Ranking the Toughest Enforcers in the 2014 NBA Playoffs

Joshua J Vannuccini@@jjvannucciniSenior Analyst IIIApril 21, 2014

Ranking the Toughest Enforcers in the 2014 NBA Playoffs

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    Tony Avelar

    The 2014 NBA playoffs are finally underway, and we've already seen the best of the best go at it. While there's been a few standout offensive performances, players doing work in other areas aren't getting as much attention.

    Though to be clear, their play hasn't been just about defense. Every team has an enforcer of sorts, and his role comes down to a multitude of factors. It's as the defensive force behind the team, a vocal leader on and off the court, being that tough, physical and intimidating factor for the squad.

    Sometimes it shows up in the stat sheet, but more often than not it comes down to gritty defense, hustle and 100 percent effort on the court that is appreciated by the fans. 

    Here they are: the toughest enforcers in the 2014 NBA playoffs.

Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    He might turn 38 years old next month, but Kevin Garnett remains an enforcer in the paint for the Brooklyn Nets.

    Garnett played just 54 games in the regular season, averaging 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game. Despite his supposed shortcomings as the starting power forward for the Nets, Garnett's role with the team moves away from statistics.

    Although it doesn't hurt to mention his 100.5 defensive rating, the Big Ticket has been infamous for his role as a tough, trash-talking menace to the opposition. He was the defensive anchor for his teams in the past, specifically the driving factor behind the Boston Celtics' championship run in 2008.

    Almost six years later, Garnett is playing the same role but in a lesser format. He's still psychologically formidable on defense and remains a vocal leader both on the court and on the bench.

    He'd have a much higher placing on the list if we were in a different season, but Garnett's age has slowly regressed his ability to be an enforcer. Although, it hasn't completely just yet.

Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Serge Ibaka might lead the Oklahoma City Thunder in blocked shots, but Kendrick Perkins is the team's true enforcer.

    Much like some other players on this list, Perkins' usefulness has slowly regressed to the point it is no longer visible in the box score. He averaged 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds on 45.1 percent shooting this season, becoming increasingly renowned more for his appearances on Shaqtin' A Fool rather than his role with the Thunder.

    Despite all of that, there's a reason Perkins remains the starting center for a championship-contending basketball team. His physically imposing appearance is enough, to say the least, but Perkins' role in ensuring his teammates play at a high level is invaluable.

    He is consistently making his mark vocally and is an experienced veteran leader for this youthful Thunder team. Perkins' 100.8 defensive rating is solid, and it's there where he makes his mark as a player.

    Throw in some mean glares and physical defense, and therein lies Perkins' value as an enforcer. He'd rank a little higher given how well he fits that role, but his lack of efficiency in doing so occasionally limits his placing.

David West, Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers might be struggling mightily, and David West might very well be a part of it. But the team can always count on him to be its enforcer on the court.

    His teammate in Roy Hibbert might stand an imposing 7'2", but West is a straight-up bruiser in the paint. He stands 6'9" and weighs in at 250 pounds but is undoubtedly one of the strongest players in the league.

    West blocked only 0.9 shots per game during the season, but he makes his impact physically rather than statistically. Although his 95.6 defensive rating is very impressive, it might be more indicative of the Pacers' terrific defense than West's personal accolades.

    Much like Perkins, West is the veteran and experienced voice for his team who also steps in for his teammates. He's had multiple incidents with players this season and seemingly won't back down from anyone.

    West has a tendency to commit some rough, frustration fouls (against the Cleveland Cavaliers and against the Atlanta Hawks) when his team is losing but remains just as imposing regardless.

    His altercation with Udonis Haslem in the Eastern Conference Finals of last season is particularly notable.

    West is one of the few inclusions on this list who doesn't enforce psychologically or defensively, but more so with brute force and an intimidation factor that's downright scary.

Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Matt York

    Always sticks up for his teammates (Twitter bout), Kobe ball fake, tough, gets in opponents' heads.

    One of the few players who isn't a big man to make this list, Matt Barnes edges DeAndre Jordan as the Los Angeles Clippers' enforcer.

    He's long been seen as a fiery competitor on the perimeter, maybe more so for his altercations with players than his actual defensive play. Barnes has been a terrific role player for the Clippers this season, averaging 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

    His defensive rating of 103.9 doesn't truly show what he does on that end of the floor, but his contributions in other areas net him this spot.

    Barnes' uncanny ability to get in his opponent's head has made him a less-than-likeable player, often resorting to psychological ploys rather than actual defense.

    In addition, his seemingly endless list of altercations with players makes him an enforcer on any team. Just search on YouTube "Matt Barnes fight."

    While often it's due to his physical play, Barnes always seems to come to the aid of his teammates in heated confrontation. He openly expressed himself on Twitter back in November, after having defended teammate Blake Griffin from Thunder forward Serge Ibaka.

    Defense, psychological play, confrontation and backing up his teammates. What more could you ask from an enforcer? 

Chris Andersen, Miami Heat

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Chris Andersen has made a living being an enforcer, regardless of the uniform he has on his back.

    Most recently for the Miami Heat, Andersen has been an impact and energy player off the bench. His colorful array of tattoos and hairstyles has made him a fan favorite, in addition to his play defensively and on the glass.

    The Birdman blocked 1.3 shots per game for the Heat this season, acting as a catalyst in the paint for a team short on big men. He remains an athletic player even at 35 years of age, which may play the biggest part in his role as an enforcer.

    Andersen was a key contributor in Miami's run to the NBA Finals last season, filling the role as a "no nonsense" type of player.

    His altercation with the Indiana Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season made headlines (and resulted in a Game 6 suspension), but it just went to show how imposing Andersen can be as an enforcer.

    It might have been a tad over the top, but after Hansbrough's rough foul of Dwyane Wade, Andersen (and Udonis Haslem) showed he won't allow his teammates to be pushed around.

Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Udonis Haslem is the epitome of what the Miami Heat are all about.

    His 6'8" frame might be a bit undersized at the power forward spot, but Haslem is renowned for his relentless pursuit in defending and rebounding the basketball.

    He might have lost a step or two the past few seasons (with him playing a career-low 14.2 minutes per game this season), but he remains an invaluable leader for this Heat team.

    Longtime teammate Dwyane Wade sung Haslem's praises, saying: "When he talks, he’s not just talking to hear his voice. We understand that this guy is all heart. This is one of the total team guys. When he steps up and says something, everyone listens."

    Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick provided a more recent insight into just how integral Haslem is and how much of an impact he makes as an enforcer for Miami.

    His two points and three rebounds thus far in the playoffs are minor, but the role he's played in past seasons shouldn't be forgotten.

    Both his rough retaliation foul on Tyler Hansbrough in the 2012 playoffs and his altercation with David West in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals are prime examples of Haslem's toughness and authority as a member of the Heat.

Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Patrick Beverley is a complete pest. And I mean that as a compliment.

    The Houston Rockets might have the likes of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik in the paint, but Beverley is the true enforcer for this team.

    His pesky defense and all-out effort on both ends has made him a fan favorite. Beverley's defensive rating of 101.8 is solid, but it doesn't show how big an impact he makes.

    Some might call him a dirty player, given the incidental contact that caused a season-ending knee injury for Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook last season. But Beverley's role as a scrappy player who gets in his opponent's head has been integral in shaping the Rockets' identity.

    You'd be hard-pressed to find someone he'd back down to, and he truly embodies the player everyone hates to love/loves to hate. 

    Whether he's jawing at a fan or with a player or (my personal favorite) skipping away after drawing a flagrant foul, Beverley is one of the true enforcers in the NBA. And at 6'1", he's one of the few guards to fill such a role.

    Beverley edges most of the competition on the list given his relentless play on the ball, in addition to being an annoyance to his opponents. The others on the list do the same, but he's just done a better job as an enforcer for his team.

Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

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    Danny Moloshok

    Andrew Bogut might be out indefinitely and possibly miss the 2014 playoffs, but he remains a leading candidate as the top enforcer in the NBA.

    A rib injury has recently sidelined the Australian center, but his imposing 7'0" frame has been key in solidifying the Golden State Warriors' defense.

    Bogut's 98.8 defensive rating is indicative of this, in addition to his 1.8 blocks per game. His work as an enforcer truly stems from his play defensively, acting as a force players are looking out for when driving to the rim.

    He also plays a major role as that physical player in the paint, committing his fair share of fouls at 3.1 per game. Much like Barnes or Haslem, Bogut is a player who lets everyone know to not mess with him or his teammates. 

    He's had multiple altercations with players, most recently with the Los Angeles Clippers (once or twice) and almost a mass brawl with the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Bogut almost netted the top spot on the list, but his play as an enforcer comes in a limited capacity. He's absolutely ferocious defensively and in confrontations, but that wasn't quite enough.

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Joakim Noah has come into his own this season and will likely do the same in the postseason. With Derrick Rose sidelined once again, Noah has emerged as the leader of the Chicago Bulls with his defense, hustle and rebounding leading his candidacy.

    His relentless play on defense is second to few, with his seemingly endless supply of emotion and energy becoming a staple of this Bulls team.

    Noah's 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 blocks are perhaps the best all-around numbers of any big man, but it's his play as an enforcer that doesn't appear on paper.

    His vocal, passionate demeanor on the court is formidable to say the least, inspiring his teammates and fans during the game. Noah's just as much of a pest as he is a competitor, doing everything he can to disrupt the other team's concentration and will.

    Whether he's yelling after putting back a missed shot, waving his hands to the crowd or clapping enthusiastically in his opponent's face, Noah nets the top spot on our list.

    He might not have Bogut's brute strength, but Noah's overall contributions outweigh the lack of one area.