Bruce Bowen and the 10 Greatest Defensive Players in NBA History

Charles Bennett@chasbennettonbrSenior Analyst IMarch 19, 2012

Bruce Bowen and the 10 Greatest Defensive Players in NBA History

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    When people make a list of greatest players, they usually think in terms of offensive achievement or team success. 

    But what about the great defensive players of the NBA?

    In honor of the San Antonio Spurs retiring Bruce Bowen's #12 this week, this list looks at the five centers, three forwards and two guards who made big contributions on the other side of the floor.  

    This team may not score a lot of points, but it doesn't have to, since it won't give up many.

10. John Havlicek, G/F, Boston Celtics

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    If you’re a basketball fan, you may remember Johnny Most’s cry of “Havlicek stole the ball!” 

    Besides scoring more points than anyone else in a Celtic uniform, Hondo was an integral defensive part of eight championship teams. 

    Hondo is the career leader in defensive win shares among non-centers and power forwards, and in the top 10 in defensive rating for non-big men. 

    He also made the first eight All-Defensive Teams.      

9. Mark Eaton, C, Utah Jazz

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    You might not have ever heard of Mark Eaton, but he was one of the greatest shot blockers in the history of the NBA. 

    He led the league in blocks in four different seasons and holds the single-season block record with 456.

    He is also one of four players with 3,000 career blocks, and is the career leader in blocks per game. 

    He also finished in the top five in defensive rating five teams, and in the top seven in rebounds twice.

     In his trophy case, Eaton has two Defensive Player of the Year awards and five All-Defensive selections.

8. Michael Cooper, PG/SG/SF, L.A. Lakers

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    Only three people played on all five Showtime championship teams: Magic, Kareem, and Michael Cooper.

    The Lakers' sixth man was one of the best defensive players of the 1980s, making many contributions that didn't make it to the stat sheet.

     He also made eight straight All-Defensive teams between 1981 and 1988.

7. Bruce Bowen, SF, San Antonio Spurs

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    Bruce Bowen did two things: hit the occasional three, and provide lockdown defense against Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade and many other scorers at the shooting guard and small forward positions.

    Bowen also made eight all-defensive teams and won three championships with the San Antonio Spurs.  

6. Dave DeBusschere, SF/PF, New York

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    Cornerman Dave DeBusschere is one of the greatest defensive forwards of all time. 

    He averaged double-digit rebounds for eleven consecutive seasons, and finished in the top ten in defensive win shares six times.

    DeBusschere also made the first six All-Defensive First Teams, while winning two titles with the Knicks

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, C, Milwaukee/L.A. Lakers

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    Kareem is the all-time leader in points scored, and due to his 20-year career, he is also high on several other leaderboards, including rebounds (third), defensive rebounds (sixth), blocks (third), and defensive win shares (tied for second). 

    He is one of only five players to make the All-Defensive team eleven or more times. 

    He finished first or second in defensive win shares in six seasons, in blocks in six seasons, in rebounds in two seconds, in defensive rebounds in three season and in PER in twelve seasons. 

    He also won six MVPs and six titles, both at least in part due to his defensive prowess.

    Even if he had had a shorter career, Kareem would still have been one of the better defensive players in the game. 

4. Wilt Chamberlain, C, Philadelphia/Los Angeles

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    Chamberlain is more well-known for his scoring than his defense, but the Stilt was one of the league's bigger and better defensive forces when he put his mind to it.

    Chamberlain is the all-time leader in rebounds, rebounds per game and finished first or second in rebounding in all but one of his 14 seasons (in that season, he only played 12 games).

    Had blocks been counted as a statistic during his career, he would have likely also been among the career leaders in the statistic.

    In terms of sabermetrics, Chamberlain finished in the top three in defensive win shares in nine seasons, led the league in the stat twice and is one of only two players to accumulate ten defensive win shares in a season, good for fourth in his career all-time. 

    Chamberlain also made two All-NBA Defensive First Teams.  

3. Hakeem Olajuwon, C, Houston

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    Olajuwon is tied with Kareem for second in career defensive win shares, and lead the league in that statistic four different times.  He also lead the league in defensive rating five times.

    Looking at more traditional stats, Olajuwon is the NBA's career block leader, and is fourth all-time in defensive boards. Twice he led the league in rebounds per game, and thrice in blocks per game.

    He is also in the top ten in career steals, and in the top 25 in steals per game.  

    Olajuwon's defensive prowess is also evidenced by some significant single-game performances.

    He is one of only four players since 1973 to pull of a quadruple-double, and in another game he was one assist shy.  He also has had more five-by-fives (five points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals, five blocks) than anyone since 1986.

    Olajuwon won two titles, an MVP, two DPOYs, and made the All-Defensive Team nine times (six All-Defensive First Teams).

2. Tim Duncan, PF, San Antonio

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    Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest defensive player in the game who didn't play all his minutes at the center position. 

    No player has made the All-Defensive Team as many times (13) as Duncan. 

    Duncan is second among active players in defensive and total rebounds, and is in the top ten and 20 in those stats all-time.

    Duncan is also the active leader in blocks, defensive rating and defensive win shares, finishing in the top four in the third category in each of his first nine seasons.

    Duncan's play at both ends are also responsible for two MVPs and four titles.

1. Bill Russell, C, Boston

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    Bill Russell won four MVPs while never averaging 20 points a game.  Why?

    Because he was the greatest defensive player in the history of the game.  

    Russell does not have the benefit of defensive boards or blocks to justify his place as the greatest defensive player (though, unofficially, it is suspected that he often blocked five or more shots a game; averaging that in a single season would put him in Mark Eaton territory).  

    However, his total rebounding numbers are impressive...he finished in the top three in boards in each of his 13 seasons, and is second all-time in total rebounds and rebounds per game.

    And the stat that really justifies his defensive prowess is defensive win shares.

    Russell has 133 defensive win shares. No other player has 100, even with the benefit of at least two or three extra seasons.

    To put it another way, Bill Russell contributed 10 or more defensive win shares in a season six times. Only one other player (Wilt) has done it in the course of the season.

    Russell's career average defensive win shares per season is 10.1. He holds the single-season record for defensive win shares with 16, and has lead the league in defensive win shares more times than anyone.

    Bill Russell.  

    The greatest defensive player.

    Ever.