Teams all have their offensive standouts that draw big crowds and garner all sorts of attention, but it's the players that expend energy on the defensive end that help win close games.
The NBA Defensive Player of the Year award is given to the athlete that shows the most prowess in the most underrated part of the game. Since 1982, a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters have casted their votes for the best defender.
Since its inception, the award has been primarily won by big men in the league that block shots and gobble up rebounds. Players like Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace have won the award by hounding the glass and protecting the paint.
Entering this season, Dwight Howard had won the award in back-to-back years. His brute strength inside and dominant shot-blocking ability proved to the panel that he was deserving. Howard is trying to make a case for the award again this year, but has some worthy competitors.
Here's a list of the top 10 defensive players during the 2010-11 season.
Andrew Bynum sneaks onto the list because of his recent success on the court.
Since the All-Star break, Bynum has looked like the player the Los Angeles Lakers expected him to be when they drafted him. In his last seven games he's averaging 15.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. The Lakers went 6-1 and didn't allow 100 points in any of the games.
If Bynum stays healthy, the Lakers are a top contender and some of the stress is taken off Kobe Bryant's shoulders. When Bynum is a dominant presence down low, Los Angeles looks more comfortable on offense.
The Lakers are making a strong run toward the playoffs, and Bynum's recent aggression is a huge reason for that.
Serge Ibaka is best known for his dunk from the free-throw line in this year's dunk contest.
It's the length he displayed on that dunk that allows him to be a vicious shot-blocker. The Oklahoma City Thunder forward uses his impressive wingspan to change opponent's shots. He can come out of nowhere to block guards that think they have an open layup.
He has registered eight blocks in a single game twice this season and has 23 in his last four games. The second-year player from the Republic of Congo has been a beast down low and the additions of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed can only help.
With Perkins and Mohammed taking the majority of the center duties, Ibaka can roam more and get even more blocks.
The results are already visible, and the Thunder are rising.
The Milwaukee Bucks' 7'0" center has steadily become a better defender in the NBA.
This year, Andrew Bogut is at the top of the NBA in blocks per game with 2.7 per contest. He's also at a career high in rebounds with 11.3 and good for a steal almost every game. Bogut has had three games this season in which he's swatted away seven shots.
Bogut is one of the quicker big men in the league and has a knack for getting out to challenge each shot. The Bucks are third in the league, only allowing 92.5 points in each outing. If the Bucks can sort out their offensive woes, they'll be more of a threat in the East.
For now, they will watch Bogut continue to mature as a player in his sixth year as a pro.
Chris Paul is no stranger to quality defense.
The New Orleans Hornets' star point guard is leading the NBA with 2.48 steals per game. He has active hands when guarding a player with the ball and is quick to dart into passing lanes. He's had two games where he's robbed the other team seven times this season. He also rebounds well for a player of his size.
Paul was selected to the NBA All-Defensive first team two seasons ago and looking to make a return. The Hornets are right behind the Bucks in points against. Paul and company know how to stop their opponents and win without a prolific offense.
Chris Paul is a rare breed. He is the Hornets' best players on both sides of the ball.
That's why he'll be such a hot commodity this offseason.
Rajon Rondo beat out Chris Paul by a hair, although he's second to Paul in steals.
Rondo nabs 2.34 steals each game, but is a more aggressive on-ball defender. He proved that when he took on the tall task of guarding LeBron James in a game against the Miami Heat. Visibly undersized, Rondo was all over LeBron. He was pesky, challenging LeBron outside the three-point line.
Rondo has six games with five or more steals. He is also a big part of why the Boston Celtics have the league's best defense. He was an NBA All-Defensive first team selection last season. The Celtics recently held the Bucks to 56 points in a 31-point victory. Rondo was one of many Celtics playing smothering defense at all times.
Rondo's desire for a challenge makes him an elite defender in today's NBA.
Thabo Sefolosha is a classic version of a defensive stopper.
Sefolosha's defensive ability isn't the type that shows up on the stats sheet. He's like Bruce Bowen, challenging every shot by the other team's best player.
Ask Kobe Bryant.
Sefolosha is at his best when matched up against the Lakers star, who is a 10-time member of the All-Defensive team. Sefolosha plays tight on quick players, trusting his foot speed to keep him in front of the offensive player.
The Swiss star is not the best offensive presence and gets many of his minutes because of his defensive ability. Sefolosha cracked the top five, and could be an All-Defensive first team selection for the first time this season.
Ron Artest is the first player on the list that has already won Defensive Player of the Year before.
In the 2003-04 season as a member of the Indiana Pacers, Artest was a stifling defender. Although he has aged a bit since then, he still has the mentality of a shutdown defender. Even though he's 6'7", Artest is more of a perimeter defender than a post presence.
Artest gets more steals than blocks when trusted to guard players like LeBron James, Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant. These players usually cause a mismatch for their opponents because there are so few players like Artest in the league.
He's big enough to body them up, also quick enough to chase them through screens. Artest gets in the opposing player's heads with trash talk and physical play.
If Artest is well-rested and healthy, he can make a case for being the most versatile defender in the NBA.
Strength and length make Kevin Garnett an elite defender each year he plays. Also a winner of the award in 2007-08, Garnett can make a case for the award every season.
On defense, Garnett can steal, block and rebound. He brings the same intensity to every game and 15 years in the NBA have only made him smarter. If an opposing player shoots a shot after the whistle, Garnett goes up and grabs it to prevent them from gaining confidence.
Garnett takes baskets made against him as personal attacks so he does everything in his power to prevent them from happening. There are very few people that crash the defensive boards as hard as he does.
Even at 34-years-old, Garnett plays just as hard on defense as he ever has.
Dwyane Wade is 6'4" tall, yet blocks forwards on a regular basis.
No guard in NBA history has ever blocked people at the rate that Wade does. Add in his ability to steal and rebound the ball and you have a complete defender. His tremendous athleticism allows him to make highlight plays all the time.
A few games ago, he blocked the 6'11" Tim Duncan. The game before that he had five blocks against the Memphis Grizzlies. It wasn't the first time Wade had done that. Wade's ability to sky and desire to defend make a perfect combination for a tenacious defender.
Another factor in his defensive prowess is his hustle. He and LeBron James constantly recover back on fast breaks to force the opponent into mistakes. Wade has been an All-Defensive second team selection three times, but he should break into the first team this season.
Wade's commitment to defense is the main reason the Miami Heat have a chance to win the NBA Championship this year.
Despite the competition, Dwight Howard seems destined to three-peat as the Defensive Player of the Year.
Howard is the best blend of shot-blocking and rebounding the league has to offer. His unmatched strength inside make him impossible to overpower. Howard has the strongest upper-body in the NBA and he uses it to control the paint.
He has nine games with at least five blocks and he's averaging over 14 boards per contest. He's riding 27 straight double-doubles and the Magic are back into the title conversation. His defense, coupled with his improved offensive ability make him a realistic threat for the MVP also.
If Howard captured both distinctions, he'd be in good company. There are only two other players in NBA history to take home both awards.
Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.