The 5 Best Defenders of the NBA Season so Far

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You know the saying: offense wins games, defense wins championships.

Although it might sound cliché, this is arguably a factual statement. Since the last decade, almost every winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award ended up being an NBA Champion at some point in their careers. Going back into 2000, only four players out of fourteen (Dikembe Mutombo, Marcus Camby, Joakim Noah, Rudy Gobert) are ringless DPOYs. In short, excellence in defense is a shortcut to winning basketball.

The current NBA season is loaded with solid defensive performances regardless of experience. It is so satisfying to see defensive-minded rookies such as Davion Mitchell and Evan Mobley getting hyped. It’s also refreshing to witness a new defensive focus in those players that are not known for their guarding efforts, like Nikola Jokic or Stephen Curry. Though, it’s clear who has been standing out as lockdown defenders.

Here is a look at the 5 best defenders in NBA. These are the way-too-early frontrunners for Defensive Player of the Year:

The 5 Best Defenders in Basketball So Far

Lonzo Ball

Now that he is in a new team, with great offensive-minded teammates, Lonzo Ball became even more reliable as a defensive piece. He is the leader of the 5th best defense in the NBA. His impressive work became evident when helping lineups with DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic – historically below-average defenders – to a positive Net Rating. His quickness and savviness are overwhelming when guarding off-ball, one of the reasons why the Bulls are the 5th team in the NBA that conceded the least amount of 3 pointers. Without Lonzo, Chicago would not be in that solid situation.

Paul George

It has been an impressive beginning for one of the best two-way players of basketball. Paul George is standing out on the Clippers, being the only starter with a Defensive Rating below the 100 mark. George leads the NBA in steals and besides figures in the top 5 of Defensive Win Shares and Deflections per game. The wing superstar holds opponents to less than 38% from the paint, midrange, and 3 pointers. Fair to say that the Clippers would not be a top 10 defense without their star player. 

Rudy Gobert

Sometimes, defense does not translate into numbers, but that is not the case with Rudy. The 3-time-DPOY is like an hors-concours in every defense conversation, and rightly so. This season, the Frenchman is the anchor of the third-best defense in the NBA, with impressive performances and even more notable statistical marks: he leads the league in rebounds per game, Defensive Rating, and Defensive Win Shares. Second in contested shots. Not only has he been great on the interior defense, but he has also improved guarding the perimeter every time he is switched to a smaller and quicker player. Gobert is the type of player that makes you change your offensive scheme. 

Jimmy Butler

If you thought that Jimmy Butler was plateauing after the bubble NBA Finals, I have news for you. Somehow, the two-way superstar reached an impressive whole new apex of physicality and athleticism. He has been outstanding on both sides of the floor, but he has been extra active on the D. Jimmy is the second in the league in steals, deflections, Defensive Win Shares, and Defensive Rating. He leads the NBA in Defensive Box Plus-Minus, with a career-high of +5.6. Jimmy is limiting opponents to an unreal rate of 16.7% in midrange shots (on about 8 attempts a game), which is by far the best for any NBA player. His leadership, communication, and fierce competitiveness lead the Heat to number one in the East rankings. Why not dream with an MVP award?

Bam Adebayo

That is finally his season. One of the main reasons the Miami Heat is the second-best defense in the league is the impact and dominance of Bam Adebayo. Beyond his undeniable quickness and athleticism, he has such a high IQ and feel for the game for a young big. Bam is always on the right spots of the floor, making intelligent switches, reading passing lanes, and helping the weak side. He is the top 3 rebounder in the NBA as a 6’9 center. 3rd in Defensive Rating, allowing a career-best mark of 94 points per 100 possessions. Bam is locking up the best players on every team: against him, opposing players shoot less than 38% in the paint, 20% from midrange, and 28% from three. Adebayo can guard one through five with efficiency and volume and still clamp people up. For now, he is the nightmare matchup of the 2021/2022 NBA season.

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