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 Ten

1 Bill Russell Bill Russell William Felton "Bill" Russell is an American retired professional basketball player. Russell played center for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association from 1956 to 1969.

Tiny brain

Bill Russell is BEAST!

This guy so ugly!

Russell is better defender of all time! is first at defensive win shares

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

Hakeem was a super underrated defender and player overall. People discredit Hakeem just because Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain didn't have their blocks record. Hakeem is still very good. Maybe the best pick and roll defender ever. - 2storm

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.

12 Comments
3 Dennis Rodman Dennis Rodman Dennis Keith Rodman is an American retired professional basketball player who played for the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks in the National Basketball Association.

The defensive intensity of Rodman is unparalleled in this century

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.

Rodman deserves his spot in the NBA Hall of Fame, but should be one of the Best 50 ever. Defense wins games, and Rodman knew his role. He is also Nobel Peace Prize material these days - NoKo - always a hero.

Dennis has shut down everybody on the inside/short/mid-range when the NBA was at it's most competitive. A stat that is not measured is forcing the best players to pass the ball to someone else because they were being to well guarded and reducing the team's overall point totals and Rodman did that to EVERYONE and every Team. Now, Larry Bird did torch Rodman from the outside in his rookie season, but Rodman learned quickly and became the Best Defender and one of the best Rebounders of all time.

33 Comments
4 Michael Jordan Michael Jordan Michael Jeffrey Jordan, also known by his initials, MJ, is an American retired professional basketball player.

The greatest defender ever Enough Said

This guy is so awesome they made a shoe out of his name. JORDAN AIR NIKE.

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

15 Comments
5 Scottie Pippen Scottie Pippen Scottie 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.

Best defender for me... Ultimate blocker, amazing defensive activity, he can cover more than one situation at a time, he is able to hang tight with whoever he's playing and recover and help on a defensive set so the other team can't operate and lastly... Scottie is able to be a one-man wrecking crew!

22 Comments
6 Gary Payton Gary Payton Gary Dwayne Payton Sr. is an American retired professional basketball player. He started at the point guard position.

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!

The Glove is definitely the best defensive guard in NBA history, locked down 3 positions at point guard, and didn't take risks. If you watched tape you would know he's a better defender than Jordan.

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

16 Comments
7 Dikembe Mutombo

There is no reason why he shouldn't be top 3. 4 DPOTY Awards? - dankchu

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

Yes.. best defensive player dikembe mutombo

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

5 Comments
8 Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Ben Camey Wallace is an American retired professional basketball player. A native of Alabama, Wallace attended Cuyahoga Community College and Virginia Union University and signed with the Washington Bullets as an undrafted free agent in 1996. In his NBA career, Wallace played with the Washington Bullets/Wizards, ...read more.

Way to underrated

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.

Yes

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.

14 Comments
9 Kevin Garnett Kevin Garnett Kevin 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

Garnett is hands down the greatest defender of our generation and nobody can argue that he was the reason the Celtics were that good on defense

5 Comments
10 Lebron James Lebron James LeBron Raymone James is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. LeBron has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and the Lakers.

Best chase down artist ever. Sometimes he falls asleep though. - 2storm

Amazing player

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.

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

20 Comments

The Contenders

11 Wilt Chamberlain Wilt Chamberlain Wilton 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.

Are rebounds a defensive stat? Check to see who the leading rebounder in NBA history is; Wilt.

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 always an official "internal" stat for the Philadelphia 76'ers. For the 138 games that Wilt played for that organization, he AVERAGED an amazing 8.8 blocks per game, though it was not recognized by the NBA at the time.

14 Comments
12 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Kareem 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.

Just because Dr. J exposed him and when he was older he was beat off plays doesn't mean he was bad defender overall. - 2storm

the king

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.

Kareem is the best...Plain and simple. He owned the key and rarely they exist highlights of non-centers making him look bad, except for the Doc J. 13 times all Defense, Won rebounding titles, embarrased Patrick Ewing who was much younger, Blocked shots of both The Dream AND Ralph Samson in the same game! Blocked Wilt's shot, then dunked in his face.Not too many people want to mention that though. For all his accomplishments, he still gets hate on for his defense

5 Comments
13 Kobe Bryant Kobe Bryant Kobe 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. Kobe Bryant has won 5 NBA championships with the Lakers and is the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history.

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

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

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

12 All-Defense!

12 Comments
14 Kawhi Leonard Kawhi Leonard Kawhi Anthony Leonard is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association. He has played for the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, and the Clippers.

Should be higher!

The KLAW deserves a top 5 spot! FR though

YOU GONNA SAY HE AIN'T #1 HE LOCKED UP Lebron in the finals and took finals MVP and his huge hands and long wingspan makes him such a great defender. Also the stats prove it lead the league in steals in the 2015 NBA seasonand can play monster defense both off and on the ball!

The best perimeter defender in the league atm

9 Comments
15 Tim Duncan Tim Duncan Timothy 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.

One of the smartest players out there. - 2storm

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.

8 Comments
16 Nate Thurmond Nate Thurmond Nathaniel Thurmond was an American basketball player who spent the majority of his 14-year career in the National Basketball Association with the Golden State Warriors. He played the center and power forward positions.

Here lies the greatest defensive player of all-time. Ask ANY center that played against him and you will hear them all say Nate was the toughest. Only man able to block Kareem's sky hook. First man to record a quadruple double and would have had many more if blocks were recorded in his time. Even at 35, when he played against Celts in eastern finals in 76, Cowens said it was like having a curtain in front of him.

RIP Big Nate!

17 Alonzo 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

18 Michael Cooper

Toughest defender according to Larry Bird.

He is the best defender I know

On the 1980's "Showtime" Lakers, his job was to stop the young MJ, and he did a great job.

19 Moses Malone Moses Malone Moses Eugene Malone was an American basketball player who played in both the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association from 1974 through 1995. The center was named the NBA Most Valuable Player three times and was a 12-time NBA All-Star and an eight-time All-NBA selection. ...read more.
20 Ron 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.

No Ron Artest on this list?

Underrated. Period

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

Steals were not recorded during his playing days, but he is likely in the top 3 all-time.

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.

22 Draymond Green Draymond Green Draymond Jamal Green Sr. is an American professional basketball player for the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association.

With consistent defensive performance, he should be in the top 20 by the end of the 2015-2016 season.

Good defensive player, high basketball IQ allows him to read plays and be in good position to try and stop them. Hustles to make defensive plays.

I'm ready for Vince Carter to poster his trash talking self and maybe get him to shut up once and for all. Steph and Klay are what make your team lol

Today he maube the best defender both help.and individual.defense. he can guard anyone in the nba right now..

23 Bruce 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.

Kobe Bryant to Dirk Nowitzki will say he the best defender they ever played against

4 Comments
24 Maurice Lucas
25 Tony Allen Tony Allen Anthony "Tony" Allen is an American professional basketball player for the Memphis Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association.

Come on men, he is the best defensive player in the league today

Kobe said he was the best defender he ever played against, not Lebron, not Leonard, not Artest, but Tony Allen.

1st team all defense

FIRST TEAM ALL DEFENSE!

26 Dwyane Wade Dwyane Wade Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr. is an American professional basketball player for the Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association.

A very underrated defensive player. His unreal athelitcism for a two helped him get a lot of blocks and steals. He also had a great transition game and lockdown potential. - 2storm

Most blocks in history for a guard! Enough said!

Not really but if you say so

Amazing Player! Best Ever!

27 David Robinson David Robinson David Maurice Robinson is an American former professional basketball player, who played center for the San Antonio Spurs in the National Basketball Association for his entire career.

David Robinson should be in top ten - 2storm

DpotY, that season he had 4.5 blocks per game to go along with 2.3 steals per game, and yes that is an all-time NBA record for Bpg + Spg in a season (not counting Wilt and Russel). Consistently around 3.5 Bpg and 1.6 Spg for 6 other seasons. Really should be around #10-11 ahead of easily ahead of Lebron, Kobe, Garnet, Jerry West, Bruce Bowen, Wade, and Nash... and probably Moses Malone and Artest as well

DPotY 91-92, in that year he averaged 4.5 Bpg + 2.3 Spg which is all-time NBA record for Bpg + Spg in a season (not counting Wilt and Russel). Also averaged 3.5 Bpg + 1.6 Spg for the OTHER 6 of his first 7 seasons. Really should be around #10-11.

28 Sidney Moncrief

First player to win the DPotY award! And he wouldn't allow somebody else to become the DPotY until he got himself 2 in a row.

Jordon said Sidney & Joe Dumars were his toughest test! -

29 Steve Nash Steve Nash Stephen John Nash, is a Canadian retired professional basketball player who played in the National Basketball Association.

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

No he is good.

The goat

30 Clyde Drexler Clyde Drexler Clyde Austin "The Glide" Drexler is an American retired professional basketball player. During his career, he was a ten-time All-Star, and named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
31 John Stockton John Stockton John Houston Stockton is an American retired professional basketball player. He spent his entire professional playing career as a point guard for the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association, from 1984 to 2003. Stockton is regarded as one of the best point guards of all time, holding the NBA ...read more.

Stockton always seem to be underrated in these kind of lists. Unfortunately, that's what you get for not trash talking, not showboating, and making simple and effective decisions. He can't afford to be wasteful at his size.

Absolutely loved watching John's explosive basketball playing! No better ball stealer!

How is Stock not higher?!?!? All time steals leader? That is ALL heart and hustle.

Most steals ever... could d up Jordan, Gary Payton, magic.. whomever

1 Comment
32 James Harden James Harden James Edward Harden, Jr. is an American professional basketball player for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association.

Goat status

He deserves #1 LOL

solid

James is a great defender

4 Comments
33 Shaquille O'Neal Shaquille O'Neal Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal, nicknamed Shaq, is a retired American professional basketball player who is currently an analyst on the television program Inside the NBA. He is known for his fun, friendly personality, and is one of the most beloved athletes of all time.

While Shaq has never won the DPotY award, he has been named to the NBA All-Defensive 2nd team 3 times. I personally think his ability to defend is matched by very few others.

He's just a beast that's all I can say

The only player other than Rodman to stop Akeem.

34 Andrew Bogut Andrew Bogut Andrew Michael Bogut is an Australian professional basketball player who last played for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The 7-foot (2.13 m) center was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the first overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft. He earned All-NBA Third Team ...read more.
35 Kevin Durant Kevin Durant Kevin Wayne Durant is an American professional basketball player for the Brooklyn Nets of the National Basketball Association. He has played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, and the Nets. He was MVP of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals.

He should be in top 25.

Why is he even on this list? LOL

LOL...you can't be serious. This guy can score and that's it!

Living Legend

1 Comment
36 Chris Paul Chris Paul Christopher Emmanuel Paul is an American professional basketball player for the Oklahoma City Thunder of the National Basketball Association.

One of the toughest defenders at the guard position

37 Larry Bird Larry Bird Larry Joe Bird is an American retired professional basketball player who played for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association. Bird is a 3x champ, 1x ROTY, 1x Finals MVP, 3x 3PT Contest winner, all with the Boston Celtics. (1979-1992)

A brilliant all rounder, should be much higher

He's so good he was in a McDonalds advert with Jordan

Come on he's easily top 20

38 Dwight Howard Dwight Howard Dwight David Howard is an American professional basketball player for the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association.

Excellent shot blocker and excellent dunk and layup. Probably the best Center ever

How is he down here?! He is awesome at blocking - qwee

The man won DPOY THREE years in a ROW! One of the most dominant defensive big men in his heyday with the Magic. Should be WAAY higher.

39 Oscar Robertson Oscar Robertson Oscar Palmer Robertson, nicknamed "The Big O", is an American retired National Basketball Association player who played for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks.
40 Serge Ibaka Serge Ibaka Serge Jonas Ibaka Ngobila is a Congolese-Spanish professional basketball player for the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association.

Oh my HE SAYS GET THAT CYLINDER THING OUT OF THERE ON EVERY BLOCK

41 Mark Eaton

5.56 Blocks per Game! Maybe Russell had more, but nobody has had higher numbers since the records have been kept

A very large human being!

What! Lebron and Wade over one of the greates shot-blockers in history?

42 Dennis Johnson

I'll take DJ over Payton and Jordan... not over jerry west though.

6 � - first team 3 � - second team...ask magic johnson...see 79 ' finals

43 Kurt Rambis

Come on how was he not on before

44 Brian Scalabrine Brian Scalabrine Brian David Scalabrine is an American former professional basketball player who is currently a television analyst for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association.

The best defender I've ever seen play. The real GOAT

This dude was a joke, I'm sure his name being here is a joke, but seriously this guy couldn't defend a statue

The White Mamba is the greatest player to ever step on a basketball court, he singlehandedly carried the Celtics to the finals and carried them the whole series, he also locked down every player he guarded

His 700 block per game and 600 steals per game make the greatest defender of all time! AND LETS NOT FORGET HIS 800 POINTS PER GAME AND WHEN HE KNOCKED DOWN 600 THREES IN ONE GAME

2 Comments
45 John Havlicek John Havlicek John Joseph "Hondo" Havlicek is a retired American professional basketball player who competed for 16 seasons with the Boston Celtics, winning eight NBA championships, four of them coming in his first four seasons.

Hondo at 55 would be 55. Prime top 10.

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

He stole the ball!

1 Comment
46 Bill Walton Bill Walton

For a couple of years...probably the best player I ever saw.

Should be much higher

47 J.J. Reddick
48 Grant Hill

Before he hurt his ankle he was great. Watch YouTube videos of him.

49 Kwame Brown

goat

50 Tristan Thompson Tristan Thompson Tristan Trevor James Thompson is a Canadian professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association.

He can make you have no where to go on the court!

8Load More
PSearch List

Related Lists

Greatest Defensive Players in MLB History Best NBA Defensive Players of the 2017-2018 Season Top Ten NBA Players Most Likely to Win the 2018-2019 Defensive Player of the Year Best Defensive & Rebounding Players On NBA 2K12 Best Defensive Ends In NFL History

List Stats

2,000 votes
170 listings
10 years, 50 days old

Top Remixes (12)

1. Bill Russell
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
3. Gary Payton
GuitarBass
1. Scottie Pippen
2. Bill Russell
3. Dikembe Mutombo
therealratings
1. Scottie Pippen
2. Michael Jordan
3. Bill Russell
Nate0801

WRemix
View All 12

Error Reporting

See a factual error in these listings? Report it here.