The top defenders in the NBA today

A specialist and an old-school center highlight our list for 2017-18

Lang Whitaker

Some things never change.

While offenses around the NBA have become focused on creating space and playing with pace and firing up three-pointers at a historic pace, it turns out that playing defense still matters.

The best teams in the NBA aren’t at the top solely because of their offensive ability. The Golden State Warriors have been to the NBA Finals three years in a row because they can shoot the ball, sure, but they also have the ability to get stops thanks to their defense, which has been among the NBA’s best defenses in each of the last three seasons.

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As it turns out, teams that play good defense tend to have good individual defenders. Here’s our list of the best all-around defenders in the NBA today …

1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

In many ways, Green is the prototypical defensive player for the modern NBA. While he isn’t a hulking rim protector or rebounding machine, Green’s versatility and defensive acumen make him invaluable to Golden State’s defense, which has been among the league’s best the last few seasons (they finished just behind San Antonio with a 101.1 defensive rating last season). Green not only is able to stop players in one-on-one situations, but his ability to provide cover for his teammates makes him invaluable. And it is in that role as what is essentially Golden State’s defensive free safety that Green is the best all-around defensive player in the NBA.

2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

While Green’s main value is in his ability to play different styles and positions, Leonard is something more like a specialist. There is no player in the NBA better than Leonard at playing one-on-one defense, particularly on the perimeter, where Leonard can be unavoidable at times. Leonard is the lynchpin in San Antonio’s league-best defense, and as we saw in last season’s playoffs, when Leonard is healthy the Spurs have a shot against any team in the NBA.

3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

The Stifle Tower is almost a throwback to one of those old school centers who anchored the middle for NBA defenses in years past. The 25-year-old Gobert lead the league last season with 2.6 blocked shots per game and also vacuumed up 12.8 rebounds per game for a Utah team that employs a style of play predicated on ball control. Gobert’s ability to protect the rim and manage the paint is crucial to the Jazz attack.

4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

At just 24 years old, Davis has already led the NBA in blocked shots twice, and last season he finished just behind Gobert with 2.4 rejections per game. What makes Davis so intriguing as a defender is his unique combination of size (pushing seven feet) and athleticism, which allows him to be nearly as effective on the perimeter as he is on the interior. And with Boogie Cousins behind him, Davis can now afford to be even more aggressive on the perimeter.

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Sure, LeBron probably doesn’t put as much consistent focus into his defense as he could, or even as much as he used to, due to the heavy overall load he has to carry night after night. But when you need a stop at the end of the game, James is still capable of getting you that stop. We should also recognize his singular ability to chase down offensive players and block shots on the fast break, one of the few signature defensive plays in the game today.

HONORABLE MENTION: Avery Bradley, Robert Covington, Danny Green, Chris Paul, Andre Roberson, PJ Tucker, Hassan Whiteside

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here or follow him on Twitter.

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