Cleveland Cavaliers: Starting 5 of the All-Time Best Defenders in Team History
Defense is often an overlooked part of the NBA today. However, true fans know the impact that defense has on team success.
For the great Cavaliers teams of the past decade, the offense came and went, but Cleveland was always among the best in the league in team defense.
Today, we honor those individuals who over the past 40-plus years have made the commitment on the defensive side of the ball, oftentimes sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.
Here is the Cavaliers' all-time starting defensive five.
Guard: Bobby Phills
Years with the Cavaliers: 1991-1997
Awards/Distinctions: Second Team All-Defense, 1996
Phills was a great defender and solid scorer for the Cavaliers in the mid-nineties and was named to the Second Team All-Defense for the 1995-96 season.
In his last three seasons in Cleveland, Phills averaged at least 1.4 steals per game and was a key contributor for three Cavalier playoff teams.
Honorable Mention: Mark Price, Eric Snow
Guard: LeBron James
Years with the Cavaliers: 2003-2010
Awards/Distinctions: First Team All-Defense 2009, 2010
James became a better defender year by year and was finally awarded for his improvement in 2009, the first season he received an All-Defense honor.
What made James a great defender was his athleticism and ability to guard multiple positions. James was tall and strong enough to guard a four, while still quick enough to cover most ones if he had to.
In seven seasons in Cleveland, James recorded at least 1.6 steals per game every year, recording a career-high 2.2 steals per game in 2004-05.
I'm grouping James in with the guards due to the fact that he came into the league as a guard and can defend guards, and because of the plethora of defensive forwards in the Cavaliers' franchise history.
Honorable Mention: Jim Cleamons
Forward: Larry Nance
Years with the Cavaliers: 1987-1994
Awards/Distinctions: First Team All-Defense 1989; Second Team All-Defense 1993, 1994
Nance was acquired via trade with the Phoenix Suns in February 1988, and he is considered one of the greatest Cavaliers of all time.
Making three All-Defensive teams in his six-and-a-half seasons in Cleveland, Nance was a tremendous shot blocker and excellent rebounder.
In each five of his seasons with the Cavs, Nance ranked no lower than seventh in the NBA in total blocked shots. His best season came in 1991-92 when his 3.0 blocks per game ranked third overall in the league.
Honorable Mention: Danny Ferry
Forward: Anderson Varejao
Years with the Cavaliers: 2004-Present
Awards/Distinctions: Second Team All-Defense 2009, 2010
Varejao came into the league as a skinny flopper, but he has since evolved into a tremendous defensive force.
At 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds, Varejao can close out on jump-shooting power forwards or bang down low with opposing teams' centers.
He is currently the Cavaliers' best interior defender, and for his career he has averaged 10.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes of play.
Maybe it's the hair, but Varejao always seems to give defending post players fits.
Honorable Mention: Jim Brewer
Center: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Years with the Cavaliers: 1997-2010
Awards/Distinctions: Career leader in blocked shots and total rebounds
Z was never a great one-on-one defender, but he proved to be an excellent shot blocker over the course of his career.
His 1,269 career blocks with the Cavaliers is the current franchise record. In his first 11 seasons in Cleveland, Z averaged at least 1.3 blocked shots per game, including a career high 2.5 per game in 2003-04.
Z's 7-foot-3 frame made him a great shot blocker and good overall defender on the more traditional centers in the league for over a decade with the Cavs.
Honorable Mention: Brad Daugherty, Hot Rod Williams