After winning his third consecutive NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard has clearly established himself as the best stopper in basketball.
Howard was second in the league rebounds (14.1) and fourth in blocked shots (2.3), and his presence in the middle allowed the Magic to be the fourth-best defensive team in the league in points allowed (93.7 points). He made NBA history last season when he led the league in rebounding (13.2) and blocked shots (2.8) in consecutive seasons (2009 and 2010). The 6-foot-11, 275-pound All-Star center was a near unanimous choice as the league’s top defender, garnering 114 of a possible 120 first-place votes.
Howard becomes the first player in NBA history to win the award three straight years. Other multiple winners of the award are Ben Wallace, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Dennis Rodman and Sidney Moncrief.
OneManFastBreak.net ranks the five best defenders in the NBA (regardless of position):
1) DWIGHT HOWARD, Orlando Magic, center
Howard stops and alters shots like a great goalie in hockey. Orlando’s entire philosophy on defense is to funnel all the scorers to Howard, and more often than not Howard ends up protecting the basket with his incredible jumping ability and intimidating raw power. No big man in the league defends the paint better than Superman II.
2) KEVIN GARNETT, Boston Celtics, forward
When KG joined the Boston Celtics in 2007, the Celtics instantly became the best defensive team in the league. Garnett is a unique talent who covers a lot of ground with his length, but he plays with tremendous passion and intensity that filters down to his teammates. Garnett plays the pick-and-roll better than anyone in the Association, and is also an incredible weakside or help defender. He rarely plays out of position on defense, and he never backs down from a challenge. When given the opportunity, he certainly can defend all five positions.
3) RON ARTEST, L.A. Lakers, forward
Age may have robbed Artest of his quickness but definitely not his power. Ron-Ron uses his hands very well, and he has extremely strong hands. At 250 pounds, he likes to put his body on opposing scorers to take away their air space and thrives on physical contact. But his biggest strength is probably his reputation, as most players are afraid to go at him.
4) TABO SEFOLOSHA, Oklahoma City Thunder, guard
If basketball fans can flashback to the 2006 NBA playoffs, that was the year we were introduced to Thabo and his defensive prowess. As a rookie with the Chicago Bulls, Sefolosha gave Dwyane Wade fits with his quickness and length. One team who was paying attention to Sefolosha’s defense was the Thunder, who picked him up in the 2008-09 season and he has become a regular starter with OKC. Because Sefolosha doesn’t “wow!” anyone with his stats, he tends to get overlook by the media. But you ask all the great scorers in the league, from Kobe Bryant to D-Wade, they’ll agree that Thabo is a first-team all-defender.
5) KIRK HINRICK, Chicago Bulls, guard
Suns coach Alvin Gentry says that Kirk Hinrich is the best on-ball defender in the league. That’s high praise for a guy who doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to make it extremely tough on perimeter players to score. Call it The Hinrich Maneuver. Just ask Wade, who always struggles against the former Bull and current Hawk. Atlanta became a much better defensive team when they acquired Hinrich.
6) GERALD WALLACE, Portland Trail Blazers, forward
Wallace finished 13th in the rebounds (10.0) in 2009-10, which is very impressive for a small forward. He also ranked 17th in steals (1.5) and 42nd in blocks (1.09) that season. He earned the nickname “Crash” for his penchant for crashing to the floor, the stands and the basket padding. Wallace is a solid one-on-one defender, but he is even better as a weak-side defender. His stats were down in 2010-11, but that was mainly because he moved to a new team and he is barely getting used to Nate McMillan’s system. Give him a full year and he should fill up the stat sheet.
7) KOBE BRYANT, L.A. Lakers, guard
Because of injuries and wear-and-tear on the body, Kobe has lost some of his aggressiveness on defense. But when Phil Jackson needs to apply the glove on an opposing team’s scorer, he often calls on No. 24. Bryant’s best attribute is his preparation and intelligence. He does his homework off the court and scouts his competition.
8) RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Oklahoma City Thunder, guard
During Team USA’s scrimmages in Las Vegas while they prepare for the FIBA World Championship, head coach Mike Krzyzewski teamed Westbrook and Rajon Rondo in the backcourt against a team comprised of college standouts. Westbrook and Rondo were so good defensively the collegians could barely get the ball past halfcourt. Westbrook is the point man of OKC’s defense. He sets the tone because of great ability to redirect an offensive player and his incredible skill to jump the passing lanes.
9) JOSH SMITH, Atlanta Hawks, forward
Smith has grown into a borderline All-Star player and his defense sets the tone for the Hawks. His former coach, Mike Woodson said, “You think back six years ago, Josh Smith has come a long way. I tip my hat to him because he’s worked over the years and has developed into a player.” Smith averages eight rebounds, nearly two steals a game and is one of the best shot-blockers in the NBA from the forward position.
10) JOAKIM NOAH, Chicago Bulls,
When Noah was sidelined with an injury, the Bulls struggled. When he returned, the Bulls became one of the beasts in the East. Noah plays with great energy and anchors the Bulls’ defense. He not only defends his position, but he also helps his teammates. He is among the league leaders in rebounds (10.4) and blocks (1.5) and loves to compete.