After the season concluded, with the Warriors being crowned champions, the key point scorers are the guys taking most of the plaudits. They’re not the only ones that should leave the 2021-22 campaign with credit in the bank though. Here we try to balance the scales with a look at the best defensive players in the NBA this season.
Number 5. Draymond Green
Kick-starting our list of the best defensive players in the NBA right now is Golden State Warriors man Draymond Green. The inclusion of Green might court a little controversy if we’re happy to die on this hill – Green deserves his inclusion.
The biggest flags against him are the fact that he’s struggled to get out on the floor too much and, despite his absence, the Warriors have still achieved the ultimate prize. Look beyond that though and remember just how vital Green was in the early part of the season; up until his injury, he had the best defensive rating in the entire league.
Even though people praise Curry over any other player, Green is also one of the reasons why people that bet on NBA games had the Warriors as lead favorites to win the ring (which they did).
The former Michigan State graduate can guard absolutely anyone with his physicality a huge asset to the team; his impact on this Championship win is noteworthy. When his injury issues subside, Green will likely be back stronger than ever and that’s a worrying thought for the other teams in the league because, fitness aside, he’s up there with the very best of them.
Number 4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
This time last year Giannis Antetokounmpo was the player getting plastered across every media outlet in the world after his heroics guided the Bucks to the NBA Championship. Fast forward to today and his team might not have enjoyed the same season but Antetokounmpo has continued to strut his stuff in a very similar way. In fact, in many ways, he upped his defensive game.
Just look at the numbers he put up during the regular season. His 1.1 steals per game was narrowly behind last year’s 1.2, which happens to be his career average, whilst the 1.4 blocks and 9.6 defensive rebounds were both stronger in comparison to last season and those stats have been amassed whilst playing more games too, which makes the averages even more impressive. Factor in how well Antetokounmpo looks after the ball and he’s very much a beast.
Number 3. Rudy Gobert
Next up in our look at the best defensive players in the NBA is Rudy Gobert. Gobert has continued to show great form this season building on past campaigns where he’s largely carried the Utah Jazz. They’ve been solid over the past few years but had it not been for Gobert manning the paint, that wouldn’t have been the case. A look at the stats proves that; Jazz statistically becomes one of the worst defenses in the league when Gobert isn’t playing.
So exactly how has Gobert performed this season? Well the standout stat is his rebounds; at 14.7 per game he’s the top rebounder in the league and 11.0 of those rebounds are defensive wins; that’s a career-high for Gobert and shatters his career average of 8.3. 2.2 blocks and 0.7 steals per game aren’t to be sniffed at either. He’s a huge player for the Jazz and deserves to feature in the top three here.
Number 2. Mikal Bridges
Mikal Bridges coming in our silver medal spot might surprise a few people with his stats of 3.3 defensive rebounds, 0.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game not particularly attention-grabbing in their own right. The good old-fashioned eyeball test will show you that he’s been instrumental for the Phoenix Suns though, which is no mean feat given they posted the best record in the entire league.
His wing defense has been incredible and, in our view, he’s considerably underrated by the average fan. He’s barely missed a game throughout the campaign, played 35.2 minutes a night and has been tasked with marshaling the opposition’s top talent time and time again. Rarely – if ever – has he disappointed.
Number 1. Marcus Smart
Last but not least we are happy to name Marcus Smart as the best defensive player in the NBA right now, which was a pretty straightforward choice given he has just been named Defensive Player of the Year. It was a well-deserved award as well. Smart and the Boston Celtics transformed into a dominant force around halfway through the campaign with Smart the key cog in that transformation from a defensive standpoint.
Like Bridges, his stats alone – 3.2 defensive rebounds, 0.3 blocks, and 1.7 steals per game – don’t blow you away. Smart is, however, a guard that can defend any position on the floor and his energy levels are phenomenal meaning no player can escape his clutches. He’s physical, can fly over and around screens, and consistently forces turnovers. Every team in the league would want Smart on their roster.