Defensive Legends: The Greatest Defensive Players in NBA History

Darko MihajlovskiCorrespondent IIIDecember 10, 2010

Defensive Legends: The Greatest Defensive Players in NBA History

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    Welcome back to the "Greatest Ever" series, as we continue with the ranks of the greatest defenders in the NBA History.

    There's a famous quote saying defense wins championships, which is absolutely true. That has been proved dozens of times. The league's top defensive team earns the championship honors and goes home with the title, so you need this.

    Playing defense is easier said than done, because it requires a lot of hard work, running, incredible desire and so on. There are many ways of stopping your man such as blocking a shot, stripping the ball, taking a charge, pressuring your man etc..

    Depending on the position, there are interior, perimeter, man to man and versatile stoppers out there who all play equally great defense but make different impacts on the court.

    For an example, a defender like Dwight can make a bigger impact than a guy like Kobe.

    It often also depends on the position they play.

    Big men production, in general, is more valuable than the guards and forwards since they defend their man, clean the glass, help their team mates, challenge and deny shot attempts, box out their man etc...

    Guards can guard their man while also helping down low on the double-team, play the passing lanes, shut down the man who they are assigned to, box out and even help on the boards. Forwards shut down their men, then box out, grab boards, play the passing lanes, help down low, block shots etc...

    It's really hard to judge defense. Some defenders rely on their intelligence, some rely on their athleticism, some on their skills, some on the fundamentals and so on.

    The league has had a lot of very good defenders and here are the greatest defensive players in the NBA History!

Perimeter Defender: Gary Payton

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    19 Dec 2001:  Point guard Gary Payton #20 of the Seattle SuperSonics rests during the NBA game against the Sacramento Kings at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington.  The SuperSonics defeated the Kings 104-92.Mandatory Credit:  Otto Greule/Getty Images
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    To me, no one ever defended the perimeter better than Gary Payton whose nickname ("The Glove") describes his ability to defend perfectly, for he is the only Point Guard to ever win Defensive Player of the Year.

    Payton stood at 6'4", had phenomenal footwork, quick hands, toughness and tenacity to rise above all on the perimeter against tons of prolific scorers. He had no problem shutting them all down as he masted the art of steals while not allowing a clear shot.

    He was known for his defensive performances in his career against some of the top scorers of all times. He held his own against even the legendary Michael Jordan, who he put to his worst Finals performances and slowed him to 27.3 points, stopping him five times under 30 points and holding him to 42 percent from the field.

    There were other wizards on the perimeter who make strong cases for this honor such as guys like Pippen, Moncrief, Jordan, Johnson, Frazier etc...Here is my list:

    1.Gary Payton 

    2.Scottie Pippen

    3.Sidney Moncrief

    4.Michael Jordan

    5.Dennis Johnson

    Honorable Mention: Bobby Jones, Walt Frazier, Bruce Bowen, Joe Dumars, Michael Cooper

    For more details:

Interior Defender: Bill Russell

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    Bill Russell revolutionized the concepts of defense in the NBA and was a phenomenal defensive player who mastered the fundamentals to dominate at the defensive end and change the game of basketball with that style.

    He basically built the fundamentals of the blocked shot, who made blocking shots into an art form, because he had perfect timing, didn't foul the shooter and when he blocked the shot, kept his team in possession since he would tip the ball to his teammate or to himself.

    He turned blocks into rebounding chances, which is superb. He was a lock-down defender who would use his high basketball IQ, skills and athleticism to stop his man. He had many performances slowing down the great Wilt to below his standard games in the Finals and Playoffs.

    He was efficient in cleaning the glass, as he grabbed more then 22.5 boards, good enough for No. 2 on the all-time list, but he is the NBA's all-time rebound leader in the Playoffs (24.9) and in the Finals as well.

    In general, Bill Russell has a legitimate case for the honor of the game's best defender of any time. Other candidates with similar cases are Hakeem Olajuwon, who stands tall in this debate, then the always terrific, consistent Tim Duncan.

    Here are my choices:

    1.Bill Russell

    2.Hakeem Olajuwon

    3.Tim Duncan

    4.Dikembe Mutombo

    5.Wilt Chamberlain

    Honorable Mention: Nate Thurmond, Artis Gilmore, Bill Walton, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Abdul Jabbar

    For full details:

Best Thief: Walt Frazier

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    Getting steals efficiently while not letting your man blow past you or score a jump shot is difficult, but this guy's done it almost as an artistic form.

    Walt Frazier was perhaps the best thief in NBA History, who had hands quick as a snake's tongue, so he was a threat in his entire career. Like Russell, he would have probably been in a good position to be the all-time steals leader.

    Then, you can throw John Stockton who was also phenomenal in this aspect of basketball, Alvin Robertson, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul who's quickly earning his reputation as an elite stealer even though he is much younger and has a chance to achieve big things. Here is my list:

    1.Walt Frazier

    2.John Stockton

    3.Alvin Robertson

    4.Jason Kidd

    5.Gary Payton

    Honorable Mention: Chris Paul, Hakeem Okajuwon (9th on the all-time list,1st for all big men!).

Best Shot Blocker: Bill Russell

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    Blocked shots are a powerful action in the game of basketball, which is often the last line of defense in order to stop someone's shot attempt.

    No one better challenges the shots in the air better than the big men. Bill Russell did it best, as he built the fundamentals of the blocked shot and mastered these three things for denying shots: perfect timing, not fouling the shooter, and tipping the ball to himself/teammates.

    It's a shame blocks and stats were not an official statistic during his time since his total would have probably topped anyone's. Wilt, his rival, was phenomenal in this area of the sport and Hakeem also as well. Then Dikembe, who had no trouble going against anyone and Duncan, who has a similar style to Bill.

    Here is my list:

    1.Bill Russell

    2.Hakeem Olajuwon

    3.Wilt Chamberlain

    4.Dikembe Mutombo

    5.Kareem Abdul Jabbar

    Honorable Mention: Nate Thurmond, Artis Gilmore, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Walton, Ben Wallace, Mark Eaton

Most Versatile Defender: Dennis Rodman

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    1 Feb 1998:  Forward Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls looks on during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.  The Lakers won the game, 112-87. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Don't worry NBA fans, despite how bad Dennis Rodman is off the court, what he did on it was fantastic; a rebounder and defender of his class is hard to find. A player like him, now, could turn a team into a championship contender.

    The Worm is now one of the leading players to enter the Hall Of Fame this year. He defended fast and small point guards such as Gary Payton to giants of the game like Shaquille O'Neal, which no one else did better.

    His versatility and skills on the defensive end gave him a reputation as a superb defender his entire career, a consistent place in the All-NBA Defensive Teams, a five-time Champion and two Defensive Player of the Year awards.

    He wasn't the quickest, strongest or fastest out there but was just that good of an all around stopper. Let's not forget about Bobby Jones and Dave Debusschere too.

    Here is my list:

    1.Dennis Rodman

    2.Bobby Jones

    3.Dave Debusschere

    4.Scottie Pippen

    5.James Worthy

    For more details:

Best Defensive Rebounder: Artis Gilmore

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    Defensive rebounds also belong in the category of defense, which is another factor for showing the paint protection in the favour of the big men.

    In terms of defensive rebounding, the boxing out technique, skills, strength to get a position, sense of where the ball is going and much more can all be factors for a domination of a certain player under the basket.

    There were many good rebounders in their own paint, but Artis Gilmore, with his 11.514 defensive boards are enough for me to consider him as No. 1, barely outmatching Karl Malone, Moses Malone, Robert Parish and many more.

    From the forwards, notable rebounders were guys such as Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird, while from the guards, I'd say Jason Kidd tops them all. Let's not forget about Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond and Wilt Chamberlain who were also terrific, but they left the game before these stats were accepted in the league, so I'd rank them but still mention it.

Taking Charges: Derrick Fisher

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 19:  Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls in the first quarter during the game on November 19, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO US
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Taking charges is also another way of slowing down your man, but in order to do this, you have to be ahead of your man and stand there for at least two seconds, so the refs can call an offensive foul and believe me, it's not easy to do it.

    However, there have been players like Fisher, Ginobili and Varejao who have done it the best, but also added nice acting performances that I'm sure would all get awarded. From all of these, no one did it better than D Fish.

Best Off-Ball Defender: Hakeem Olajuwon

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    Off-Ball Defense is also another way of judging how a player did on that end of the court, which can be measured by stats and by simply watching.

    There have been players who have played the passing lanes, blocked shots, helped on the double-team, get in the paint for boards and so on. Players like these can have big impacts on a team.

    For an example, the ability to play good defense in the lanes gave the Bulls in the 90's huge success since they broke down the ball movement, interrupted game plans and so on. From the past, legends like Pippen, Jordan and many others excelled at this.

    Over the past two-three years, the best off-ball defender has been LeBron James. His great abilities got him deep in the voting for the league's top defensive player two years ago. It helped guys like Jordan and Robinson big time to earn awards.

    Big men were terrific in this category too. From the recent history of the NBA, Hakeem Olajuwon stands out on top. David Robinson was impressive too. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, especially Russ were awesome too.

    Here is my list:

    1.Hakeem Olajuwon—His off-ball defense was second to none. Without a disrespect for other centers such as Russ and Chamberlain, he just did it best by far. He challenged shots in the air strongly but also was 9th in steals overall. He had years when he averaged 3-plus blocks and 2-plus steals, which is amazing.

    2.Michael Jordan—The only player to record 200 steals and 100 blocks, at least twice.

    3.Scottie Pippen

    4.Ben Wallace

    5.Wilt Chamberlain

    Honorable Mention: Bill Russell, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade.

Best Defensive Leader: Bill Russell

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    PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 15:  Kevin Garnett #5 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Eastern Conference present a birthday cake to NBA legend Bill Russell, center, during the 58th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 15, 20
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    In this picture, there are two of the greatest defensive leaders in the NBA History; those two are Kevin Garnett and Bill Russell.

    A defensive leader can have such a positive impact on a certain player. In general, these players have the ability to translate that energy, toughness, positive strength and will for winning, which can mean a lot of things in a team.

    When the Boston Celtics got Kevin Garnett in 2008, I am positive that few believed that his toughness and intensiveness would translate that well to the Celtics, which happened to be one of the factors for Boston's successful run in the same year.

    Another example can be the signing of Ron Artest to the Lakers, who quickly established himself into the exact same thing that KG did with their rivals, and now, L.A. are one tough team. From the past, the most notable teams to mention are the Celtics from the 60's, 80's, Knicks from the 70's, 90's, Showtime Lakers and so on.

    Bill Russell had it best with the C's way back, who from day one single-handedly turned them from a super offensive team, to a superb defensive team,l ed by the same player to win an amazing 11 championships in 13 years.

    Here is my list:

    1.Bill Russell

    2.Kevin Garnett

    3.Ben Wallace

    4.Dikembe Mutombo

    5.Willis Reed

Best Defensive Guards

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    7 Jun 1996:   Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls and Gary Payton of the Seattle Supersonics exchange words during the final seconds of game two in the NBA Finals at the United Center in Chicago. The two players had to be separated by teammates and refere
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Here is a quick look at the game's top defensive guards, both shooting and point. Here is my call:

    1.Sidney Moncrief

    2.Michael Jordan

    3.Joe Dumars

    4.Gary Payton

    5.Dennis Johnson

    Honorable Mention: Jerry West, Walt Frazier, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Alvin Robertson and Michael Cooper

Best Defensive Forwards

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    13 May 1998: Dennis Rodman #91and Scottie Pippen #33 of the  Chicago Bulls listen to head coach Phil Jackson during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center in Chicago, Illinios. The Bulls defeated the Hornets 93-84. Mandatory Credit: J
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Here is a quick look at the game's top defensive forwards, both power and small. Here is my list:

    1.Dennis Rodman

    2.Scottie Pippen

    3.Kevin Garnett

    4.Bobby Jones

    5.Dave Debusschere

    Honorable Mention: Elvin Hayes, Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, Shane Battier.

Best Defensive Centers

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    Here is a quick look at the best defensive centers the game has ever seen

    1.Bill Russell

    2.Hakeem Olajuwon

    3.Tim Duncan (he's listed as a Power Forward, but on defense is more of a center and that's where he stands on those All-Defensive Teams)

    4.Dikembe Mutombo

    5.Wilt Chamberlain

    Honorable Mention: Ben Wallace, Nate Thurmond, Bill Walton, Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, Artis Gilmore, David Robinson, Robert Parish and so on.

Best Defensive Players Listed in the Best Defensive Line Ups

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    16 Jun 1997: Guard Michael Jordan, forward Scottie Pippen and forward Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls look at their trophies during the Chicago Bulls Victory Parade in Chicago, Illinois. The BUlls defeated the Utah Jazz in 6 games to win the 1998 NBA C
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Here is a quick look at the best defensive line ups:

    All-Time First Best Defensive Line Up

    C:Hakeem Olajuwon

    PF:Bill Russell

    SF:Dennis Rodman

    SG:Sidney Moncrief

    PG:Gary Payton

    All-Time Second Best Defensive Line Up

    C:Dikembe Mutombo

    PF:Tim Duncan

    SF:Kevin Garnett

    SG:Michael Jordan

    PG:Walt Frazier

    All-Time Third Best Defensive Line Up

    C:Wilt Chamberlain

    PF:Elvin Hayes

    SF:Bobby Jones

    SG:Joe Dumars

    PG:Dennis Johnson


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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15:  Tim Duncan #21 and David Robinson #50 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate after winning Game six of the 2003 NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets on June 15, 2003 at the SBC Center in San Antonio, Texas.  The Spurs won 88-77 a
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    As a fan of the league, it's really hard to judge, overall, who was the finest defensive player to ever walk on an NBA hardwood. The reason that I included these categories are because players from different positions often have their own ways of slowing down their opponents.

    I'll try to rank them all, in a top 15 list that will feature five guards, five forwards and five centers all ranked in one place. I'll write in a bigger list, because I hate when I've left someone out and that one happens to be very good at something.

    That's why I will feature a top 15 list that will be in a specific order. Check my choices from the last to the best. Enjoy!

15.David Robinson

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    22 Apr 2000:  David Robinson #50 of the San Antonio Spurs blocks a shot by Luc Longley #13 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA Playoff game at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio,Texas.    Mandatory Credit: Allsport USA/ALLSPORT
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    A 7'2" muscular, athletic, quick and strong center with a nice outside touch for a big man, David Robinson was one of the best defensive players to step on an NBA hardwood.

    All of those advantages named above gave him huge strength in protecting the basket against dominate big guys in his entire career. He excelled at shot blocking, which was his strength on defense that have earned him a good reputation.

    He was also great in clearing the glass under his basket while interrupting passes like crazy. He had some seasons when he ranked top 5 in steals, which is crazy! His greatest achievement came when he won Defensive Player of the Year.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 1 (1992)

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 8 (4x All-First)

    -Rebounds: 10,497 (10.6)---------------1301 boards (10.6)

    -Blocks: 2,954 (3.0)-------------------------312 blocks (2.5)

    -Ranks No.5 in terms of most blocks during the playoffs

    -Ranks No.6 in most blocked shots per game during the playoffs

    -Ranks No.6 on the all-time list in most blocked shots

    -Ranks No.4 on the all-time list in most blocked shots per game

    -Ranks No.30 in most rebounds per game during career

14.Gary Payton

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    DALLAS - JUNE 20:  Gary Payton #20 of the Miami Heat reacts after the Dallas Mavericks turned the ball over late in the fourth quarter of game six of the 2006 NBA Finals on June 20, 2006 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User ex
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    A hard nosed defender who was great in three important things for successful defense: great individual, team stopper with quick hands, which is a rare combination, made Gary Payton one of the top defensive players of all time.

    He was arguably the best defensive standout that ever came out from the point and whose ability to defend the perimeter were by far better than anyone else. His skills, toughness and aggressiveness made him just a lock down standout.

    His greatest achievement came in 1996, forever earning a place in the NBA history, by becoming the first (and so far the only) point guard to earn the Defensive Player of the Year award. He was known for classic performances against prolific scorers.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 1 (1996)

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 9-time (All-first team for each of them. Shares that record with MJ)

    -Steals: 2,445 (1.8)-----------------------216 (1.4)

    -Steals percent: 2.7%----------------2.1%

    -Led the NBA in steals once in both total (231) and average (2.9)

    -Ranks No.3 in total career steals

    -Ranks No.20 in career steals per game

    -Ranks No.21 in career steal percent

    -Ranks No.31 in playoff steals percent

    -Ranks No.18 in playoff total steals

    -Ranks No.33 in playoff steals per game

13.Joe Dumars

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    One of the most successful players, from the famous "Bad Boys" squads, Joe Dumars was one of the best defenders in the NBA History.

    He was a superb lock-down defender, who was called "Joe D". He possessed nice skills, basketball instincts and footwork to establish himself as a defensive stalwart during his consistent 14-year career as a pro. He had quick hands to strip the ball and jump in the lanes.

    His man-to-man defense was one of the greatest ever as he managed to slow down the dominate and high scoring machine, Michael Jordan, creating the "Jordan rules" strategy used to beat No.23 in head-to-head matchups.

    Even he recognized Dumars as his toughest opponent, which for me can't be any bigger praise for his great defensive abilities.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 0

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 5 (Four All First Teams)

    -Steals: 902 (0.9)

12.Dave Debusschere

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    The tenacious, hard-nosed and aggressive Dave Debusschere was one of the game's best defenders in the history of the NBA. No one ever put forth more effort and work to stop his man than Debusschere, an aspect for which he earned huge respect.

    He was called "Big D" and that "D", much like Dumars' nickname, stood as a reminder to his rivals for what he did every night. Debusschere was one of the most versatile defensive players who could defend nearly all positions.

    Everything he lacked in size (6'6") and strength, he made up with in aggressiveness, determination, work,  effort and pure skills. He was awarded, for six-straight years, to the All-NBA First Defensive Team and also was terrific on the glass.

    He was one of the best rebounders for all non-centers, right there in that discussion with the likes of Bird, Kidd and Baylor. He put up incredible numbers. Here are some career facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 0 (he retired before the award existed)

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 6 (each of them were All First)

    -Rebounds: 9.618 (11.0)-------------------------1.155 (12.0)

    -Ranks No.12 with his playoff career rebound average 

    -Ranks No.33 in most total boards during playoffs

    -Ranks No.3 in terms of all non-centers and power forwards, for all the rest in average and totals.

11.Bobby Jones

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    Bobby Jones is an unknown name to youthful generation of basketball, but all the students of the history of this league know what he did best and that was playing stealer defense.

    Yes, that's right. Jones had skills, but he maximized it through amazing hustle, determination and toughness to join the elite class of all-time defensive wizards. He was a true defensive wizard who was strong on the perimeter, on his man, inside, everywhere.

    He was one of the most admired defenders to ever put a uniform on, spent 8-10 seasons in the NBA and a couple in the ABA. He was consistent in the All-Defensive selections.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 0

    -All NBA/ABA Defensive Teams: 10 (Nine-Time All-First, One All-Second)

10.Kevin Garnett

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    BOSTON - DECEMBER 01:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics reacts after his basket in fourth quarter against the Portland Trailblazers on December 1, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Trailblazers 99-95. NOTE TO U
    Elsa/Getty Images

    A true defensive leader with outstanding athleticism and skills who took passion and intensiveness to the next level, Kevin Garnett's interior domination earns him a spot in the game's finest defensive players to play in the NBA History.

    He has been a phenomenal standout his entire career, but in Minnesota we didn't see it as we have seen it in the Boston Celtics, who he single-handedly turned from one of the worst to the league's strongest and toughest defensive teams.

    That's the impact that earned KG a Defensive Player of the Year award. With his improved and much better defense, he shut down an elite opponent in Gasol whose toughness and skills were questioned for a long time.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 1 (2008)

    -10-time All-NBA Defensive Teams (including All 8 First)

    -Rebounds: 12,385 (10.8)-----------------------------------------1072 (11.2)

    -Blocked shots: 1802 (1.6)---------------------------------------137 (1.4)

    -4-time rebounding titles (2003-07)

    -Ranks No.4 in most defensive rebounds for career

    -Ranks No.18 in most rebounds grabbed for career

    -Ranks No.19 in most blocks during career

    -Ranks No.12 in career defensive rebound percent (25.7)

    -Ranks No.10 in defensive win share (75.4)

    -Ranks No.37 in playoff defensive win share (6.13)

    -Ranks No.9 in playoff defensive rebound percent (25.9)

9.Michael Jordan

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    20 Apr 1996:  Point guard Mark Jackson of the Indiana Pacers fends off the defensive pressure applied by guard Michael Jordan of the Chicago bulls during the first quarter of the Bulls game against the Pacers at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Man
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    As much as he was nearly an unstoppable offensive force, he was as nearly as good on the defensive end and is one of the greatest defensive players in NBA History.

    Jordan was an athletic, skilled and quick defender with nice footwork and nice work with the hands that made him such a nice overall player and lock-down stopper any night. He played the passing lanes well and had an incredible amount of blocks for his position.

    He was phenomenal in off/on-ball defense for which he, in 1988, was awarded with a league's award for the top defender for that season. He can be argued as the finest defensive guard of all time, due to many factors, which adds volumes.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 1 (1988)

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 9 (All-First each, shares the record with Payton)

    -Steals: 2,514 (2.3)----------------------------------------376 (2.10)

    -Ranks No.1 in most blocked shots for guards

    -Ranks No.2 in most steals for career

    -Ranks No.3 on the all-time list for career steals per game

    -Ranks No.6 on the playoffs all-time list in most steals per game

    -Ranks No.2 on the playoffs in most steals per game

8.Sidney Moncrief

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    Whenever you hear the name Sidney Moncrief, two things should be remembered: complete game and just amazing defensive abilities, which earned him the reputation as one of the best defenders to play in NBA History.

    A consistent, determined stopper, with a strong body who had above average shot blocking skills thanks to his 36 inch vertical jump, which he combined with his superb skills to dominate on defense, like few had of any time.

    He didn't have so many awesomely high stats in blocks and steals, but his determination to be on the top as a defensive wizard and overall, made him a loved player during his career at the Bucks, a fan favorite and an admired figure from other stars.

    This quote says it all: "In that environment, you were always on the defensive, because you never wanted to show that you could be dominated in any way."

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 2 (1982,83)

    -All NBA Defensive Teams: 5 (Four-Time All-First selections)

    -One of the better blocking guards

7.Scottie Pippen

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    The superb skilled, quick, athletic and 6'8" Scottie Pippen had all the tools to excel at the defensive end, and that's exactly what he did. He became one of the greatest defensive players the game has ever seen in the Bulls jersey.

    While he may never get his credit because of Michael Jordan, still, no one can take away anything for what he did at his finest. That was being a defensive stalwart his entire career, as he was almost the perfect defender.

    He defended on the perimeter like few had and was capable of defending the bigger forwards inside. For these reasons he was one of the most versatile defenders of all time and such an overall beast at the other end of the court.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player of the Year: None

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: Nine Times (All-First Defense for each)

    -Steals:2307 (2.0)----------------------------------------------395 steals (1.9)

    -Ranks No.1 in the playoffs history for most steals

    -Ranks No.1 in the playoffs history for most steals record by a forward

    -Ranks No.6 on the all time list, for most career steals

    -Steals title: 1 (2.9)

    -Often led his teams in blocks and assists, from time to time even in steals

6.Ben Wallace

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    For a big man, Ben Wallace is not that big of a dude, but regardless of that, he has made his mark as one of the best defensive players the game has ever seen.

    He had phenomenal strength, athleticism, skills and put in hard work in order to dominate in the paint with his defense, stopping often much bigger opponents like Shaquille O'Neal. He often intimidated players when driving to the rim.

    He was one of the top help defenders of all time, who was the most feared stopper in the history of the NBA, which is a legacy that still stands. He owns dozens of records, nice stats as an extra bonus to his work and is a model for all non-drafted players.

    He can be argued much further, actually, all the way to the top since a case can be made, but in my list, he sits right here.

    Career Facts:

    • Defensive Player Of The Year: 4 (2003,04,05,06____shares that record with Dikembe)
    • All NBA Defensive Teams: 6 (5x All-First)
    • Rebound titles: 2x (15.4,13.0)
    • Rebounds: 10,034 (10.1)------------------------------------1454 (11.2)
    • Blocks: 2,055 (2,1)--------------------------------------------250 (1.9)
    • Ranks No.16 in the playoffs history for most blocks per game recorded ever
    • Ranks No.10 in the playoffs history for most blocks
    • Ranks No.18 on the all time list for career blocks
    • Ranks No.41 in most rebounds grabbed per game in career
    • Ranks No.34 on the all time list for most career rebounds
    • Ranks No.55 on the all time lists for most steals
    • Had 6 seasons of at least,10+ boards,2+ blocks and 1+ steals per game

5.Tim Duncan

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    Often viewed as boring but very efficient, Tim Duncan is one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the NBA who's still a dominate defensive presence in the paint and is the perfect fundamentally sound defender.

    That's right. He has never been a guy who would go in too many unneeded air match ups just to stop a shot attempt near the rim. His size, length and skills combine with his superb instincts and high basketball IQ allowing him to outsmart his opponents.

    He's second to Bill Russell in terms of beating his opponents in the air, because he has incredible timing, a sense not to foul the shooter and not to allow second chances for his opponents, which makes him one of the best shot blockers.

    He held even the great Shaq attack to 23 points per game during his rival's finest seasons. He excelled at cleaning the glass by understanding boxing out and dominating in the clutch. For example, he had like 15 boards to go with three blocks in the '03 Finals.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 0 (he still waits for it,maybe this is the year)

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 13 (including 8x All-First)

    -NBA All time leader in most defensive selections

    -Career Rebounds: 11,529 (11.6)--------------------------2114 (12.4)

    -Career Blocked shots: 2,273 (2.3)------------------------438 (2.6)

    -Ranks at No.4 in the playoffs for most blocked shots

    -Ranks at No.11 in most career blocked shots

    -Ranks at No.16 in career blocks per game

    -Ranks at No.24 in terms of most rebounds grabbed in career

    -Ranks at No.20 in career rebounds per game

    -Ranks at No.15 in playoff rebounds per game

    -Ranks at No.7 in career defensive win shares (82.9)

    -Ranks at No.5 in playoffs defensive win shares (13.0)

    -Ranks at No.2 in career defensive rating

    -Ranks at No.14 in playoff defensive rating

    -Ranks at No.7 in career defensive win share

    -Ranks at No.5 in playoff defensive win share

    -Ranks at No.7 in career defensive rebound percent

    -Ranks at No.9 in playoff defensive rebound percent

4.Dikembe Mutombo

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    19 Oct 1994: Center Dikembe Mutombo of the Denver Nuggets goes up for the ball during a pre-season game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California. The Nuggets won the game, 96-90.
    J.D. Cuban/Getty Images

    Dikembe Mutombo had the tools to become a great defender as he was such a big center, 7'1", strong, athletic, skilled with long arms to establish himself as one of the biggest defensive players in the history of the NBA.

    Mutombo was an outstanding presence on defense who was, perhaps, the best shot blocker in the air duels right in your face, and one of the best shot blockers of all-time overall as well. He was also an outstanding help defender too.

    He was so dominate as an interior stopper that he ranks at the near top of it, as he once recorded 31 blocks in the biggest upset in the league's history, earning him the most Defensive Player of the Year awards in the history of professional basketball.

    Career Facts: 

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 4 (NBA record,shares it with Big Ben)

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 6 (including 3x All-First)

    -Blocked shots: 3,289 (2.8)--------------------------251 (2.5)

    -Rebounds: 12,359 (10.3)-----------------------------------962 (9.5)

    -Ranks at No.2 in most career blocks

    -Ranks at No.7 in most blocks per game

    -Ranks at No.35 in most career rebounds per game

    -Ranks at No.18 in most boards grabbed for career

    -Ranks at No.10 in most playoff blocks

    -Ranks at No.7 in most blocks per game during the playoffs

    -Ranks at No.15 in most career defensive win share

    -Ranks at No.8 in career defensive rebound percent

    -3x block titles

    -5x leader in total blocks

    -2x rebound titles

3.Dennis Rodman

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    The leading player from the Hall Of Fame nominations, Dennis Rodman was one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game called basketball. Although, he was a very crazy person off the court in order to get publicity; on the court he was outstanding.

    The surprising part is back in college, this guy was an effective scorer but understood that he would help more on the other end of the court, and he became a total stud. His hustle, hard work, skills and instincts earned him a reputation as a phenomenal defender.

    He was indeed the most versatile stopper who dominated in the three major things of defense: on the perimeter, in the post, on his man and was terrific in team help D as well. He guarded giants like Shaq, Hakeem to the likes of Jordan, Payton, Magic etc...

    He was a rebounding beast who was perhaps the top rebounder of all time, who grabbed like 19 boards per game during his prime, which is a crazy achievement. When he led the NBA in this category, the second best was like way off with 13 boards.

    He stands well in this debate and if you argue Dennis Rodman as the cream of the cop from this list, that's a good decision.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 2 (1990,91)

    -All NBA Defensive Teams: 8 (this includes 7x All-First Defense)

    -Boards: 11,954 (13.1)--------------------------1676 (9.9)

    -7x rebound titles (1992-98)

    -4x leader in total rebounds

    -3x leader in total defensive rebounds

    -Ranks at No.1 in total career rebound percent

    -Ranks at No.3 in career defensive rebound percent

    -Ranks at No.14 in playoff defensive win share

2.Hakeem Olajuwon

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    The superb Hakeem Olajuwon stands in many ways as the greatest defensive player the game has seen, a true beast on that end of the floor who possessed a rare combination of incredible athleticism, speed and skills to go with nice strength.

    Those attributes helped him to excel at that end of the court for sure. For his size (6'11"),his versatility was on par with many other guys, but arguably, he had the best help and off-ball defense of all time and stands so tall in this debate.

    Not only that he was capable to shut down his man, he was a shot blocking machine who could just have a ton of steals, defended the pick n' roll well and even if there was a switch on the perimeter, he was so good in there too.

    He made nice decisions on the court and just changed the game in another way with his total domination as a defender. No one can take that from him. He was one of the best shot blockers and by far no one ever interrupted the lanes as a big man better than No. 34.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year: 2 (1993,94)

    -All NBA Defensive Selections: 9 (those include 5x all first)

    -NBA All Time leader in blocked shots

    -Rebounds: 13,748 (11.1)--------------------------------------1621 (11.2)

    -Blocked shots: 3,830 (3.1)---------------------------------472 (3.3)

    -Ranks at No.1 in most career blocks of all time

    -Ranks at No.1 in most playoff blocks per game

    -Ranks at No.2 in most career blocks in total

    -Ranks at No.3 in most career blocks per game

    -Ranks at No.5 in career defensive win share

    -Ranks at No.11 in playoff defensive win share

    -Ranks at No.22 in career defensive rebound percent

    -Ranks at No.27 in playoff defensive rebound percent

    -Ranks at No.11 in career total rebounds

    -Ranks at No.25 in career rebound average

    -Ranks at No.9 in most steals, No.1 by far more then any other big men

    -2x rebound titles (2x leader in total, who averaged ridiculous 16.8 boards in the playoffs)

    -3x block titles (2x in total, averaged insane 4.6 blocks per game)

    -5x leader in defensive rating

1.Bill Russell

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    A legendary center who revolutionized the concepts of defense, Bill Russell is the greatest defensive player in NBA History, who just changed the game of basketball and proved that you can be a superstar while dominating on the other end of the court.

    He was one of the smartest players this game has seen who had a book on everybody and was just that beast who knew how to crush a rhythm of the man he guarded and on offense possessed incredible skills, athleticism, speed to go with high basketball IQ and instincts.

    He created dozens of fast breaks for Boston, mostly from rebounding/blocks and throwing outlet passes to anyone, which is how he contributed for another two points without even taking a shot. Impressive, isn't it.

    He was arguably the best shot blocker of all time because of his fantastic style. He mastered three things for earning this honor: perfect timing, not fouling the shooter, keeping possession for his team by turning the blocked shot into a rebound.

    That's art and he built the fundamentals of shot blocking. He was the finest defender that knew how to beat and slow down the great Wilt Chamberlain, especially in the playoffs and finals. He stopped dozens of great big men, Hall of Famers like Pettit, Reed, Bellamy and so on.

    It's a shame defensive stats like blocks and steals were not official during that time, which would have showed his total domination on defense. There are the 11 championships he won and led his Celtics to it thanks to his magic overall.

    Most likely he would have been the all-time leader in blocked shots (or his rival Wilt), but it's a pity since it's done. One more thing—he and Olajuwon would often go and deny guards/forwards on the fast break like LeBron does these days.

    Career Facts:

    -Defensive Player Of The Year : (The award did not exist until 1982)

    -All NBA Defensive Teams: 1 (All-First; the award came late in Russell's career as he was about to retire that time)

    -Rebounds: 21,620 (22.5)--------------------------------------4,104 rebounds (24.9)

    -Ranks No.1 in career defensive win share

    -Ranks No.1 in playoff defensive win share

    -Ranks No.1 in total rebounds during playoffs

    -Ranks No.1 in most rebounds per game during playoffs

    -Ranks No.1 in most rebounds during the Finals

    -Ranks No.2 in total career boards

    -Ranks No.2 in total career boards per game

From the Outside, Looking In

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    8 Nov 1996:  Center Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks blocks a shot during the Knicks 88-81 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California.  Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw/Allsport   Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw/Alls
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Perhaps, Patrick Ewing should be part of this list. I'm thinking about it and may put him in here. He's totally  deserving it and has nice accolades for that.

    Another close one for this honor is Bill Walton who, despite the injuries,when healthy was an outstanding and an overlooked defender.

    You could count on Wilt Chamberlain as well, then his rival Nate Thurmond, then the little man DJ!

Did You Know That?

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    LOS ANGELES - APRIL 8:  Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers blocks the shot by Raef LaFrentz #45 of the Dallas Mavericks during the game at Staples Center on April 8, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Shaquille O'Neal has some impressive stats, which he can be argued as one of the best defensive players of all time with, as the big fella ranks high in the following stats:

    -Rebounds: 13,024 (11.0)-------------------------2,508 (11.7)

    -Blocks: 2,702 (2.3)-------------------------------459 (2.1)

    -Ranks at No.1 in playoff defensive board

    -Ranks at No.3 in playoff blocked shots

    -Ranks at No.7 in career blocked shots

    -Ranks at No.8 in career defensive rebounds

    -Ranks at No.17 in career blocked shots per game

    -Ranks at No.26 in career defensive rebound percent

    -Ranks at No.19 in playoff defensive rebound percent

    -Ranks at No.39 in career rebounds per game

    -Ranks at No.19 in career defensive win share

    -Ranks at No.10 in playoff defensive win share

    He has impressive stats and looks that he was underrated on defense. Does he belong in at least the honorable mention?


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