When watching basketball, most fans are watching what teams do when they have the ball. Rarely do highlights focus on the defensive side of the ball, especially defense away from the ball. There was a lot of deserved attention given to the play of Kevin Durant in the month of January. However, most, if not all, of the attention focused on his scoring prowess and almost none on his defense. Players such as Stephen Curry and Jamal Crawford are celebrated for what they do with the ball, but when they go to the other end of the court their teams struggle to hide them. The notion that defense wins championships was supported earlier this month when the Seattle Seahawks convincingly routed the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
In the NBA, teams that can consistently get stops are the ones that advance deep in the playoffs and have a chance to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy. The Phoenix Suns were consistently one of the best offensive teams in the last decade but failed to advance to the NBA finals because they had trouble stopping opponents from scoring. Given the importance of defense, individuals who excel at that end of the floor should be celebrated. This list is a compilation of the 10 best individual defenders in the NBA. The applicants were picked based on their defensive history, stats this year and overall effectiveness. While the list is subjective, we have attempted to use statistical evidence to backup every selection.
10 Tim Duncan - 2013/2014 Salary: $10,361,446
9 Chris Paul - 2013/2014 Salary: $18,668,431
On the defensive end of the floor, Chris Paul is known best for pressuring ball handlers. The Los Angeles Clippers point guard has led the NBA in steals on 5 occasions, including the last 3 years. Paul has exhibited his customary quick hands this season and is tied for the league lead in steals, averaging 2.5 per game. He has been selected to the All-Defensive first team in each of the last two seasons and has been selected to the All-Defensive team on 5 total occasions. Whether Paul will make the defensive team this season is in question, as he has only played in 35 of a possible 54 games due to injury.
8 Anthony Davis - 2013/2014 Salary: $5,375,760
The 21 year old sophomore, Anthony Davis, makes this list because he has put up defensive statistics that are impossible to ignore. The New Orleans Pelicans are ranked 26th in terms of defensive efficiency this season, but while the team has not defended effectively, it is hard to fault Davis' contribution. Davis is averaging 10.3 RPG and a league leading 3.1 BPG. He leads the NBA in total blocked shots at 134, despite only playing in 43 out of a possible 51 games this season. Opponents are only shooting 45.9% at the rim against Davis, which is a better number than the likes of DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard. The 6'10 Davis also has the ability to force turnovers as shown by him averaging 1.6 steals a game. While the poor performance by the Pelicans may prevent Davis from receiving wide spread media coverage, he should be a fixture on the All-Defensive teams going forward.
7 Tony Allen - 2013/2014 Salary: $4,494,382
One of the best perimeter defenders in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies guard has made the All-Defensive team the last 3 years with the last 2 being first-team selections. In fact in 2013, Tony Allen received the most votes for the defensive team. At 6'4, Allen has the quickness to guard point guards and the tenacity to guard wing scorers such as Kevin Durant. His quick hands are always on display and he is averaging a career best 2.0 steals per game while only playing 26.6 minutes. The Grizzlies are ranked 11th in terms of defensive efficiency this season, a season in which reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol, has missed significant time and Allen has only played 27 of a possible 51 games.
6 Andrew Bogut - 2013/2014 Salary: $14,000,000
The Golden State Warriors, mostly known for their long range shooting and exciting offensive play, are ranked 3rd in the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency. This ranking is surprising as the Warriors give Stephen Curry and David Lee significant minutes and both are amongst the worst defenders at their respective positions. A big reason why the Warriors have such a high ranking is their 7'0 defensive anchor, Andrew Bogut. Bogut is averaging 10.7 RPG which ranks 8th and 1.9 BPG which ranks 7th in the league, while only playing 27.7 minutes. Opponents are shooting only 44.8% at the rim against Bogut, which is one of the best marks in the league.
5 Serge Ibaka - 2013/2014 Salary: $12,350,000
Serge Ibaka is perennially amongst the league leaders in blocked shots. He has led the NBA in blocked shots in each of the past 2 seasons and has been an All-Defensive first-team selection in those years as well. This year has been no different, as he is averaging 2.5 BPG, which has him tied for 2nd in the NBA. Ibaka is a major reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder have the 4th ranked defense in terms of efficiency this season. Another impressive statistic is that opponents are only shooting 44.1% at the rim against Ibaka. However, one facet of Ibaka's defense that can improve is his rebounding. This year is a career year in terms of rebounding for the 6'10 power forward but he is only averaging 8.8 RPG.
4 LeBron James - 2013/2014 Salary: $19,067,500
Known for his highlight worthy chase down blocked shots, LeBron James makes this list due to his unique ability to defend all 5 positions on a basketball court. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up can be seen defending point guards on a possession and defending power forwards in the post on the next. No other player possess the combination of speed, athleticism and power that James does. The 6'8 forward's versatility has allowed the Heat the luxury of playing small lineups and keeping more offensive players on the court at crucial times. James has made the All-Defensive team 7 times and has made the first-team for 5 straight years. James's defensive excellence is even more impressive considering how much energy he has to exert on the offensive end of the floor, as he is the primary offensive option on the Heat.
3 Paul George - 2013/2014 Salary: $3,282,003
The 6'8 Pacers forward is quickly becoming one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. A 2013 All-Defensive second-team selection, Paul George is poised to make the team again this year. George is averaging 1.8 steals a game which ranks him 8th in the league and leads the league in defensive win shares so far this season according to basketballreference.com. George's length and quickness allow him to consistently guard the opponents best perimeter player, whether that player is LeBron James or Damian Lillard. He is a major part of why the Pacers are the number 1 defensive team in the NBA this season.
2 Joakim Noah - 2013/2014 Salary: $11,100,000
The Chicago Bulls have been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA since Tom Thibodeau became their coach at the beginning of the 2010/2011 season. This season, the Bulls are ranked 2md in terms of defensive efficiency, ranked only behind the Indiana Pacers. A big reason for the Bulls defensive prowess is their 6'11 center, Joakim Noah. A 2-time All-Defensive team selection, Noah should make the team this season as well. He is averaging 11.5 RPG which ranks 7th in the league, 1.4 BPG and over a steal a game. One of Noah's great attributes is his quick feet, which allow him to stay in front of perimeter players when he finds himself switched onto them. Opponents are only shooting 45.5% at the rim when being guarded by Noah.
1 Roy Hibbert - 2013/2014 Salary: $14,283,844
The Indiana Pacers have the number 1 defensive efficiency ranking in the NBA this season and Roy Hibbert is a big reason why. The 7'2 center has become one of the most effective deterrents near the basket in the NBA. Hibbert is averaging 2.5 BPG in 30.7 minutes of playing time, which is tied for 2nd in the league this season. However, Hibbert's effectiveness at protecting the rim goes much further than the number of shots he blocks. Opponents are only shooting 41.9% at the rim against Hibbert. This number is significantly lower than the other premier shot blockers in the league. As an example, DeAndre Jordan is averaging 2.4 BPG and is one of the best defensive rebounders in the league, yet opponents shoot over 52% at the rim when facing him. Hibbert's presence allows the Pacers perimeter players to effectively pressure ball handlers and contest perimeter shots. Hibbert has never made an NBA All-Defensive team but this year should be his first.