Offense usually takes all the highlights in basketball and understandably so. It is naturally more fun to watch what’s happening with the ball and the creative things players do with it.
We cannot forget the massive importance of defense, however. Teams that are much better on offense than defense rarely contend for the NBA championship.
In this potentially shortened 2019-20 NBA season, which players contributed most to their team’s defense? Let’s sift through the key players in the league and decide which of them deserves to be on the league’s two All-Defensive Teams this year.
All-Defensive First Team (in order of predicted voting points)
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Forward)
- Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (Forward)
- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Center)
- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Guard)
- Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics (Guard)
Antetokounmpo is the best regular season player in the NBA right now. He is 6’11” with a chiseled 242-pound frame, he can run and jump with any player in the league and he knows exactly what to do on defense. That combination makes him an elite all-around stopper for the NBA’s top-ranked defense.
Davis comes in second in projected voting points here because his position is a little bit more ambiguous than Antetokounmpo’s. He plays both power forward and center (though more at center), and he is known for his excellent versatility. He may lose out with some voters who see Gobert as the better rim protector and therefore a better defender at the center spot.
Gobert’s Jazz squad is having a down year on the defensive end of the floor, which means it’s unlikely that he dominates the voting like normal. He is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year as well as the two-time reigning leader in voting points for the All-Defensive First Team. However, many people will vote Davis as a forward and Gobert will clearly get more votes than any other player who is a clear center.
The guard spots are the toughest to predict because backcourt players rarely get much buzz in the Defensive Player of the Year race. However, I’ve tabbed Simmons and Smart as my selections here. Due to length and athleticism (Simmons) or quickness and strength (Smart), both guys regularly take on assignments against star players of a variety of sizes. On top of that, both the 76ers and Celtics rank as top-six defensive teams in the league.
All-Defensive Second Team
- Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (Forward)
- Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks (Guard)
- Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers (Guard)
- OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors (Forward)
- Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat (Center)
Leonard might sneak onto the First Team if enough people consider Anthony Davis a center, which is definitely a distinct possibility. However, I think voters will want to find a way to get Antetokounmpo, Davis and Gobert all on the First Team, which means the forward spots will be filled. Leonard’s defense is clearly a couple of notches below what it was when he was a rising superstar with the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s still elite.
Early on in Bledsoe’s career, he was bestowed with the nickname “Mini LeBron.” It is easy to see why he has that moniker. Bledsoe is about seven inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than LeBron James, but he has a similarly bulky frame that is somehow still very quick, fast and explosive. He plays a huge role as the starting point guard on the NBA’s clear No. 1 defense.
Leonard’s teammate, Beverley, talks a big game on the defensive end of the floor. Thankfully for the Clippers, he backs it up. He is a 6’1, 185-pound gnat who relishes any chance to get under the skin of offensive players. What separates the two First Team guards from him, though, is legitimate versatility. While Beverley will attempt to guard bigger players somewhat often, Simmons and Smart also do so and have more success with it.
The Raptors have built the NBA’s No. 2-ranked defense mostly on the strength of great schemes from the coaching staff and a playing rotation that consists solely of guys who are at least good on defense. However, Anunoby is much more than just good. He is a lanky, do-everything forward with great hands who knows where and when to be there. His relative lack of name recognition with some voters could hinder his candidacy, unfortunately.
Adebayo is the guy I think will win the Most Improved Player award, and I think the fact that he is in the running for that award will help remind people of his excellent defense in the voting for the All-Defensive Teams. Adebayo is just decent as a rim protector, but the Heat center specializes in shutting down perimeter players on switches. He had a shining moment early in March as he limited Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 13 points and three assists on 6-of-18 shooting from the field in a 16-point win by the Heat over the Bucks.
- Guards: Kris Dunn (Chicago Bulls), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors) Gary Harris (Denver Nuggets), Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Donte DiVincenzo (Milwaukee Bucks).
- Forwards: Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat), Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers).
- Centers: Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks), Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers), Marc Gasol (Toronto Raptors).