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Once the media and fans are comfortable with the narrative, it’s pretty hard for the players to change that perception. If the public decides you’re bad in the clutch or a bad defender, that reputation will likely haunt you forever.
Unfortunately, some players don’t get the credit they deserve for their defensive contributions to their team. Some because they weren’t good defenders when they came into the league, some because they weren’t very popular, and some because they just didn’t get enough playing time.
Everyone knows Rudy Gobert, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons are good defenders. But what about the guys nobody talks about? Or worse, what about those who most people think are bad defenders when they’re not? That’s why today we’re diving into the stats and bringing you the 10 most underrated defenders in the NBA.
10. Larry Nance, Jr.
USA Sports Today
Larry Nance Jr. has remained under the radar for most of his career. But aside from his inexhaustible energy on both sides of the glass and his emphatic dunks, he’s actually a pretty good defender. Although he has missed a lot of time this season, he has recorded 1.3 Defensive Win Shares (19th best) and is currently seventh in the league with a Crafted Defensive Box Plus-Minus of 2.3.
9. Jakob Pöltl
Jacob Poeltl is by no means a superstar, but he’s the second-best defender on the San Antonio Spurs, and he’s not even close. He currently ranks sixth in the league in blocks (86) and seventh in blocks (5.4). He ranks fourth in the league with a 2.9 DBPM and has a defensive win share of 1.9 this season.
8. Fred VanVleet
(via Bleacher Report)
Fred VanVleet has been an underrated player his entire career, so this is nothing new for him. Lately, he’s built a reputation as a good shooter, solid scorer and playmaker, but not only that: he’s also a defender in the backcourt. He has a defensive winning percentage of 1.6 this season, while ranking third with 1.7 steals per game.
7. Mike Conley
credit : Getty Images
Mike Conley has to be the most underrated player of his generation. Before this season, he had never been selected to the All-Star Game and was barely talked about, even though he was a fixture on both ends of the field. The Utah Jazz have the best defense in the league, thanks mostly to Rudy Gobert, but Conley also has 1.6 defensive win shares, 1.3 steals per game (18th) and is also a great defender off the ball.
6. Kyle Kuzma
(via Lakers Daily)
Kyle Kuzma gets a lot of criticism on social media for his antics and occasional offensive mistakes. You shouldn’t take that away from the fact that he has made great strides as a defender and will continue to improve in that aspect of the game. He now ranks 20th in the league in defensive wins (2.3) and 12th in defensive victories (107.2). His long arms and lateral speed give him a big advantage as a hitter, and he’s learning to make good reads in real time.
5. Julius Randle
(about heroics in prolongation)
If you had told someone three years ago that Julius Randle would be a better defender, they would have laughed in your face. Not only does he provide excellent results offensively, but he also eliminates other players. He ranks second in defensive Vin Shares (3.4), 30th in defensive Plus-Minus (0.8) and 10th in defensive Rating (106.8).
4. Chris Boucher
(via Raptors Rapture)
It took a while, but Chris Boucher has finally emerged as the best option in the paint for the Toronto Raptors. He can play either forward or center, and besides his ability to make three-pointers, his best asset may be protecting the rim. He currently ranks 15th in defensive winning percentage in 48 minutes (.202), 3rd in blocks (107) and 3rd in blocking percentage (8.0%) and is averaging 1.9 blocks per game despite only playing 23 minutes a night.
3. Deandre Ayton
(On the bright side of the sun)
When Deandre Ayton was in college, the only two weaknesses in his game were his lack of range and his poor defensive instincts and skills. The potential was there, but he just refused to play defensively, and that reputation haunted him throughout his first two years in the league. But today, the former first baseman is making a significant contribution to this side of the floor. Ayton is currently 4th in Wine defensive rating (2.7), 12th in blocks (62) and 9th in defensive rating (106.7).
2. Tobias Harris
Tobias Harris was heavily criticized last year for his playoff performance, with some claiming he was one of the most overpaid players in the league. He is now playing at an All-Star level as a scorer and is also one of the best defensive wings in the league, contrary to what most people think. He ranks 10th in defensive wins (2.6) and 14th in defensive rating (107.3), but some still consider him a liability in that regard.
1. Nerlens No
I think we can all agree that Nerlens Noel did not live up to expectations when he came into the league. He was often injured or overlooked, so while he was a good bomber, he had no positive impact as a defender. Now coach Tom Thibodeau has his career back on track. Noel currently leads the league in defensive rating (100.8) and defensive plus-minus (3.3). It also ranks fifth in defensive winning percentage (2.7), fifth in blocks (104) and second in block percentage (8.9). Those are defensive player of the year numbers, and in just 23 minutes per game.
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