The NBA's Best Defenders Part 2: Post Bangers and Interior Intimidators
My first installment, written this spring, highlighted the NBA's crème de la crème of wing defenders. It also prompted an outcry from those who either didn't read it or didn't understand the premise.
Commenters wanted to know why a list of primo defensive wings did not include Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. Well, one is a point guard and the other an imposing center.
If you want statistics or percentages, look elsewhere. The following analysis comes from the hundreds of games I watch each year, not box scores or what someone else wrote.
I would never argue that blocks, steals, and rebounds are meaningless. Each plays an integral role in how a team performs on the uphill end of the court.
However, to suggest that you can spot a player's defensive acumen by glancing at a stat sheet is ludicrous.
Marcus Camby and Chris "Birdman" Andersen top my list of prolific shot blockers who struggle at the other aspects of effective defense—rotations, footwork, bodying up, and banging without fouling.
Both players can be faked into submission or bullied at the rim, allowing the attacking player an uncontested dunk or layup.
It should also be noted that stupid players are incapable of playing elite defense, hence the exclusion of Amar'e Stoudemire and other similarly wasted talents.
The goal of defense is to stop the opponent from scoring, or at least, force the lowest-percentage shot possible. Since there are numerous ways to do that, I broke the list into several parts—tall-around defenders, the shot erasers, heaping helpers, the downright nasty bangers, and the turnover-creating titans.
These centers and forwards can do a little bit of everything, making it difficult for opponents to score on them no matter the move or tactic.
If Tyson Chandler could stay healthy—missing 29 games last season in addition to an already lengthy list of ailments suggests that might be a tough proposition—he might be the best all-around defensive big man in the game.
Since he's thinner than most at his position, muscular giants like Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard can push him around in the paint and beat him to the glass.
However, if you can overlook his comparatively frail frame, he excels at everything else. A fearsome shot-blocking force from the weak side, he can make any scorer think twice about heading to the basket.
When he's healthy, his help defense is also exceptional. He knows where to go and gets there quickly, cutting off driving lanes for any opponent who manages to get by the guards and wings.
In man-to-man situations, he creates turnovers and forces wild shots. The driving force behind the Hornets' defensive snarl of two years ago, it will be interesting to see if Emeka Okafor can fill the void.
The former Charlotte Bobcat is also an above-average defender in the pivot and merits mention here.
Chandler's former teammate, David West, also has serious defensive junk in his game when he focuses. He took more than few nights off on the defensive end last year, so here's hoping the Okafor trade re-energizes his inner stopper.
West, often derided for his lack of quickness, manages to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time against creative scorers who make a living at the rim.
The former Xavier standout grew up idolizing Spurs stalwart David Robinson, and it shows—sometimes.
Charley Rosen, an NBA analyst for Fox Sports whose opinion I hold in high regard, was too hard on Dwight Howard in his latest "straight shooting" column. Though I agree with Rosen that Howard should spruce up his primitive offensive game instead of pursuing a reality show, his defensive prowess has matured far beyond that of a serial shot-blocking addict.
If he once relied too heavily on his stunning athleticism to swat shots from the weak side, he now better understands the principles of help defense and altering shots.
His intelligence as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will continue to grow if he feeds his mind with the right stuff. He has morphed into an effective pick-and-roll defender, with a chance to become elite in that department.
He could still stand to make better use of his six fouls, and he is too easily bombarded at the chest. Still, at 23 with grand improvements still to come, how could I leave him off this list?
Kevin Garnett changed the mantra of the 2000s Boston Celtics from soft scrubs to serial killers. His energy on the defensive end is unmatched, and his leadership skills as an intimidator cannot be denied.
It would be nice if he crossed the sportsmanship line less, but in many cases, his routine trash talk—a staple of Celtics lore—weeds the weaklings out before the heat of the battle.
Scoring on a frontline that includes Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace could prove as tough as sleeping on a bed of nails.
Yep, Perkins and Wallace are all-around talents, too. They also make a cameo in the nasty section.
Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan has managed to remain a defensive punisher because his game relies on smarts and brawn more than raw ability or athleticism.
His man-to-man defense is average and powerless against some scoring forwards. Still, at 33, he can send any shot packing, and an opponent's chance of winning with it.
His defense against Stoudemire in the closing minutes of a Christmas Day squeaker in Phoenix was a master class in intelligent, belligerent defense. Duncan, playing with five fouls at the time, held Stoudemire scoreless for several minutes.
He will also live in history as one of the greatest help defenders the game has ever seen.
Because he plays on a roster infested with inept and unwilling defenders, Jeff Foster's well-rounded game will never get the attention it deserves. Rosen praised Foster in a column last season as a crafty defender with stick-to-itness who rarely makes mistakes.
Upon further examination of his game, I was glad to have read Rosen's analysis. Unfortunately, at 32, Foster's defensive ability is sure to deteriorate with his age. Maybe Dahntay Jones and other additions will be defensive enough that other fans see how good he is.
Like Foster, Andris Biedrins plays on a defenseless roster overstocked with shot-happy nincompoops. If his Golden State teammates could play a modicum of defense, he would earn more recognition for his savvy work on the boards and in the low block.
If he remains too foul-prone to change a game the way Garnett does, you can count on him to make several smart defensive plays in every game. Can somebody rescue this kid from Don Nelson's Warriors abyss?
Antonio McDyess has plenty of defensive sage to accompany his still ageless game.
The Shot Erasers
Andersen and Camby are notable sultans of the swat, but several others deserve mention.
Duncan, Garnett, and Wallace continue to block shots at an above-average rate.
Nene can make the Denver crowd roar with his send-aways, and Josh Smith, who often plays finds himself defending the paint, will send your scoop attempt from Atlanta to Russia via express shipping.
Smith, however, is lousy at the other components of defense. The vernal Hawks will be, too, until he matures as a defender.
Duncan and Garnett offer exquisite help to teammates in distress.
Pau Gasol, often mislabeled as soft because he isn't over-the-top physical, steps in front of attackers to cut off pathways to the rim.
Chris Kaman helps on an above-average level, despite being a flatfoot.
When he's not flopping all over the court, Anderson Varejao finds time to assist in protecting from penetration.
Since the Brazilian is a lousy athlete and a dreadful shot blocker, he's fit for inclusion only in this category. However, if there were an award for tricking the refs, he would win it hands down.
By virtue of his 7'6" stature, Yao Ming changes countless shots just by standing in the lane. His pick-and-roll coverage is awful, but having teammates who commit to team defense makes that weakness less of an issue.
Of greater concern for the "Great Wall" are questions of will he play again, and if he does, can he stay on the court for a full season and playoff run?
The Downright Nasty Bangers
Perkins and Wallace aren't afraid to do the dirty work down low. Neither opposes slamming any opponent to the ground who dares think he has a clear path to the basket.
They use fouls effectively and make sure opponents feel the pain. Howard's career record against the Pistons is 5-22 or worse, in large part because Wallace's length frustrates him to no end.
How will Orlando's franchise star deal with Garnett, Wallace, and Perkins down low with Glen "Big Baby" Davis as an accessory reserve?
Kurt Thomas is one of the best individual defenders in post-up situations. He rarely surrenders loose balls and uses his body to suckerpunch his man's offensive game plan.
Kenyon Martin's defense is often overrated—given that Dirk Nowitzki scored easily and reliably on him in the 2009 playoffs—but he can still bring out angry vibes from anyone who experiences one of his physical beatdowns.
Joel Pryzbilla is a superior defender to Greg Oden now, but that could change in the next few seasons. Until then, Pryzbilla bodies up big-bodied centers like he's checking the mail. Like Foster, he rarely makes mistakes and knows how to make the proper rotation.
The Turnover-Creating Titans
Perhaps Gasol's best attribute is his length and quick hands, which he uses to create miscued passes, steals, and shots. Quicker forwards and centers with some hops can leave him in the dust, but deliberate post scorers like Duncan and Yao, who often dribble into their moves, are frequent victims of Gasol's thievery.
Mehmet Okur has all the athleticism of a potted plant and the lateral quickness of a statue, but he makes the list because of what he can do against anyone who dribbles or takes time to develop his moves in the post.
His active hands anticipate errant spins and shaky dribbles. The way he forces Yao into turnover after turnover is the principle reason why Houston Rockets visits to Utah feel more like banishments to hell.
When he focuses, he can net several steals or force consecutive traveling violations.
If he was even a modest gym jumper, he be an elite defender.
Disagree with any of the above choices? Come armed with a cogent argument or get that weak stuff out of here!
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