The NBA has, in recent years, been criticized by fans who are worried that teams are becoming too lazy on defense. While this is true, it is partly the fault of the league itself for making rule changes forcing defenders to be much more conservative when they are guarding the ball. Despite the decrease in intensity, some players have found ways to still be elite defenders despite obstacles that have been put in their way. Let’s take a look at the best defensive players at every position.
Point Guard – Mike Conley
Conley has been the consensus pick for most underrated player in the league for his whole career. He has been one of the most consistent play-makers and scorers in the league, and his ability to annoy offensive players who he’s guarding is exceptional. Conley was finally able to drop the label of underrated when he scored the biggest contract in NBA history last off-season. He is averaging over a steal a game and has helped Memphis to become the fourth best defensive team in the league. He is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and he is the best defender at the point guard position.
Shooting Guard – Jimmy Butler
Former most improved player of the year and defensive player of the year candidate this year, Jimmy Butler has really started to light up the league. On offense, he his averaging 23 points per game. On defense, his team is in the top ten in opponents points per game. And he his averaging just under two steals a game. Butler was rewarded for his hard work by being chosen to be a part of team USA for the Olympics. He was a crucial part of the defensive minded bench that lead the team to a gold medal. He has also been a huge part of the Chicago Bulls team that is hunting for a playoff spot. And he is one of the strongest defenders at the guard position matching up with players like LeBron James and James Harden. Butler is surely one of the best defenders in the league and if he keeps it up he will be able to show his talents in the playoffs.
Small Forward – Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi is widely regarded as the best defensive player in the league. He has won defensive player of the year two years in a row now and he is once again a strong candidate for the award. He is averaging just under two steals a game and almost a block a game on the second best defensive team in the league. His long arms allow him to cause turnovers and to get out on the fast break. His efforts on both ends of the floor have thrown him into the discussion for MVP. His strength and size allow him to guard not only perimeter players but big men inside as well. He is versatile enough to defend every position in the league and has shown he can score against just about anyone, too.
Power Forward – Draymond Green
With the Golden State Warrior’s addition of Kevin Durant, scoring opportunities has become far and few between for players like Draymond Green who is averaging only ten points per game. However, Draymond has shown that he impacts the game in far more ways than one. He is averaging a career high two steals a game and he is thriving in other aspects of the game as well. With an average of eight rebounds and seven assists a game he is truly one of the best all around players in the league. He has been part of the great season that the Warriors are having and he’s the front runner to win defensive player of the year.
Center – Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis has been an elite shot blocker at every level he’s played at. This year, he is second in the entire league in blocks with an average of 2.3 a game. His intensity on defense is even more impressive considering he’s also the only guy the Pelicans can run their offense through. He is the fourth highest scorer in the league averaging 27 points a game. He out works most guys on both ends of the floor and he’s good at it too. With New Orlean’s addition of DeMarcus Cousins, Davis may be able to relax a little bit on offense and become an even better defender. The Pelicans are four games out of the playoffs. If they want to make it, Davis will have to play his best basketball of his career and I think he can do it.
While the NBA might not have as many physical defenders as they used to, there are still plenty of guys who can guard the ball. I think these five players are the standouts at each position.