see ranked at the end of this slideshow. 

    Numbers were calculated for each of the 66, then they were ranked in each category. The overall ID score was the sum of those rankings, and everything but team impact was counted twice.

10. Metta World Peace, 210 ID

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 10

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 41

    Point Differential Rank: No. 20

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 27

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 17

    The New York Knicks found themselves quite a bargain when they landed Metta World Peace once he was amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Although the defender formerly known as Ron Artest isn't nearly as good as he was back when he became the last perimeter stopper to win Defensive Player of the Year, he's still a good all-around stopper. The steals numbers remain elite, he makes his team better and he plays both glamour categories well. 

    In particular, MWP has become a great post-up defender. 

    This past season, his last in L.A., World Peace allowed just 0.75 points per possession to players with their back to the basket. And this wasn't just a small sample-size fluke. He played power forward more than ever before, and post-up plays accounted for 16.4 percent of his defensive possessions. 

    Given the injury-prone nature of the New York frontcourt, this move could become quite the free-agency steal. 


9. Tim Duncan, 207

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 49

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 3

    Point Differential Rank: No. 15

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 27

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 17

    Age? What's that? 

    Sticking with the theme of veteran players, Tim Duncan checks in at No. 9. And while I haven't calculated these numbers for any other year, something tells me that The Big Fundamental would have been a consistent top-10 presence throughout his career. 

    The scary thing is that he might get even better in 2013-14. 

    Duncan isn't going to decline as an isolation or post-up defender. His technique is just too perfect for that to happen. But he might record even more blocks per game. 

    As Duncan ages, he's become more of a landlord than ever before. He stays in the paint and protects the rim, and that's why his blocks per game have risen as his career has entered into the twilight stage. I don't think it's too bold to predict that he'll be a strong contender for the swats crown this coming season. 

    Father Time wouldn't have it any other way. 

8. LeBron James, 172

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 7

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 25

    Point Differential Rank: No. 22

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 42

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 1

    Subjectively, I would have ranked LeBron James even higher. 

    The league MVP would have received bonus points for sensational blocks like the one you can see up above against Tiago Splitter. He would have benefited from the chase-down rejections and the ability to guard any position on the court. 

    But that's not how this works. 

    LeBron still has elite numbers even without my personal input. Of all the qualified players, he had the best post-up numbers, and he wasn't too shabby in any of the other categories. That said, LeBron's isolation defense could get better, as he's often so active running around the court that he doesn't have energy to lock down his own man. 

    That's picking at nits in terms of overall defensive impact, but it does decrease his intimidation defense. 

7. Dwight Howard, 171

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 28

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 5

    Point Differential Rank: No. 9

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 46

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 2

    The fact that Dwight Howard ranks so high based on a year in which he was playing injured is quite impressive. 

    During the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign, D12 was clearly hindered. His back was limiting his mobility, and he often had to play defense with his hands instead of his feet. Perhaps that helped his steals per game average rise up a marginal amount, but it also made him less effective in isolation. 

    And that's the biggest thing holding D12 back. 

    Once he can move freely, he'll be able to stop fouling and sending his opponents to the line for easy points. He did so on 6.5 percent of possession in 2012-13, and that number should be lower now that he's with the Houston Rockets. 

    Howard is still a truly elite defender, and he's rather intimidating as well—especially because he loves nothing more than the emphatic swats that send a certain sphere eight-rows deep into the seats. 

6. Joakim Noah, 162

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 24

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 6

    Point Differential Rank: No. 8

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 33

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 14

    Does any picture more accurately sum up the mentality of Joakim Noah

    He's wearing an All-Star uniform, which right away means that his defense is pretty damn good since he isn't much of a scorer. But the All-Star Game itself doesn't really ask for defense to be played, and yet, Noah is in a lockdown stance, ready to play with nothing other than his trademark intensity. 

    The Chicago Bulls center doesn't understand how to play at less than 100 percent. It's a foreign concept to him, one that he'll likely never understand. 

    That alone makes his defense intimidating, but so too does the fact that he's so well-rounded. 

    Noah can guard more versatile bigs on the perimeter, and he's even better when he's banging around in the paint. The Florida product sometimes seems like he's seeking out contact, and he thrives when he receives it. 

    Although the long-haired center isn't always a man who produces great individual numbers, his consistency, versatility and team-oriented play more than make up for it. 

5. Josh Smith, 158

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 24

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 8

    Point Differential Rank: No. 58

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 9

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 9

    Josh Smith's team defense really isn't that great. 

    He finds himself over- and under-rotating far more often than actually making the right decisions. He leaves his man too often. He just isn't disciplined. 

    And as a result, the Atlanta Hawks allowed only 0.5 fewer points per 100 possessions when Smoove played during his final season in his hometown. However, the versatile forward is able to trump that with his excellent individual defense and stat-stuffing nature. 

    Few players are able to block shots and swipe the rock away with such high frequency. Smith averaged 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game in 2012-13, making him one of only seven players in the rankings to top one in each category. 

    Additionally, Smith has the athleticism and strength necessary to excel in both of our glamour defense categories: isolation and post-up plays. Only he and the top-two players in the rankings finished with top-10 marks in each one. 

    The Detroit Pistons might get frustrated with his penchant for ill-advised jumpers, but they'll love having his intimidating defense in the lineup. 

4. Andre Iguodala, 156

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 7

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 35

    Point Differential Rank: No. 12

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 2

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 28

    The only player to post better isolation numbers than Andre Iguodala was Jason Maxiell, and the big man did so on significantly fewer possessions. 

    Iggy's perimeter defense can be matched by a few players—Tony Allen and LeBron James, for example—but when he's working in isolation, he's an immovable object. 

    Opposing players scored only 0.58 points per possession when iso-ed against Iguodala. That was the No. 11 mark in the entire league and the No. 2 among players who qualified for these rankings. It's the sort of thing that tends to happen when you hold your man to 30.1 percent shooting from the field. 

    Also helping make Iguodala intimidating is his lack of a true defensive weakness. He doesn't block many shots, but his 0.7 swats per game still aren't too shabby. 

    The newest member of the Golden State Warriors is the kind of player who causes nightmares when he's coming up on the schedule. 

3. Kevin Garnett, 143

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 28

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 25

    Point Differential Rank: No. 1

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 14

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 4

    Kevin Garnett's ranking doesn't account for his trash talking. It doesn't factor in his intimidating level of intensity. It doesn't give him credit for leaping up to stop balls from going through the hoop even after the whistle has blown. 

    And it doesn't matter. 

    He's still that intimidating, based solely on the numbers. 

    Not only is he a well-rounded defender who plays well in all situations, but he's an ultra-elite post-up stopper and makes a ridiculous impact on his team. That was true with the Boston Celtics, and it should be with the Brooklyn Nets as well. 

    When KG sat, the C's allowed 108.3 points per possession. But when he played, Boston gave up only 99.3. The former number would rank No. 25 in the NBA, and the latter would be No. 1. 

    That's a big impact. 

2. Larry Sanders, 130

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 49

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 2

    Point Differential Rank: No. 6

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 4

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 7

    Larry Sanders is one of just two players to rank in the top 10 for four of the five categories. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the No. 1 player is the other one. 

    During his breakout season, the Milwaukee Bucks center established himself as one heck of an interior defender. He had the lateral quickness to thrive in isolation, and he was disciplined enough to play great post-up defense. 

    And even though the Bucks had some solid backup bigs, Sanders still helped his team play better defense while he was on the court while alongside Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, players who function more as sieves than stoppers. 

    On top of that, he finished second in blocks per game, losing out to only Serge Ibaka with his 2.8 rejections per contest. He gets his revenge here by finishing No. 2 once more, unlike Ibaka, who finds himself all the way down at No. 34. 

    The only weakness? That would be the number of steals per game he records, and that's not exactly the most-important aspect of Sanders' paint-heavy game. 

    Get used to watching this guy play great, intimidating defense. He's going to be doing so for a long time. 

1. Marc Gasol, 112

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    Steals Per Game Rank: No. 35

    Blocks Per Game Rank: No. 9

    Point Differential Rank: No. 4

    Isolation Defense Rank: No. 4

    Post-Up Defense Rank: No. 6

    I have to admit that I was surprised when I saw my formula spit out Marc Gasol at the top of the rankings. 

    The Spanish center was the league's top point-preventer in 2012-13 (and he won Defensive Player of the Year for it), but "intimidating" isn't the word I'd typically apply to him. Still, numbers don't lie, and apparently fundamental excellence can be truly intimidating. 

    Gasol doesn't block shots as well as some other bigs nor is he an elite thief, but he thrives in the other three categories. 

    The Memphis Grizzlies, already a suffocating defensive team, were even better when he played. He was an insanely good isolation player, losing out in the category to only Jason Maxiell, Anderson Varejao and Andre Iguodala. And he was similarly great in the post. 

    Gasol does it all, and that can be just as intimidating as producing glamorous defensive highlights to no end. 

Full Rankings

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    Below you can find the full rankings of all 66 qualified players:

    1. Marc Gasol, 112

    2. Larry Sanders, 130

    3. Kevin Garnett, 143

    4. Andre Iguodala, 156

    5. Josh Smith, 158

    6. Joakim Noah, 162

    7. Dwight Howard, 171

    8. LeBron James, 172

    9. Tim Duncan, 207

    10. Metta World Peace, 210

    11. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 215

    12. Nene, 237

    13. Jason Maxiell, 238

    14. Al Horford, 239

    15. Anderson Varejao, 241

    16(tie). Tony Allen, 243

    16(tie). Gerald Wallace, 243

    18(tie). Tiago Splitter, 244

    18(tie). Robin Lopez, 244

    20. Mike Conley, 260

    21(tie). Trevor Ariza, 263

    21(tie). Emeka Okafor, 263

    23. Paul George, 271

    24. Danny Green, 272

    25. Paul Pierce, 273

    26. Thaddeus Young, 274

    27. Tristan Thompson, 276

    28. Andrei Kirilenko, 278

    29. Dwyane Wade, 281

    30. Kendrick Perkins, 282

    31(tie). Roy Hibbert, 283

    31(tie). David West, 283

    33. Jeff Green, 285

    34. Serge Ibaka, 286

    35. LaMarcus Aldridge, 292

    36. Greg Stiemsma, 293

    37. Brook Lopez, 295

    38(tie). Amir Johnson, 297

    38(tie). Kawhi Leonard, 297

    40(tie). Greg Monroe, 299

    40(tie). George Hill, 299

    42. Al-Farouq Aminu, 319

    43. Derrick Favors, 324

    44(tie). Pau Gasol, 329

    44(tie). Rajon Rondo, 329

    46. Jimmy Butler, 341

    47. Kosta Koufos, 342

    48(tie). Jrue Holiday, 346

    48(tie). Manu Ginobili, 346

    50. Kemba Walker, 351

    51. Ekpe Udoh, 352

    52. Matt Barnes, 359

    53. Dante Cunningham, 360

    54. Mario Chalmers, 363

    55. Kenyon Martin, 367

    56. Brandan Wright, 369

    57(tie). Thabo Sefolosha, 373

    57(tie). Kirk Hinrich, 373

    59. Chandler Parsons, 375

    60. Wilson Chandler, 393

    61. J.R. Smith, 404

    62. Jameer Nelson, 415

    63(tie). Carlos Delfino, 425

    63(tie). Jonas Valanciunas, 425

    63(tie). Tyreke Evans, 425

    66. Jamal Crawford, 428