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50 All-Time Elite Defenders In Basketball History

Extended debates on the best defenders in basketball history prompted this list of all-time elite defenders. Son of basketball legend Randolph Childress and one of the best basketball players in Wake Forest history, Brandon Childress, said “in order to be a great defender, you have to be able to shut the water off” [on good offensive players]. I couldn’t agree more. In addition, elite defenders at the highest level of play normally lead in a defensive category including rebounding, shot blocking, steals, deflections etc. 


Bill Russell

In an era that didn’t track shot blocking, Bill Russell dominated basketball rebounding and blocking shots. All most every highlight you will see of him shows him doing one of the other. Consider this; the Defensive Play of The Year award is the likeness of Bill Russell. 

  • 1x All-Defensive Team
  • 4x TRB Champion

Hakeem Olajuwon

At the point retired, he led the the Houston Rockets in rebounding, steals and blocks. The Nigerian born phenom that led Phi Slama Jama at the University of Houston was as good on offense as he was on defense.

  • 2x DPOY
  • 9x All-Defensive Team
  • 3x BLK Champion
  • 2x TRB Champion

David Robinson

The Admiral grew from 5’9″ to 7’0″ while at the Naval Academy. The San Antonio Spurs drafted him first overall in 1987 and waited two years before he played a game. 

  • 4x DPOY
  • 6x All-Defensive Team
  • 3x BLK Champion
  • 2x TRB Champion

Dwight Howard

Career Under Construction

Fact #1: The first DPOY (Defensive Player of The Year) was awarded in the 1982-83 NBA season.

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt influenced the changed the game of basketball, maybe more than any more than  other player in the history of the game. 

  • 2x All-Defensive Team
  • 11x TRB Champion


Kevin Garnett

KG was the first big in basketball to guard every position on the court. The best Pick & Roll defender of all time from the perceptive of the power and center.

  • 12x All-Defensive Team
  • 4x TRB Champion
  • 1x DPOY

Tim Duncan

Quietly Tim Duncan went about business, blocking shots, rebounding and anchoring a championship dynasty. TD and the San Antonio Spurs set the standard on how to defend as a team never getting away from fundamental principles associated with the Shell Drill. 

  • 15x All-Defensive Team

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Career Under Construction

Bobby Jones

Called the Secretary of Defense, Bobby Jones was one of the hardest playing basketball players in NBA history. His energy level on defense was always high. From taking charges, blocking shots and getting steals, Jones length and toughness set the standard for Philadelphia basketball, ending with his number being retired and a basketball hall of fame induction. 

  • 11x All-Defensive Team

Fact #2: The first NBA All-Defensive Team (first and second) was named in the 1968-1969 season.

Dennis Rodman

The Worm won championships with the Detroit Pistons and  Chicago Bulls. He led the NBA in rebounding seven consecutive  years and defended the best NBA centers, forwards and guards one on one. 

  • 8x All-Defensive Team
  • 7x TRB Champion
  • 2x DPOY


Kawhi Leonard

Career Under Construction

Scottie Pippen

The swiss army knife of basketball players, Scottie Pippen played passing lanes better than any player in his era not named Michael Jordan.

  • 10x All-Defensive Team
  • 1x STL Champion

Metta Sandiford-Artest

Built like the machine in the 1995  movie Judge Dredd, Ron is one of the best on ball defenders in NBA basketball history. Most nights he was virtually impossible to get around off of the dribble.

  • 4x All-Defensive Team
  • 1x DPOY

Bruce Bowen

Fresno California’s very own, Bruce Bowen number is retired in San Antonio as a defender. 

  • 8x All-Defensive Team

Fact #3: Blocked shots and steals were first officially recorded in the NBA during the 1973–74 season.

Michael Cooper

Coop was an aggravating defender for the Los Angeles Lakers and defense to Show Time.

  • 1x DPOY


Michael Jordan

Just in case you didn’t know, Michael Jordan defensive prowess is as legendary as is offense. His large hands and cat quickness allowed him to guard on and off the ball.

  • 1x DPOY
  • 9x All-Defensive Team
  • 3x STL Champion

Sidney Moncrief

Relentless competitor who shut down offensive players in the 80’s. He won the first two DPOY awards. 

  • 2x DPOY
  • 5x All-Defensive Team

Fact #4: Third team All-Defense was implemented in 1989.

Kobe Bryant

A knock off to Michael Jordan, Kobe was great on the ball in his time.

  • 15x All-Defensive Team

Tony Allen

Crane High School in Chicago is proud of its very own Tone Capone. His number was also retired by the Memphis Grizzlies for his defensive skill. 

  • 6x All-Defensive Team

Alvin Robertson

Alvin Robertson had a quadruple-double in a NBA basketball game. Enough said.

  • 1x DPOY
  • 6x All-Defensive Team
  • 3x STL Champion


Gary Payton

When your nick name is the Glove you know what it is. Always talking, Payton backed it up with long arms that constantly poked at the basketball while his opponents were trying to dribble.

  • 1x DPOY
  • 9x All-Defensive Team
  • 1x STL Champion

Jason Kidd

Another quiet competitor, J Kidd was exceptional in the passing lanes. 

  • 9x All-Defensive Team

John Stockton

Stockton is probably the toughest (sometimes bordering dirty) point guard to play the game of basketball in the NBA for a few reasons. One of those is the fact that he’s the all-time leader in steals.

  • 5x All-Defensive Team
  • 2x STL Champion

Chris Paul

Career Under Construction

Dennis Johnson

DJ was grossly underrated as a basketball player. One thing that people do know about him is that he led the defensive charge for the Seattle Supersonics and the Boston Celtics.  

  • 9x All-Defensive Team

Best Of The Rest...

Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers

Dikembe Mutumbo

4x DPOY, 6x All-Defensive Team, 3x BLK Champion, 2x TRB Champion


Ben Wallace

4x DPOY, 6x All-Defensive Team, 1x BLK Champion, 2x TRB Champion

Rudy Gobert

Career Under Construction


Mark Eaton

2x DPOY, 5x All-Defensive Team, 4x BLK Champion

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

11x All-Defensive Team, 4x BLK Champion, 1x TRB Champion

Marcus Camby

Marcus Camby

1x DPOY, 4x All-Defensive Team, 4x BLK Champion

Draymond Green

Career Under Construction

Elvin Hayes

2x All-Defensive Team, 2x TRB Champion

Mookie Blaylock

6x All-Defensive Team, 2x STL Champion

Jimmy Butler

Career Under Construction

Rajon Rondo

Career Under Construction

Andrei Kirilenko

3x All-Defensive Team, 1x BLK Champion


Norm Van Lier

8x All-Defensive Team


Walt Frazier

7x All-Defensive Team

Lebron James

Career Under Construction


Artis Gilmore

5x All-Defensive Team


Nate Thurmond

5x All-Defensive Team

Joe Dumars

5x All-Defensive Team

Maurice Cheeks

5x All-Defensive Team

Tayshaun Prince

4x All-Defensive Team


Doug Christie

4x All-Defensive Team


Dwayne Wade

3x All-Defensive Team

Andre Iguodala

Career Under Construction


Paul Pressey

3x All-Defensive Team


K.C. Jones


  • Greg Canzater
  • Dain Ervin
  • Demetrius Griffin
  • Darron Brown
  • Melo Williams
  • Ivory Clark
  • Coach Rice
  • Sampson Brue
  • Raed “Ran” Farid El-Hamali
Picture of Randy Holcomb

Randy Holcomb


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