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


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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.

Wallace > pippen for defense

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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

That is incredible is one of the worst defensive players I ever seen in the league. His best defensive move is the shot block from behind, but one on one he his the worst, every player can shot over Lebron.


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The Newcomers

? J.J. Reddick
? LaMarcus Aldridge

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.

How is he not higher than Lebron.. Kobe will D his own man.. and help others... All of Lebron's great defensive plays have been him helping out someone else's man.

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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


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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.

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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List Stats

2,000 votes
101 listings
8 years, 111 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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