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

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?

Your ignorance of the competition in Russell's era doesn't count against him. He had many talented players besides Chamberlain to contend with and his dominance is unsurpassed. - Billyv

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

It is believed by many that if blocks were a recorded stat during his playing time, that Bill Russell would've averaged double digits in blocks per game, add that to the 15.1 points per game, and the 22.5 rebounds per game, more than likely Bill Russell averaged a triple double throughout his career.

I'm a pretty short guy in basketball terms, but this guy taught me how to be a great defensive player. Never overpursuing (putting yourself out of position to make a play), getting in the right spot for a rebound and ultimately shutting down any consistent points against you.

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2 Hakeem Olajuwon Hakeem Olajuwon Hakeem 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.

Yeah the dream had unparalleled footwork. shaq out muscled him but Dream finessed him. dream shake!

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3 Dennis Rodman Dennis 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.

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.

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.

He's the best because whoever he gaurded bairly put up a shot, and if they did it would brick.

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4 Michael Jordan Michael Jordan Michael 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.

His defense game was better than offense, watch his last move in Chicago at 1998, stealing the ball from one of the best players ever in the Nba and take one of the best shots in the history of the NBA 20 secinds later..It was a combination of his greatness in the those 2 relms...Jordan is the GOAT by far from James

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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.

He was the best all around defender

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6 Gary 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!

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.

His shoes always on the floor and moving and his mind was completely in the game.

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7 Dikembe 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

Yes.. best defensive player dikembe mutombo

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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, more.

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.

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.

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.

Ben wallace is the goat

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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


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10 Lebron James Lebron James LeBron Raymone James is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association. LeBron has played for the Heat and the Cavaliers.

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

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


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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 . 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.


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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.

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.

Better than a lot of people before him on this list

The skyhook most dominant shoot I ever seen by far


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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!

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14 Kawhi Leonard Kawhi Leonard Kawhi Anthony Leonard is an American professional basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association.

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

Kawhi is the best defensive player in the game

He’s better on defense than lebron

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15 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.

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16 Nate Thurmond Nate Thurmond

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 Michael Cooper

Toughest defender according to Larry Bird.

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

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18 Moses Malone Moses Malone more.
19 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.

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.

Great post d

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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.

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

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21 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.

Locked up LeBron and Dirk. Who else can say that

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22 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.

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.

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

23 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


24 Maurice Lucas
25 Dwyane Wade Dwyane Wade Dwyane 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!

Not really but if you say so

Amazing Player! Best Ever!

26 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..

27 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.

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28 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.

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.

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
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 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.

Evidently, people need a lesson in defense. J.S. is the all time leader in steals and has a third more than most of the other leader including Jordan. The only other player that compares with him is Jason Kidd.

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32 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 more.
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.

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 Kevin Durant Kevin Durant Kevin Wayne Durant is an American professional basketball player for the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association. He was MVP of the 2017 NBA Finals.

Why is he even on this list? LOL can't be serious. This guy can score and that's it!

Living Legend

He's the bes playa ever to pla the game that's y he's the goat

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

James is a great defender

This guy should be #1 - b4tm4n333

Best defender ever

36 Mark Eaton

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

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

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37 Chris Paul Chris Paul Christopher Emmanuel Paul is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association.

One of the toughest defenders at the guard position

38 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)

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

A brilliant all rounder, should be much higher

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39 Serge Ibaka


40 Kurt Rambis

Come on how was he not on before

41 Brian Scalabrine

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

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

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42 Dwight Howard Dwight Howard Dwight David Howard is an American professional basketball player for the Houston Rockets 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.

43 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.
44 Bill Walton

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

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45 J.J. Reddick
46 Grant Hill

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

47 Kwame Brown


48 Tristan Thompson

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

49 Josh Smith Josh Smith
50 Mo Cheeks

How on earth is Mo not AT LEAST top 30! I got him at around 22

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List Stats

2,000 votes
101 listings
8 years, 178 days old

Top Remixes (12)

1. Bill Russell
2. Dikembe Mutombo
3. Michael Cooper
1. Bill Russell
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
3. Dikembe Mutombo
1. Bill Russell
2. Hakeem Olajuwon
3. Gary Payton

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