There is nothing more electrifying in the NBA than a fast-break jam. The opposing team passes the ball away. Players jump off the bench waving their towels. The crowd goes crazy.
For a good offensive team, one of these can be the spark that swings the momentum in its favor.
In most cases it seems as if the passer and the scorer get all the glory, forgetting the most important piece of the puzzle—the man who stole the ball.
Players don’t always get the recognition they deserve for their efforts on the defensive end. A defensive playmaker is one of the most important assets to a NBA team.
Every team has that one player that everyone in the arena is anticipating will get the big steal. These 30 (sorted by their divisions) provide that spark to their squads.
One of the best point guards in the NBA, Rajon Rondo gets the job done on both ends of the court every night at the Boston Garden. What makes Rondo so great is that he never gives you a break.
On offense he has an unstoppable drive to complement his uncanny ability to find an open man. On defense he has some of the quickest hands in the NBA, and his athleticism gives him an edge against most other point guards in the league.
Since Rondo’s rookie season in 2006-2007, he has averaged at least 1.6 steals per game every season. Rondo currently averages 2.48 steals per game, good enough for second in the NBA.
Last season Rondo led his team in steals 56 out of 82 regular season games, leading to NBA All-Defensive Team honors for the second consecutive season. Ask yourself, is there a better steal artist in the NBA? Doubtful.
It was hard to choose the best thief on a team that only averages 5.2 steals per game. Sadly, Devin Harris is the only player in the Nets’ consistent rotation that averages at least one steal a game with his 1.09 steal per game average.
However, the 2009 All-Star’s stats may be misleading. Harris is looked at to be the team’s floor general and their strongest outside shooter, along with defending the opposing team's best guard every game. That is a lot to ask from a developing 27-year-old point guard.
Despite having only the 27th best scoring defense, the Knicks are actually averaging 7.7 steals per game, ranking ninth in the NBA. Maybe the Knicks are not as awful on defense as people make them out be (just kidding—they are).
Raymond Felton leads the Knicks and is sixth-best in the NBA at 1.85 steals a game. Felton has always been a good defensive player. In college, with North Carolina, he was on the ACC All-Defensive team and led his team to a national championship in the 2004-2005 season.
Iguodala has been a solid defensive presence since he came into the league in the 2004-2005 season. Unlike most players on this list, Iguodala plays defense with more physicality than speed.
Iguodala currently is averaging 1.6 steals per game, which is actually tied for his career low. Iguodala has impressively averaged more than two steals per game twice in his career. Even more impressive is that in three trips to the playoffs, Iguodala averages 2.2 steals per game.
Currently with a record of 13-37, it is hard to point out many bright spots on the Raptors. They don’t score a lot of points, they don’t play a lot of defense and they definitely don’t steal the ball too often.
I would says Leandro Barbosa is their best thief because of his big risk, big reward style. The “Brazilian Blur” is known for using his incredible speed to cut off the passing lane. He goes zero to 60 faster than a Ferrari, and sometimes he gets lucky.
Ronnie Brewer is one of the best ball hawks in the NBA. He averages 2.85 steals per 48 minutes, good enough for fourth in the league in that category. Like Iguodala, he plays defense more physical than most players on this list.
He really learned how to get steals while he played for Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz. In his rookie year Brewer averaged less than one steal per game, but since then he has become a lockdown defender and averages 1.5 steals per game for his career.
Like the Raptors, the Cavs have not have very much to be happy about this season. Most NBA fans haven't even heard of half the players on Cleveland’s roster.
Sadly, Mo Williams is the best thief on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Williams has never been known as a defensive player, but he doesn't embarrass himself on the defensive end, something that cannot be said about most Cavs players. He only averages a single steal per game over the span of his NBA career.
My advice for the Cavs is find a defender—find one as fast as you can!
Rodney Stuckey is one of the most talented young point guards in the NBA. Unfortunately for him he is stuck in Detroit. Although Detroit has a strong tradition of having great defenses, that is not the case in the 2010-2011 season.
Stuckey might not be great at getting steals, but he has improved every season he has been in the league. Last season Stuckey boasted a career-high 1.4 steals per game. This season he has taken a small step back, only averaging 1.1 steals per game. But let's face it—he is the best the Pistons have.
Possibly the most underrated scorer in the NBA, Granger also brings a lot to the table on the defensive side of the ball.
Although his numbers have been up and down in the steals department, Granger is still the most impressive on the Pacers. Averaging around 1.2 steals per game, Granger leads the Pacers in that category.
Last season Granger had his best numbers of his career, as he posted 1.5 steals per game, also a team best.
Last season Brandon Jennings took the entire nation by storm when, in his rookie campaign, he carried his Bucks to the playoffs.
Jennings uses his quickness to get his steals, and it proved to be a lot to handle last season, as he averaged 1.3 steals per game.
Jennings has been injured for a few games this season but looks to return to the Bucks and give them a boost. I feel Jennings has the speed and talent to become as great a ball hawk as Rajon Rondo if he puts work into it.
J-Smooth is the only “big man” I included on this list. But Smith is so athletic that I don’t consider him your standard power forward.
Since the 2005-2006 season, Smith has averaged no fewer than 1.4 steals per game.
One of the reasons I like Smith on this list is because of what he can do after the steal. After Smith tips a pass away and breaks down the court, his dunking abilities turn the interception into a masterpiece. It is always showtime once J-Smooth gets in the open court.
Stephen Jackson has been dubbed by Celtics legend Larry Bird the toughest player in the NBA. His toughness really comes out when he is playing defense.
Jackson is the kind of defender who will do whatever he has to do to steal the ball from you. Needless to say, he is not above throwing a few elbows either.
Jackson’s stats back up his defensive game just as much as his dirty reputation. Currently in his 13th NBA season, Jackson has averaged at least 1.3 steals per game nine times in his career. Pretty impressive, Mr. Jackson.
When someone is such a dominant offensive force as LeBron James, it is easy to overlook his defensive skills. The truth is, LeBron is one of the best defenders in the league.
LeBron averages 1.8 steals per game over his career and has never has never averaged worse than 1.6 in a season. He is a steal machine, as his athleticism and size give him a huge advantage over his competition.
His efforts have garnered him NBA All-Defensive honors twice over his amazing seven-year career.
I know it is blasphemy to honor Hedo’s defensive game, but Turkoglu is actually pretty crafty when he chooses to be.
His stats don’t really provide much proof for picking Hedo as the Magic’s best thief, but I feel Hedo can be an annoying defender at times. If you watch a Magic game, you will notice how many times Hedo gets a hand in the passing lane to ever so slightly affect a pass.
Hedo is better than we give him credit for.
Along with creating his own dance, John Wall has also had a pretty successful rookie campaign with the Washington Wizards.
Wall leads all rookies with 1.8 steals per game and has been a pest all season on the defensive end. He stands 6'4", taller than most point guards, and also is as fast as anyone in the league—all in all, a nightmare for opposing guards.
Just 20 years old, Wall is as good a ball hawk as there is in the league, and he will only continue to get better.
Despite being near the bottom of the league in scoring defense, the Warriors average more steals than any team in the NBA. Monta Ellis leads the way with 2.26 steals per game, good enough for third in the NBA.
Ellis is known more as a scorer, currently averaging 25 points per game, but he has been one of the best at getting steals for a few years now.
If he keeps up his pace now, Ellis will have back-to-back seasons where he has averaged at least 2.2 steals per game along with 25 points per game—a very impressive feat.
Baron Davis may be having a down year when it comes to steals, but few people can deny Baron’s knack to rob people of the basketball.
Over his career Davis has averaged two or more steals per game a staggering five times. Although he only averages 1.2 this season, he still leads the Clippers in that category.
His most impressive display of his stealing skills came in the 2001-2002 playoffs with Charlotte, where Davis averaged an unreal 3.6 steals per game.
Baron’s effort has been questioned a lot this season, but hopefully he can start picking up his game so we can see finally some Baron Davis highlight steals again.
All of the recent trade rumors made me want to exclude Ron Artest from this list. But his career stats are just too great not be named the Lakers’ best thief.
Artest has averaged at least two steals per game nine times in his NBA career. Because of this, Artest has earned the reputation of being one of the stickiest defenders in the game.
In 2004 he was awarded NBA Defensive Player of the Year, an honor Artest could have easily won multiple times if it was not for his discipline issues on and off the court.
The Suns are another one of those teams guilty of playing no defense. They play so little defense that their leading stealer is Jared Dudley, averaging just 0.87 steals per game.
A fan favorite in Phoenix, Dudley has built a reputation of being an “annoying player.” He is not very athletic, is one of the hardest-working guys in the NBA and is just a frustrating matchup for anyone.
Dudley is one of the few players on the Suns that I would actually consider defensive-minded—something the Suns need a lot more of.
2009-2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans is as great a defensive player as he is an offensive one. In his rookie campaign he averaged 1.5 steals per game, and he has improved that stat to 1.9 steals per game this season.
The guard has a big 6'6", 220-pound frame that is a tough matchup for most guards in this league. Tyreke is a freak because he can use both his size and his speed to steal balls away. Only in his second season, Tyreke should be a great defender for years to come.
Jason Kidd has been one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA for years. He currently leads the Mavericks with 1.7 steals per game, good enough for ninth in the NBA.
Throughout his career Kidd has averaged at least two steals a game 11 times. He has also been named to nine NBA All-Defensive Teams, which is tied for sixth all-time.
Kidd has never been the most athletic guard in the league, nor the strongest, so he relies on something else to get steals: his awareness. It is hard to find a player with better basketball instincts than J-Kidd.
Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry is really making his presence felt on the defensive end in his first season as a starter. Although his team is not known for its defensive efforts, Lowry has been phenomenal this season.
Lowry is averaging 1.5 steals per game, ranking him 18th in the NBA.
His reputation as a thief is a new occurrence. In his last two seasons with the Rockets, Lowry never averaged more than 0.9 steals per game.
This spot on the list could have been easily awarded to Rudy Gay, who averages 1.7 steals per game and leads the team. But Tony Allen is a role player whose skills for poking balls away cannot go unnoticed.
Allen currently plays just 15 minutes per game but amazingly still averages 1.64 steals per contest. A strong defensive wing is one of the most valuable assets a team can have coming off the bench. Tony Allen is that guy for the Grizzlies. He comes into games, guards the toughest matchup and makes plays.
This is not a new occurrence either. Allen has never played more than 25 minutes per game yet has averaged at least one steal per game in five of his six seasons in the NBA.
If anyone can challenge Rajon Rondo as the best thief in the NBA, it is Chris Paul. He just has a knack for stealing the basketball.
He currently leads the league in steals at 2.6 per game and has done so twice already in his NBA career. He has actually only averaged less than two steals per game one season of his already accomplished six-year career.
CP3 is arguably the best point guard in the league, and his defense is one of the major reasons.
As a Suns fan, I hate the Spurs, especially Manu Ginobili. I can’t count how many times I have seen the Suns on a run only to be stopped by a clutch Ginobili steal.
Ginobili has averaged 1.4 steals per game all eight seasons in the NBA, and he currently averages a team and career-high 1.8 steals per game.
The 6'6" Argentinean has the skill set of a combo guard and the body of a swingman. It makes him a tough player to get around. Along with getting steals, he is one of the greatest floppers to ever play the game. Ginobili is just crafty.
One of the main reasons the Nuggets rank near the bottom in scoring defense is they don’t have any great thieves on defense. It is something that could take the Nuggets, the highest scoring team in the NBA, to the next level.
J.R. Smith has never been known as a great defender. He is known for his clutch three-pointers and electrifying dunks. But in the past two seasons Smith has improved his game on the defensive end.
Currently Smith is averaging 1.2 steals per game. If he can keep this up, it will be his third straight season of averaging at least one steal per game. It may not sound like much, but as skilled as Smith is offensively, some defensive progression would really improve his all-around game.
After winning the 2007 March Madness Most Outstanding Player Award, Corey Brewer was drafted seventh overall and was expected to be one of the league's next great superstars. Unfortunately Brewer has not developed his offensive game as scouts may have predicted, but he still plays hard defense.
Brewer is currently averaging a career-high 1.7 steals per game. The Timberwolves are the league's worst team in scoring defense, but they have a defensive gem in Brewer.
His height advantage is what makes Brewer so successful. He stands 6'9" tall and is one of the best pure athletes in the league. Brewer does not always get the credit he deserves for his good defense, probably because of his team's poor defensive reputation.
Russell Westbrook helps his team in so many ways. One night he could snag 11 boards; the next night he might dish out 15 assists. Because of all the great numbers Westbrook puts up in other categories, his amazing talent of getting steals is often overlooked.
Westbrook has been a pest on defense since his first season in the NBA. But this season is his strongest one yet. So far Westbrook is averaging 1.9 steals per game, fourth best in the league.
His defensive style is comparable to such stars as Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. The sky is the limit for Westbrook. It is going to be exciting to watch him as he continues to grow.
Andre Miller is one of the most underrated players in the league. He has been deemed an unathletic player but has continuously proved the naysayers wrong with impressive numbers every year.
One of Andre Miller’s most consistent stats is his steals. He has never averaged less than one steal per game in his entire career. This season he leads his team with 1.6 steals per game.
Miller is a handful on both ends of the court. It is a shame he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
AK-47 not only has one of the best nicknames in the NBA, but he is also one of the toughest defenders in the game. He is big, strong and can cover just about any position on the floor.
His great defense has earned him NBA All-Defensive Team honors three times in his career so far. As of late injuries have slowed Kirilenko, but he can really make an impact when he is healthy enough to play.
This season AK-47 averages 1.3 steals per game, an average that he has consistently had since his rookie season in 2001-2002.