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

This guy is 100%, the best defender in history

V18 Comments
2Hakeem OlajuwonHakeem Abdul Olajuwon, formerly known as Akeem Olajuwon, is a Nigerian-American retired professional basketball player.

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.

He rebounds, steals, and blocks pretty much everything your team tosses on the hoop. Well, all I could say is good luck stacking up against a player with Hakeem's size and skill.

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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.

Shut down Shaq.

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4Scottie PippenScottie Maurice Pippen is an American retired professional basketball player who played in the National Basketball Association.

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.

Most versatile defender ever. Because he was such a great team defender he allowed poor defenders to play more

V17 Comments
5Michael JordanMichael Jeffrey Jordan, also known by his initials, MJ, is an American retired professional basketball player.

I saw Jordan's entire career. I grew up in Boston and was a huge Celtics and Larry Bird fan. I also played basketball my whole life thru college. Michael Jordan is by far the best basketball player of all time, people can argue for #2 but there is a big gap between #2 and #1.
Every night, when it came time to take over the game, he took the game over. Every single night! There was no answer for this guy, plain and simple. The Detroit Pistons of the late 80's were probably the greatest defensive team of all time and Isaiah Thomas said Jordan made them look like high school kids. His defense doesn't get the recognition it deserves because they usually put Pippen on the other teams best defender. That wasn't because Pippen was a better defender, it was to keep Jordan fresh for the offensive end. But when Jordan locked you down that was it! Your scoring streak and hot hand quickly cooled! He was smothering on defense, quicker and more explosive than Pippen. If somebody had a good game ...more

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.

Now that's always possible!

V7 Comments
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!

HOW THE HECK IS ANYONE OVER GARY THE GLOVE PAYTON. LIKE COME ON WHAT THE HECK!

No comments needed

V10 Comments
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 defensive center of all time. Had the quickness to pick pocket guards, strength to hold back over sized centers like Shaq, and led his team to an NBA championship just off his defense. Very underrated player and should be higher on this list.

Only player that could guard prime Shaq, dikembe was demolished by Shaq.

V5 Comments
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

He invented the finger wag because of all the shots he blocked

He just wags in everyone's face

V2 Comments
9Lebron JamesLeBron Raymone James is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association.

Lebron has a better defensive rating than a lot of people above him on this list including Michael Jordan per season and also a better defensive box plus minus.

Top ten defender he has a shot at making top ten all time steals and he's is better then Kobe Bryant no question

He is great at intercepting passes and swiping the ball in on-ball defense. You'll never see him coming but he is just behind you and about to swat your shot

I saw him steal a ball from someone in the raptors...AND I don't CARE!

V11 Comments
10Kevin GarnettKevin Maurice Garnett is an American professional basketball player for the Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball Association.

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.

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

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!

V2 Comments

The Newcomers

?Dave Cowens
?Serge Ibaka

The Contenders

11Wilt ChamberlainWilton Norman "Wilt" Chamberlain was an American basketball player . He was born on August 21, 1936 in Philadelphia and died on October 12, 1999 in Los Angeles due to heart failure . ...read more.

7'1" + 9'6" standing reach + 46" vertical, world record touching 13'6" next closest is 13'0" with plenty of guys touching 12'10". Wilt is physically an outstanding outlier in the history of humanity. No surprise he was averaging in the vicinity of 10 blocks per game for his CAREER to go along with 23 rebounds per game.

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.

He would have not been that good in this era

V6 Comments
12Kobe BryantKobe Bean Bryant is an American retired professional basketball player. He played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association.

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

Well, he's better than Lebron that's for sure.

Kobe is the greatest perimeter lock down defender ever. Hi could defend 3 positions, that's why he was 12 times All defensive team.

If he wants to make defense. Nobody can stop him. - caqatay20

V8 Comments
13Kareem Abdul-JabbarKareem Abdul-Jabbar is an American retired professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.

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.

The skyhook most dominant shoot I ever seen by far

In a one-on-one elimination tournament among all NBA players in history, it would simply boil down to Kareem vs. Wilt.
Either of them would simply back the defender down and dunk/finger roll/skyhook over the opponent.
Anybody else trying to defend them would be futile, as they showed numerous times during actual games.

V2 Comments
14Moses Malone
15Dwyane WadeDwyane Tyrone Wade Jr. is an American professional basketball player for the Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association.

Most blocks in history for a guard! Enough said!

V2 Comments
16Ron 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.

Severely underrated. Offense is a lot about getting to spots and he was just too strong to be pushed away.

Incredibly versatile, naturally strong athletic defender, closest thing to Rodman since Rodman. Deservedly won DPotY award.

V3 Comments
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 Bowen was born to defend. He couldn't much of anything else, but man could he put a lockdown on players.

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

Locked up LeBron and Dirk. Who else can say that

V4 Comments
18Tim DuncanTimothy Theodore "Tim" Duncan is an American professional basketball player who has played his entire career for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association.

How is Tim Duncan # 25 he's the all time leader in blocks in NBA Playoff history and the man is a machine on defense give me a break this list is way off how can half these guys be above Duncan

Spurs been top 5 Defense and in playoffs every year of his career, enough said... Oh yeah, 3 titles too

In the last 30 years, Spurs teams with Duncan had 3 of the 4 top best defense team rating allowing the lowest amount of buckets in 100 possessions. Duncan had the #1 individual defensive rating for seasons four seasons. He has x8 all defense 1st team x7 all defense 2nd team. Even the current old version is a solid defender. Just watch him carefully and he always made the right rotation, at the right time, and got one or two hands straight up to effects the shot. A strong man to man defender but excellent team help defender.

Probably in the top 2 or 3 defensive players ever

V2 Comments
19Jerry WestJerry Alan West is an American retired basketball player who played his entire professional career for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association.

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.

20Alonzo 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.

V1 Comment
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List StatsUpdated 28 Aug 2016

1,000 votes
64 listings
6 years, 335 days old

Top Remixes (10)

1. Bill Russell
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
3. Dikembe Mutombo
andrew16nguyen
1. Bill Russell
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
3. Gary Payton
GuitarBass
1. Scottie Pippen
2. Bill Russell
3. Dikembe Mutombo
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