NBA Free Agents: Top Defensive Players Available in Free Agency

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2011

NBA Free Agents: Top Defensive Players Available in Free Agency

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    Defense, as they say, wins championships. Tyson Chandler helped make that case last year as the defensive presence and mindset he brought to the Dallas Mavericks helped to put them over the top. That now makes him arguably the most sought-after free agent on the market, when last year he was more or less an afterthought.

    Chandler is one in a group of elite defensive players available in free agency. Here are the top five. 

Tayshaun Prince

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    Tayshaun Prince might be getting a little long in the tooth, but that just matches everywhere else. He's one of the longest players in the league for his height. His wingspan is a phenomenal 7'3" and he is able to use that defensively. 

    Last year he gave up an OPER of just 13.2 in spite of playing on the third-worst defense in the NBA. While Prince isn't quite on the same level as he once was, he still has enough left in the tank on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense, to make a difference as a role player.

    Ideal teams for Prince would include the Nets and the Clippers.  

Shane Battier

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    Shane Battier is another player who has built a career on his defense. 

    Hollinger writes

    Battier's mobility has slipped half a notch, so he isn't the elite stopper he was a few years ago, one reason his formerly amazing plus/minus numbers have been much more pedestrian the past two seasons. 

    However, his intelligence as a defender still causes headaches for bigger wing players. No player is more successful at baiting opponents into shooting contested 20-footers, and few combine that with the off-ball awareness to be in the right spot to take charges or block shots (Battier, despite his largely floor-bound game, was sixth among small forwards in blocks per minute). 

    With Battier it's not just a matter of what he brings right now, but the what he can bring in terms of his understanding of the game. He can help a young team be a better defensive team by teaching them how to play smart defense. 

Chuck Hayes

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    It's not often that you're going to list a 6'6" center as one of the best defensive players on the market, but in Chuck Hayes' case, it's the truth. Hayes is a high-caliber defender, and one of the best in the NBA at defending the pick-and-roll. 

    Hayes has a combination of strength and speed that makes him hard to get around and hard to move out of the way. He might be better off defending the power forward spot, or he could have a nice career doing what Kurt Thomas has done for so long—playing a utility big man who does the dirty work. Hayes is going to be a popular, hard-working player on whatever team he lands. 

Grant Hill

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    Grant Hill had a start to his career as one of the elite scorers in the league, but then due to a series of injuries he wasn't able to maintain the same level he once did. So he reinvented himself as one of the better defensive small forwards in the league.

    The real beauty of Hill's defense is the versatility of it. He can guard any of the positions 1 through 4. His OPER was 14.7 on a weak defensive team where he typically drew the toughest defensive assignment. All things considered, that's a pretty impressive feat. 

    On a contender that could use either some defensive help, like the New York Knicks, or who could be plugged into an elite defensive team in need of role player, like the Heat or the Bulls, Hill would be a nice addition. 

Tyson Chandler

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    Tyson Chandler gets a lot of credit, and some of that coming from Dirk Nowitzki, for turning the Dallas Mavericks from a team that did played great in the regular season only to disappoint in the postseason, to a team that only turned it up during the postseason. 

    Last year's postseason Mavs were an absolutely dominant team that destroyed the Los Angles Lakers led by Kobe Bryant and then brought down the King and the Heat in one fell swoop. It was impressive. 

    Now Chandler is asking for a max-level contract and Mark Cuban is balking, but it looks like someone might be able to pay. While it's understandable why he would want to be overpaid and why some might overpay him, it seems he might be getting a bit overvalued, even if he is the best defensive player on the market.