The Best Defensive Players in NBA History

The guys who weren't just flashy scorers (if at all) but really knew how to intimidate an offense.

The Top TenXW

1Bill Russell

Simply amazing. If blocks were a recorded stat back then, I don't even know how many he would've averaged. And if the Defensive Player of the Year award had been around then, who knows how many he would've won?

No doubt best winner in nba history, because of defense and athleticism

Probably the only player to hold Wilt Chamberlain under 50 points in one game. - MyRockets345

The epitome of a team player - GuitarBass

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2Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem was a complete and versatile defenders. You could not run pick an roll with Hakeem. He could legit guard any player on the floor, even the fastest point guards and shut them down and get turnovers off them. Very agile and quick player with long arms. Combined that quickness and instincts from playing soccer goalie as a youth helped him find steals in the lane and strip balls in the paint. That why he was top 10 in steals all time, getting 2 -2.6 steal per game a year for five years. Compare that Kobe Bryant at 2.2 SPG only once. That quickness also allowed him surprise players and get into position for blocks, recover from being out of position of being potentially beat to get blocks.

Hakeem had some of the best footwork and athleticism ever seen in a big man, and these natural talents have him a clear advantage over almost all other November in his day. He currently ranks top 10 in steals (not just centers, everyone! ) and holds the NBA record for most career blocks. He was a 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and 5x All-Denfensive First Team. Simply put, he was the most dominant defensive player not only of his time, but perhaps of all-time.

Wow. This guy was just an incredible defender. Blocks, rebounds, steals, and overall intimidation were factors in getting himself 2 DPotY awards.

Not 1 other player is in the top 10 in steals and blocks, and now offense you got to be out of your mind if anyone is doing that again.

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3Dennis Rodman

Personally, Rodman just got on my nerves after his decision to "be himself". With Detroit, he was awesome, but then he just got so annoying and stupid. But you CANNOT deny this guy's ability to play defense. He's got 2 DPotY awards to show for it.

The dude was Jordan's size and he won numerous rebounding titles. Do I have to say anymore. He didn't have muscles or size on him, all he did was hustle.

The worm was simply one of a kind on defense, Jordan was the one who got rodman to come to the bulls because he hated playing against him.

To me there is no contest. No other player not just led but dominated the defense stats for so many years. And he was the only player that could contain the best (i.E. Jordan).

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4Scottie Pippen

Best all around defender ever, on and off the ball. Scottie is so underrated! He was the best defender on a team that had Jordan and Rodman! That's saying a lot! Chuck Daily said Scottie was the best player on the Dream Team! Players and coaches, who would know, are the ones who rank him so highly. Fans tend to underrate Scottie, partly because he played next the the greatest player ever.

Scottie Pippen could shut the best top scoring players down regardless of how good they were. Michael Jordan was a great defensive player, but he took a backseat to Pippen. I still think Scottie was the best defensive player I have seen. He was all over the court, and he stuck to you like glue.

Pippen racked up the steals and blocks but his help defense was legendary. He could be all over the court harrassing everybody. I still remember when he was the catalyst in shutting down Utah's pick and roll and holding the Jazz to 54 points in the '98 Finals. He took charge after charge on Karl Malone. No one would ever have the guts to step in front of someone as big as Malone but Pippen did it multiple times.

Great individual defender, amazing team defender. Controlled and won so many very important games on the defensive end.

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5Michael Jordan

His determination with his intelligence and steals makes him best in my opinion... Besides his intuition and blocks for a shooting guard was extraordinary

He steal if he wants to, he blocks if he wants to.

He can stop his oponent with his amazing steals and block, he thinks defense before the offense

6Gary Payton

Come on guys its simple only point guard to win defensive player of the year and got it more than Michael Jordan

He is a beast he held Jordan to 23 points if not best defensive player, best defensive point guard!


Only point guard to win defensive player of the year. Enough said.

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7Ben Wallace

4 DPotY awards! Dikembe Mutombo was the only other player to get 4! But the difference is that Mutombo got his 4 over a stretch of 7 seasons, while it only took Ben 5 seasons to do so, as both pairs of awards were back to back. I'm so glad to see Big Ben back in Detroit, even if he is getting old.

Any Players who blow by the team defense must be on watch for Ben Wallace since he would came out of nowhere. The only person who taught me that Defense can be fun in Basketball.

Best complete defender you will ever see. He was extremely athletic and aggressive like no one else. His ability to play great on ball and off ball D was why he should be top 3

He won best defensive player of the year four times and a nba championship one of the best

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8Dikembe Mutombo

4 DPotY awards! Big Ben is the only other player to accomplish that.

Greatest shot blocker ever in NBA history Can make guys like Kobe nervous coming and driving through the line because he will embrass you

Most blocks in NBA history

9Kevin Garnett

I used to hate KG for all of his trash-talking but you have to respect his presence on defense. He inspired lackluster defenders Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to actually care about guarding someone. Because of Garnett, Rondo is an expert pickpocket and, because of The Big Ticket, Avery Bradley made a name for himself based on defense alone. KG's defense made other players better on defense and that's why he should be in the top 5. - bishop.moore07

No one can match KG's intensity on defense! He turned Boston, which was the worst defensive team into one of the best defensive teams ever. He is one of the best defensive leaders in NBA History.

KG blocks, steals, rebounds, all sorts of stuff. The crowd is like KG did this and that. Steals now Blocks now and Rebounds Now

Defensive anchor! This guy has both offensive and defensive fundamentals!

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10Wilt Chamberlain

Leading shot blockier in NBA history; a shame the stat was not kept during his time as a player, but he averaged close to double figures in blocks.
Only Russell is close, but Wilt is still ahead.

Blocks were not recorded officially during his career, but in his final year, the NBA was doing a few "test" games, and he had 26 blocks.

55 rebounds in a game! :D This guy was simply a beast and an intimidating behemoth on defense. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team twice.

Blocks I wish they go back and check stats for blocks and make him all time blocks or bill Russell and defensive player of year they would have a ton

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The Newcomers

?Shane Battier

Great job defending Kobe and he is the master of the charge. This guy is the best ever at taking the charge or at least tied with Bill Limber

Ultimate team player who always sprinted back to play d and boxed out. Also took a ton of charges

?John Havlicek

Eliminated guys from the floor to the point where they simply would not get the ball. He never got tired and could lockdown for the whole game while scoring 20 or more every night

An anchor on the great Celtics teams one of the best defenders on the teams that featured Bill Russell

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The Contenders

11Lebron James

Can lock down all 5 positions. Just look what he did to Tony Parker!

Most versatile defender of all time

He can guard all 5 positions

Lebron is a awesome perimeter defender. He should be rated higher

V4 Comments
12Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

One of the greatest shot-blockers of all time. His career total of blocks is the 3rd highest of all time, and it doesn't even include his first 4 seasons, as the league did not start recording blocks until the 1973-74 season. Disappointing that he didn't earn any DPotY awards. He deserved at least one.

13Kobe Bryant

He blocks with left hand... Remember that ray allen, deron williams and the new guy in portland!

One of the best on ball two guards ever in his prime.

Umm duhh he's been on a bunch of 1st team and 2nd team defensive teams!

14Dwyane Wade

Most blocks in history for a guard! Enough said!

15Moses Malone
16Alonzo Mourning

Wow. If you've seen this guy play defense, then you know why he's on the list. He's also got 2 DPotY awards to show for it.

Way too low on this list...disappointed in all of you

17Bruce Bowen

The guy is good. He completely stopped Lebron James in the 2007 finals. Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, and even Dirk Nowitzki say that he is the most irritating guy to defend them.

Bruce had as good defense as Jordan but was better because he never got caught with his cheating. He disrupted people so well.

Bruce Bowen was born to defend. He couldn't much of anything else, but man could he put a lockdown on players.

He should be higher on the list

V4 Comments
18Jerry West

Should be ranked higher than Jordan and kobe but not higher than payton all time in defense. Some folks need to go back to AP NBA History and get their facts straight. This guy was the best defensive guard besides Payton and maybe a case can be made for some that aren't even on this list.

19Steve Nash

Best Ole defender as he would just let people go right past him all the time

20Ron Artest

This is a top 5 defensive player of all time. At the very least he is a top 3 wing/guard defender. This is mind-boggling to have him off the top ten list.

No Ron Artest on this list?

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List StatsUpdated 8 Oct 2015

600 votes
58 listings
6 years, 10 days old

Top Remixes (10)

1. Bill Russell
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
3. Ben Wallace
1. Jerry West
2. Michael Jordan
3. Dennis Rodman
1. Bill Russell
2. Scottie Pippen
3. Gary Payton

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