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[The Athletic] Top 25 Defensive Players EVER

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by lnchan, Jan 27, 2022.

  1. lnchan

    lnchan Sugar Land Leonard
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    Article is on top historic defense in NBA history, but this anecdote was given: https://theathletic.com/3093939/202...nd-ranking-the-25-best-defenders-of-all-time/

    You don't realize how good we got it until it is gone...

    Here’s one man’s undoubtedly flawed assessment of the top 25 defenders in league annals:

    1. Bill Russell
    2. Hakeem Olajuwon
    3. Tim Duncan
    4. Kevin Garnett
    5. Rudy Gobert
    6. Scottie Pippen
    7. Draymond Green
    8. David Robinson
    9. Ben Wallace
    10. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    11. Dennis Rodman
    12. Bobby Jones
    13. Jason Kidd
    14. Wilt Chamberlain
    15. Kawhi Leonard
    16. Giannis Antetokounmpo
    17. Michael Jordan
    18. LeBron James
    19. Dikembe Mutombo
    20. Sidney Moncrief
    21. Dennis Johnson
    22. Dwight Howard
    23. Gary Payton
    24. Bruce Bowen
    25. (tie) Marc Gasol and Tony Allen


    Introduction
    How do you measure the absence of something?

    That, at heart, is the problem with evaluating defense in virtually any sport. While we can tell relatively quickly what happened at the team level — the other team didn’t score — assigning individual credit for those instances is usually much more difficult.

    In rare instances it’s easy — Tayshaun Prince deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this stop by the Pistons, for instance — but the vast majority of NBA defense is about stuff that doesn’t happen. It’s mostly about the shot the other team didn’t take, or the guy who was denied receiving the ball in his favorite spot, or the post player pushed two feet further from the basket.

    I got a firsthand look at how this works with the grit-and-grind Grizzlies when I worked in their front office. On the perimeter, we had Tony Allen, who might be the best player I’ve ever seen at denying a player the ball. And behind him, we had Marc Gasol, who was the absolute master of the subtle slide, the split-second positioning, putting out fires before they ever got started. We think of dominant defense as blocking shots at the top of the square or picking a dribble at midcourt, but more often than not it’s the absence of openings, the inability to catch the ball, the play call that goes nowhere because the big on the weak side reads it a beat early.

    Take these two play clips, for instance, both of which end in the same result — a missed Patrick Beverley 3-pointer from the right corner. How we get there and the quality of the resulting shot is radically different, however.


    The box score just reports that Beverley just a missed shot from the corner. The closest defender was Mike Conley, but he probably wasn’t close enough that you’d give him credit for “forcing” the miss. Houston got a wide-open 3 on this play.

    And yet … the Grizzlies took away several options just by not screwing up and not overreacting. At the start, a double-drag for Beverley draws spectacular disinterest from the Memphis defense, as Courtney Lee nonchalantly goes under and Gasol doesn’t even bother hedging. Recognizing a non-threat is as important as reacting quickly to real ones.

    There is an emergency on the left side, however, as the smaller Conley has picked up James Harden on a transition switch, and Harden has him on the left block.

    Fortunately, Gasol and Lee see what’s happening and execute a perfect scram switch (which Gasol likely called out) while the ball is still in the air. (If you’re looking for Allen, he was injured for this game). For good measure, Gasol leaves Dwight Howard just long enough to tag Beverley and slow his cut, cleansing himself on defensive 3 seconds. Zach Randolph has the far less threatening Terrence Jones to collapse on Harden’s drive and force a kick out; Conley shades Jones to pass to the corner but can’t quite get a hand on the pass.

    Memphis did lots of good stuff … but still gave up an open corner shot to a guy who shot 36.1 percent 3-point from 3 that season. Then the evil refs called a foul on Gasol even though Howard shoved him first.

    You’ll find another “Beverley 3-point corner miss” on the last play of the game.



    Notably, the box score just reports that Beverley missed a shot at the buzzer. Conley was the closest defender, so if you were trying to assign credit based on “forcing” a miss you might focus on him. Indeed, Conley got in his space and made a nice contest.

    But all the action happened on the other side of the court. There’s an initial pick-and-roll that might have been dummy action but had to be respected; Gasol hangs just close enough to the dribbler to allow James Johnson to recover and knows that since Johnson that season was the king of blocking 3-point shots he could get back to Howard quickly.

    Courtney Lee denied a wing catch for Harden, but — aha! — Houston may have planned for us to deny it and set up a play for Harden to back cut (indeed, this play may be the hardest off-ball cut Harden has made at any point in the last 10 seasons).

    Fortunately, two other defenders see what’s happening. First, there’s a quick slide by Prince — theoretically assigned to Jeremy Lin in the corner, but already tagging Howard’s role and waiting to hand him back to the retreating Gasol — and then Gasol peels off his return to Howard when he sees Harden scampering through the lane. With plans A through C gone (and Johnson close enough to make a crosscourt laser to Lin in the corner exceedingly difficult), the only option left was a Beverley heave from the corner.

    Go back through both of these plays, and the most notable stuff was the things that didn’t happen — on the first play, Beverley didn’t get any openings on his double drag, and Harden didn’t get a mismatch against Conley. On the second, Howard’s roll wasn’t open on the initial screen, and Harden’s back cut was off by two help defenders.
     
    #1 lnchan, Jan 27, 2022
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2022
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  2. jim1961

    jim1961 Member

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    Just not screwing up is pretty important, I agree.
     
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  3. lnchan

    lnchan Sugar Land Leonard
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    More from said article:

    But the Eaton-Mutombo archetype was never quite as valuable as the mobile rim protectors of the same era, of which we were granted two jaw-dropping talents in the same state at the same time in the form of Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.

    Robinson gets short shrift in the discussion of great defenders largely based on two playoff series — a whirling, reverse-pivoting pantsing at the hands of Olajuwon in the 1995 Western Conference finals and an overwhelming physical destruction by a prime Shaquille O’Neal in the 2001 Western Conference playoffs when Robinson was 35. (Indeed, Mutombo held up much better against Shaq in those same playoffs).

    [...]

    And then there is Olajuwon, who for my money is the most underrated defensive player of all time. If anything, he suffered from playing in the 1990s maul ball era rather than the current one, where he’d be effortlessly floating along the perimeter tracking guards, periodically picking their dribble with his frog-tongue hands or gently swatting away their misguided attempts at taking him to the rim. One of my prime childhood memories is of an otherwise overmatched Rockets team playing Boston in the 1986 NBA Finals-clinching Game 6.

    Olajuwon would make you cackle with the stuff he did; I wish teams switched more back then because he had crazy hands that pilfered embarrassed guards. Despite playing center full time, he finished in the top 12 in steals five straight seasons from 1987-88 to 1991-82. In short, he was amazing. If you don’t want to see a full NBA Finals game, at least watch him defend the entire Bulls team for 10 seconds.

    On a team level, the Rockets’ 1994 champions, which in terms of historical impact consisted of Hakeem and some guys, ranked second in defensive efficiency; previous editions finished third, second, first, fourth, fourth and third. Olajuwon never played with another great player until the late-model version of Clyde Drexler arrived in the spring of 1995, and he only played with one other All-Star caliber player (Ralph Sampson) for any length of time in his prime; we might esteem his career more if he had.
     
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  4. TimDuncanDonaut

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    Cut

    Scottie Pippen
    Draymond Green


    David Robinson
    Ben Wallace
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    Dennis Rodman​

    Paste
    Scottie Pippen
    Draymond Green
    * Pippen and Draymond should be below Rodman and Co.
    * Draymond decent and while important to GSW, shouldn't be higher than guys like Ben Wallace (4x Defensive player of the year)

    Jason Kidd is too high. Above Tony Allen, the Glove, MJ?
     
  5. xaos

    xaos Member
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    Rudy Golbert should not belong in top 10 anything. You can be the best rim protector of all time but teams force switches where Golbert has to defend the ball handler and it makes him almost unplayable in the playoffs.
     
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  6. peleincubus

    peleincubus Member

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    Here's to number seven!



    ps i dont need any game 7 vids against the warriors. I have never watched any and i dont plan on it any time soon either.
    pss thanks
     
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  7. glimmertwins

    glimmertwins Member

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    ...this is the correct take.
     
  8. glimmertwins

    glimmertwins Member

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    No Ron Artest? Dude was a straight defensive bully and he didn't make it?
     
  9. Rocket River

    Rocket River Member

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    He was a monster
    so was Vernon Maxwell

    How the F is Gary Payton down at 23??

    Rocket River
     
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  10. Milos

    Milos Member

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    Where is Evan Mobley?
     
  11. basso

    basso Contributing Member
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    i remember watching that game, and Akeem (as he was called then) stealing the ball on consecutive possessions in the 4th quarter, calmly dribbling the length of the floor to score, and jogging back up court as Parrish, McHale, and Bird just shook their heads.
     
    #11 basso, Jan 27, 2022
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2022
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  12. Easy

    Easy Very Calm
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    Yes, but it can be said about the vast majority of great defensive big men in the history of basketball. Gobert plays in a guard-oriented era with rules advantaging the perimeter game, and offenses have learned to exploit it with simple PnR plays. I think many of the top 10 guys on this list would be unplayable in today's NBA playoffs because of this exact reason.
     
  13. durvasa

    durvasa (he/him/his)
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    Why is Gobert at 5 and Mutombo at 19? Is Gobert considered more mobile on the perimeter or something?
     
  14. JW86

    JW86 Member

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    So Dream didn’t play with Thorpe? I get that they want to big up Dream but tired of the narrative we had bad teams that he just carried himself. Now on defense, they might have a point, though you couldn’t move OT, Maxwell was tough, Elie was solid and Horry a fine defender too.

    We were probably and still are on the best TEAMS of all-time, needing at least one player or more to step up each night and it rotated. Dream didn’t score that much to make it a Harden needing 40-50 to win type of deal.
     
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  15. lnchan

    lnchan Sugar Land Leonard
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    Olajuwon would be even higher on the list. Even though he is listed at... #2.
     
  16. Aruba77

    Aruba77 Contributing Member

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    Gary Payton needs to be higher.
     
  17. basso

    basso Contributing Member
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    Dream played with OT, but not when he first came into the league. Olajuwon was an elite defensive player his rookie year. OT arrived in '88 i think.
     
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  18. durvasa

    durvasa (he/him/his)
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    Chuck Hayes is an unforgivable omission. I expected better from Hollinger.
     
  19. D-rock

    D-rock Member

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    Kidd over the Glove is a TRAVESTY.
     
  20. xaos

    xaos Member
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    This was my exact question... haha
     
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