ESPN

DEFENSE NEVER RESTS

The offensive skills of the best players in the league always appear even more dazzling in the postseason spotlight. Look closer, though, and you will see how defenses can slow down these amazing talents. To compete for a title, a team has to rise up on defense, and elite defenders (like the ones below) can stand out in many different ways.


by David Thorpe  |  Animation by Blame Your Brother

The defensive machine

Draymond Green

Team: Warriors  |  Position: power forward  |  Defensive RPM: +4.8

Dray possesses the perfect qualities of a defensive specialist: He's long, strong and tough. But what sets him apart is his mind. The Warriors' do-it-all forward is like a computer on the court, instantaneously reading the action on the floor and getting to where he needs to be faster than anyone. Like a coach, he is also aware of time, score and personnel on the floor. So he seems to know where the ball is headed even before the offense does. His feel for the game is that special.

The ultimate fighter

Chris Paul

Team: Clippers  |  Position: point guard  |  Defensive RPM: +2.89

He might look like your friendly neighborhood insurance agent off the court, but between the lines Chris Paul is a world-class fighter. His defensive approach is centered around one simple idea: the ball belongs to him, and he wants it back, immediately. The six-foot dynamo stabs at the ball, dives for it, even grabs at it with two hands when he can - all while not conceding an inch. In short, if you want to keep the ball, be prepared to step into the ring against Paul.

The lockdown destroyer

Kawhi Leonard

Team: Spurs  |  Position: small forward  |  Defensive RPM: +0.76

Leonard possesses the perfect defender's body. With long arms and enormous hands, he can strip the ball from players with ease and contest shots most wings can't. But he's also a genius at taking away the angles that drivers want, forcing them to attack from tougher spots on the floor. He knows scouting reports well and is able to execute the game plan flawlessly. In other words, he makes shooters drive and drivers shoot.

The shot-blocker extraordinaire

Rudy Gobert

Team: Jazz  |  Position: center  |  Defensive RPM: +5.99

When healthy, "The Stifle Tower" is the best rim protector in the league with the disposition to challenge everyone he can. He uses his agile feet and excellent hand-eye coordination to get to the right spot on the court, then swats the ball out of the air. It doesn't hurt that he's also very long and very tall, allowing him to seemingly stretch just that much farther to block shots nobody else can reach.

The defending champ

LeBron James

Team: Cavaliers  |  Position: small forward  |  Defensive RPM: +1.35

While his team has struggled on defense this season, LeBron is showing his talent as the most athletic forward in NBA history is as present as ever. He can stand his ground inside due to his sheer power, or chase smaller men around the court with his speed. Yes, at 6-9 and 250, he still terrorizes ball handlers, cutters, post-up players, shooters and, as everyone remembers from the 2016 Finals, anyone thinking they have a sure-fire layup.

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