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The Best Defensive Players in NBA History

Bill Russell Wilt Chamberlain

It’s a known fact offense wins games, but an NBA Championship is won with defense. The NBA's Defensive Player of the Year Award is an annual award given since the 1982-83 season to the best defensive player of the regular season. Even before that, there were numerous players whose defensive ability was superior to others, unfortunately, it was not awarded.

It is about time to recognize the players that led their teams in terms of great defense and effort every night on the NBA court. Some of these players were not the best in the league at the time but were the best at what they do, which is defense.

10. David Robinson

David Robinson’s defense, just like Duncan, went unnoticed at times. In his first seven seasons, Robinson averaged 3.6 blocks per game along with 1.7 steals per game. Robinson has earned a spot on the NBA All-Defensive Team eight times and won Defensive Player of the year. Robinson had an equally, if not better, offensive game and that is why his defense is underrated when talking about all-time great defenders.

9. Walt Frazier
The first player to make defense all about style and fun to watch. His quick hands and speedy defensive reflexes are the reasons for him averaging 1.9 steals in his career. Frazier never made an NBA All-Defensive Second Team. He made the NBA All-Defensive FIRST team seven times in his career with the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Frazier’s flashy offensive and defensive ways made him an entertaining player to watch. His ability to jump in the passing lanes to lead to dunks on the other end made him one of the best defensive points guards the NBA has seen.

8. Dennis Rodman
The Worm was a scary player to go against in practice or a game. This power forward was a man you loved to have on your team but would hate if he was on the other side. Rodman had the ability to guard any position on the court and give his opponent hell every time they would dribble the ball. Forget all the off-the-court antics and focus on his defensive and rebounding tenacity. Then take a look at his defensive accolades. Rodman made the NBA All-Defensive Team eight times and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Dennis Rodman was a nightmare matchup for any opponent and not because of how he looked at times.

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7. Michael Jordan
Jordan is arguably the greatest defender at the shooting guard position. Of course, his offensive game completely overshadows his defensive work. Along with being the only player to average over 30 points a game in his career, Jordan was a one-time Defensive Player of the Year and nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection. It’s just there are other defenders that deserve more credit for their ability to impact a game with their defense. Jordan was pretty much the best at everything and there is no denying that.

6. Ben Wallace
Only two players in the history of the NBA have won four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards and Ben Wallace is one of them. This center that played for five teams averaged 1.3 steals and exactly 2 blocks per game during his career. His aggressive ways on the court inspired his teammates during the game and could elevate their defensive games to stop opponents from scoring. Wallace’s intimidation factor made offensive players not even want to try to score on him and this is where we’ll stop because we can go on and on about his merits.

5. Scottie Pippen
The Chicago Bulls would never have had their three-peat if they did not have the defense of Scottie Pippen. Playing in the shadows of the greatest to ever play, Pippen got it done on the defensive side of the ball. He was an eight-time selection on the NBA All-Defensive First Team and two-time selection on the second team. Scottie Pippen averaged 2 steals and nearly a block per game in his tenure with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, and Portland Trail Blazers. He could guard anyone on the court at any time and his defense was a major factor that led the Chicago Bulls to their championships.

4. Dikembe Mutombo
Earlier we mentioned that there were only two players to ever win Defensive Player of the Year four times? Dikembe Mutombo is the other player to do this. His finger wag after every block and defensive stop became a reoccurring image throughout the decades this center played in the league. He was just that good. Being a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and six-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection makes for a scary resume. Mutombo earned the reputation as a brick wall inside the paint that few could get over.

3. Gary Payton
The Glove was the best defender at the point guard position and probably will never be matched in that regard. This bulldog at 6’4 played primarily for the Seattle Supersonics and was a nine-time NBA All-Star. Payton’s constant trash-talk to players on the court irritated them to no end. Gary Payton knew how to get inside an offensive player’s head. He would also win the physical battle on the court due to his shutdown defense. People called him “The Glove” because of all the steals he would rack up. Gary Payton is 4th all-time in steals with 2,445. He certainly earned his nickname, as he became known as the best defensive point guard to play in the NBA.

2. Hakeem Olajuwon
As a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a nine-time selection on the NBA All-Defensive teams, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon was a force to be reckoned with. He is the all-time leader in blocks in the history of the NBA with 3,830. Olajuwon also led the Houston Rockets to two NBA Championships. In three different seasons, “The Dream” averaged over four blocks per game. He also averaged near two steals per game with 1.7. He is one of the best defenders to ever grace an NBA court.

1. Bill Russell

Russel was an 11-time NBA Champion with the Boston Celtics. Bill Russell was the main reason for all of those titles and it was because of his defense. Throughout his career, Russell averaged over 20 rebounds per game at 22.5. We all know a defensive rebound is the last step to a good stop. During his time in the league, the NBA never recorded steals or blocks. So there is no record of how many blocked shots he did have. Also, they did not name NBA All-Defensive teams, so everything is left to the imagination in this case. People that have seen him play say he is the greatest defender ever and it isn’t even close. The mystery is interesting. Bill Russell is the meaning behind the popular phrase in sports, “Defense wins championships.” Appreciate defensive greatness from the greatest defensive player to ever do it.

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