Ranking team’s best defenders

After ranking each team’s go-to guy, I’m going to rank each team’s stand-out defender from 1-30. Although I said that when ranking the scorers I would not use advanced stats or metrics, this applies even more to defence. Statistics haven’t really been able to capture a player’s defensive ability past blocks and steals until very recently. The introduction of the plus-minus statistic has helped with this, as well as stats such as defensive win shares. With that, here’s the list:

1. Dwight Howard, ORL: pretty obvious choice. He’s won the past two Defensive Player of the Year awards; he’s led the NBA in rebounds and blocked shots for those two years; he alters as many shots as he blocks, yet he still does this; and I can’t think of anyone better to have back there if your man gets by you.

2. Gerald Wallace, CHA: back in the 2005/6 NBA season, he became just the third player (David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon) to average over 2 blocks and 2 steals per game since the league started tracking blocks in 1973. Since then, however, his defence has improved to the point where he can go out and stop an opposing scorer one-on-one – not just make the flashy defensive plays. His rebounding has improved tremendously, and he averaged 10 rebounds per game in the 2009/10 season. The Larry Brown-era Bobcats have been excellent defensive teams and Wallace is the main reason for that. Recognition came by making the 2009/10 NBA All-Defensive first team – in addition to his first all-star appearance earlier in the year.

3. Josh Smith, ATL: he can pretty much guard every position, he’s long, he’s quick, he’s super athletic and he can block shots. He also made All-Defensive second team in 2009/10.

4. Rajon Rondo, BOS: my age might show a little here, because I’m sure there would be a lot of people who’d argue that Kevin Garnett is the Celtics’ best defender and one of the best we have ever seen. I can also see how KG’s presence allows Rondo to be far more aggressive on the perimeter and go after those steals. However, Rondo does have terrific instincts, quick hands and tenacity when defending the ball – and was first-team All-Defensive last season.

5. Shane Battier, HOU: despite showing his age a little bit last season, Battier has the sort of game that won’t suffer too much as he gets older. What’s that game? Just defend the league’s best scorers, game after game. A true student of the game, Battier spends a lot of time studying tape of the dynamite scorers in order for him to make it harder for them to get the ball in their comfort spots. Does Kobe like getting the ball on the elbow? Battier will force him to the left side, 2 feet further out than he’d like. And it is this dedication to defence that makes him a top-5 defender in the league.

6. Andrew Bogut, MIL: last season, Bogut showed the league why he was a top pick in the draft. Not only did he average 16 points, 10 boards and 2.5 blocks per game, but he was pretty much the reason the Bucks have been able to improve so much on defence in the past couple of years (the underrated Scott Skiles and his outstanding defensive schemes probably deserve a mention, along with all the work Luc Mbah a Moute does guarding the league’s best). However, having Bogut back there, blocking shots, moving his feet, stopping the screen-roll game and committing just 3 fouls per game allows him to rank this high.

7. Andre Iguodala, PHI: one of only 3 guys to make both the scorers and defenders list, and yet you keep hearing rumours about Philly needing to trade him. Why? Probably because he was miscast as a true franchise player and then handed a 6-year, $80 million deal back in 2008. As I said, he’s merely an OK scorer, but not one to rely on. Where he should be focusing his efforts is on the defensive end. He’s hyper athletic, strong, and wreaks havoc in the passing lanes. He can guard the opposition’s main guy or be effective off the ball. He’s also an above-average rebounder for a swingman, grabbing 6.5 boards per game last season. Despite his all-round gifts, his name will pop up in a few more rumours before the season starts.

8. Thabo Sefolosha, OKC: a bargain pick-up for the Thunder, Thabo does all the little things – guards the best scorers, makes the extra pass and generally makes things easier for his team-mates. He has good hands; able to poke away the dribble and pick off the passing lanes, and has had success guarding both Kobe and Wade in the past. Earned second-team all defence last season.

9. Udonis Haslem, MIA: might not get all the attention and the accolades, and will certainly be overlooked this season in Miami due to some new and rather high-profile team-mates. However, UD does it all – moves his feet, grabs boards and frustrates opposition bigs. He was the biggest reason the Heat were such a good defensive team last season.

10. Tayshaun Prince, DET: struggled through his first real injury last season, dealing with some back troubles after being ridiculously durable through his first 8 years in the league. After playing just 42 games in his rookie year, he appeared in all 82 games for THE NEXT SIX SEASONS, and had his consecutive games streak stopped at 496. Despite his skinny frame, he has had terrific success defending the big-time scorers of the league, earning a place in the All-Defensive teams 4 times. He also has maybe the most famous block ever.

11. Kenyon Martin, DEN: Martin really changed his game after the Nuggets acquired Chauncey Billups, understanding that the team had a real chance to contend and therefore needed someone to go out and set the tone defensively. He went out and took the challenge, guarding bigs and smalls, and grabbed nearly 10 rebounds per game, his most in 3 seasons. Deserves a lot of credit for the Nuggets defence.

12. Chris Paul, NOH: the second guy to appear on the scorer and defender list, CP is a ball-hawk who absolutely racks up steals by the bunch. He holds an NBA record for steals, recording at least one pilfer in 108 games straight. He’s also earned 2 all-defensive team selections.

13. Ron Artest, LAL: big, strong, quick and with good instincts, Ron-Ron excels at guarding both wings and big men, and has even been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. However, he can lose focus at times and gamble for the defensive statistic, taking teams out of their defensive schemes.

14. Anderson Varejao, CLE: this article, from January, probably says more about Varejao than I can. Go read it.

15. Nic Batum, POR: with Martell Webster being sent to Minnesota on draft day, Batum should expect to have to guard the best scorers every time out. He has the length and the athleticism to be an elite defender in the NBA and his work on Steve Nash in the post-season allowed Portland to stay competitive without Brandon Roy at full strength.

16. Kirk Hinrich, WAS: moved off the ball when Derrick Rose arrived in the Chi, and was well up to the challenge of defending 2s. Moves his feet, doesn’t foul much and generally bothers opposition guards with quick hands and good instincts.

17. Amir Johnson, TOR: considering Toronto played close-to historically bad defence last season, they actually have a very good defender in Johnson. However, he can’t stay on the floor to grab all those rebounds and block all those shots because he can’t avoid foul trouble. He fouls. A lot. Over his career he has committed 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes – so he’d pretty much foul out of EVERY GAME he played. Toronto gave him a 5 year, $34 million deal this off-season, and you’d think they’d be hoping he can stay on the floor and produce in the absence of Chris Bosh.

18. Tony Allen, MEM: the new guy in Memphis has become a very good defender in this league, pestering Kobe relentlessly in the finals. Playing with energy and athleticism, he has what it takes to stay in front of his man. Even Kobe himself says he’s good

19. Dahntay Jones, IND: another guy that’s had success defending Kobe in this league (even if he may be a bit dirty). His work in the 2009 playoffs earned him a long-term deal from Indiana, hoping he would come across and shore up their wobbly defence. He earned his money in Indy, but on the offensive end, showing a surprising offensive game, while the Pacers struggled to improve defensively. Still, he’s gritty and will get in your shirt, but a lower end defender nonetheless.

20. Ronnie Brewer, CHI: will likely start in the backcourt with Rose and be assigned the opposition’s best perimeter guy night in, night out. Has length and quickness and thrives at disrupting the passing lanes and getting out in transition.

21. Brendan Haywood, DAL: on a team lacking in star defenders, Haywood will be counted on hanging back, blocking shots and getting rebounds. He better do a lot of both for 6 years and $55 million.

22. Martell Webster, MIN: he’s a guy you can count on to go out and work hard a stopping his guy. Gets blocks occasionally and grabs a few rebounds, but mainly he just sticks with a guy without fouling too much. Kelly Dwyer thinks he has All-Defensive team talent.

23. George Hill, SAS: again, my age showing, with Tim Duncan’s 50 million All-Defence selections right there for all to see. However, Duncan is slowing down, age and injuries catching up with him, and it’s been a while since the Spurs even resembled a good defensive team. However, the youngster from IUPUI has shown he can shut guys down, using long arms and a persistent energy to cause turnovers and generally be pain. He’s even made Tony Parker expendable. That’s a fair effort.

24. Raja Bell, UTA: made his name in the league being a pest defensively, bothering Kobe many times in the Phoenix-LA match-ups. Going back to Utah this season, he’ll be counted on to defend perimeter guys after Wes Matthews’ departure.

25. Robin Lopez, PHX: he’s started grabbing rebounds now; he moves his feet and bodies up guys. Has a feel for playing a hybrid NBA zone, which can’t be overlooked (and is why Haslem ranked so highly, too). Should continue to improve will no doubt block more shots in the future.

26. Brook Lopez, NJN: he’s averaging 8 boards per game on his career along with nearly 2 blocks per game. He moves his feet and bodies up guys well. He’ll definitely improve, enough to be one of the best centers in the game.

27. Tyreke Evans, SAC: the last of the three guys to appear on the scorer and defender lists, ‘Reke is a big, strong guard with quick hands who gets in the passing lanes and generally disrupts anything the opposition wants to try and run. Along with moving up on the scorer list, he’ll definitely round into a top-10 defender in the league.

28. Toney Douglas, NYK: he won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in college. Despite heading into just his second season, he already looks to be the best defender on New Yorks remodelled roster. Not that D’Antoni’s teams play D, but anyway…

29. Charlie Bell, GSW: speaking of teams that don’t bother with defence…Nellie’s Warriors! The newcomer Bell actually looks like their best bet to bother stopping anyone, with his good hands and ability to be in the passing lanes. With the line-ups Nellie rolls out, Bell will probably end up guarding Amar’e during a random November game. We’ll see.

30. Al-Farouq Aminu, LAC: the rookie Aminu actually looks like the guy most likely to play any D for the Clippers this season, but I can’t rank him any higher on the list until he actually plays a game. He got comparisons to both Gerald Wallace and Josh Smith in college, two top-5 guys, so the potential’s there to be a very good defender.

So again, comments? Thoughts?

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