Posted by Neil Paine on August 23, 2010
By popular demand, here's a sequel to the post I wrote on Friday, which focused on the NBA players who played for the best offenses over the course of their careers. This time I'll be looking at the players who were a part of the best defenses in their careers, but the methodology remains the same:
- Estimate defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) for every team since 1951 in the regular-season and playoffs.
- Adjust playoff defensive ratings up/down based on regular-season offensive strength of postseason foes.
- Compare defensive efficiencies to the league average (to account for the fact that the avg. was, for instance, 85 pts/100 poss in 1951 and 108 in 2010)
- Find career averages (weighted by MP with each team) for every player since the NBA started tracking minutes in 1952.
Make sense? Good. Here are the all-time players who had a presence on the best defensive teams (minimum 15,000 career MP):
|1||K.C. Jones||20000||-6.74||35||Bryon Russell||22886||-3.08||69||Eddie Jones||35544||-2.53|
|2||Tom Heinsohn||22477||-6.39||36||Charles Smith||17994||-3.06||70||Alonzo Mourning||28572||-2.50|
|3||Sam Jones||28939||-6.29||37||Vinnie Johnson||26979||-3.03||71||Bill Laimbeer||37691||-2.48|
|4||Bill Russell||48223||-6.08||38||Paul Pressey||21928||-2.97||72||P.J. Brown||36705||-2.47|
|5||Tom Sanders||25213||-5.99||39||Dave Cowens||33333||-2.96||73||Greg Anthony||17447||-2.46|
|6||Manu Ginobili||19038||-5.72||40||Don Nelson||24894||-2.96||74||Lonnie Shelton||20141||-2.45|
|7||Tim Duncan||42317||-5.60||41||Jo Jo White||33369||-2.96||75||Clifford Ray||21675||-2.43|
|8||Tony Parker||26858||-5.48||42||Richard Hamilton||31076||-2.94||76||Hedo Turkoglu||23734||-2.42|
|9||Frank Ramsey||17726||-5.04||43||Scottie Pippen||49174||-2.91||77||Chauncey Billups||34535||-2.42|
|10||Bruce Bowen||28246||-4.96||44||Michael Jordan||48484||-2.91||78||Udonis Haslem||17828||-2.42|
|11||David Robinson||38492||-4.77||45||Don Chaney||19241||-2.89||79||Jerry Sloan||27638||-2.42|
|12||Dennis Rodman||33628||-4.60||46||Derek Fisher||32436||-2.89||80||Wilt Chamberlain||55418||-2.41|
|13||John Havlicek||53331||-4.45||47||Rick Mahorn||28208||-2.88||81||Willie Anderson||17114||-2.41|
|14||Larry Siegfried||15458||-4.36||48||Wes Unseld||40721||-2.87||82||Nate Thurmond||38756||-2.40|
|15||John Starks||26549||-4.29||49||Ron Harper||34199||-2.87||83||Kobe Bryant||45177||-2.39|
|16||Tayshaun Prince||23899||-4.28||50||Phil Chenier||21204||-2.85||84||Darryl Dawkins||19969||-2.32|
|17||Kevin Grevey||16871||-3.88||51||Aaron McKie||21294||-2.81||85||Tom Boerwinkle||15172||-2.32|
|18||Sean Elliott||27338||-3.69||52||Elvin Hayes||54160||-2.80||86||Bob Love||27181||-2.29|
|19||Chris Childs||15570||-3.65||53||Rasho Nesterovic||19085||-2.77||87||Anthony Mason||33697||-2.28|
|20||Steve Kerr||18204||-3.50||54||Kirk Hinrich||18715||-2.76||88||Rafer Alston||20886||-2.27|
|21||Charlie Ward||15647||-3.49||55||Rasheed Wallace||41786||-2.75||89||Larry Bird||41329||-2.26|
|22||Mike Riordan||17538||-3.42||56||Eric Snow||25602||-2.75||90||Bob Cousy||34285||-2.25|
|23||LeBron James||25197||-3.36||57||Chris Dudley||17146||-2.71||91||Charles Oakley||45388||-2.25|
|24||Yao Ming||16715||-3.25||58||Clifford Robinson||46447||-2.71||92||Bob Dandridge||33384||-2.23|
|25||Ben Wallace||34391||-3.24||59||Kenyon Martin||22787||-2.64||93||Jermaine O'Neal||26745||-2.22|
|26||Jason Collins||15308||-3.21||60||Mark Eaton||27464||-2.64||94||Shaquille O'Neal||49253||-2.22|
|27||Gus Williams||28860||-3.21||61||Patrick Ewing||45801||-2.62||95||Rod Strickland||35231||-2.21|
|28||John Salley||19218||-3.18||62||Bill Bradley||25960||-2.61||96||Kevin Garnett||45450||-2.16|
|29||Karl Malone||62759||-3.15||63||Dwyane Wade||20414||-2.61||97||Kevin Porter||20078||-2.16|
|30||Robert Horry||33889||-3.15||64||Joe Dumars||39236||-2.61||98||Brian Grant||22973||-2.16|
|31||John Stockton||54162||-3.14||65||Greg Ballard||23381||-2.60||99||Paul Silas||39608||-2.16|
|32||Avery Johnson||29422||-3.10||66||Walt Frazier||34918||-2.57||100||Doc Rivers||25960||-2.14|
|33||Richard Jefferson||25970||-3.10||67||Isiah Thomas||39732||-2.55|
|34||Sidney Moncrief||26376||-3.08||68||Dennis Johnson||42948||-2.54|
On Friday, we saw that being a part of the Steve Nash-era Suns or the Showtime Lakers of the 80s went a long way toward securing a place on the "played for the best offenses" list... Well, today it becomes clear that playing for the Bill Russell/Red Auerbach Celtics and the Tim Duncan/Gregg Popovich Spurs is the key to appearing on the "best defenses" ranking. Each of the top 5 players on this list were a part of the Celtics' first dynasty, and 5 of the next 6 players on the list belonged to the Spurs of recent vintage (the one who didn't? Frank Ramsey ... of the 50s/60s Celts).
As a side note, ever wonder how the Auberbach Celtics were able to dominate the league so thoroughly in its first two decades? A look at some of their top players on this list provides a clue:
Remember, negative scores are good for a defense (meaning the team suppressed efficiency below the league average), but they also indicate a bad offense. And even by the standards of the low-efficiency 1950s & '60s, the Auerbach/Russell Celtics were a subpar offensive squad, as I noted here with regard to the '64 Celts:
"Despite winning all of those championships, the Celtics were not a strong offensive team during the early 1960s. After finishing last in the league in FG% in 1961 and 1963 with Cousy at the helm, Boston was at it again in '64, ending the year ranked 9th out of 9 teams. The Celtics' 2nd-ranked 113.0 PPG was merely an illusion of pace -- Boston easily took the most FGAs of any team in basketball, 654 more than Philadelphia, the next-closest team. The offense ran through John Havlicek and Sam Jones, each of whom averaged over 19 PPG, but Bill Russell was conserving himself for defense and rebounding (he took only 13.6% of the shots when on the floor), and the rest of the team shot well below average."
If you're going to have a weak offense -- like Boston did -- and still rattle off 11 titles in 13 years -- like Boston did -- you need to have one of the best defenses of all time... and the Russell-era Celtics most certainly did. According to the z-scores we set up here, those Boston teams boasted the #3, #5, #6, #13, #22, and #23 ranked defenses in NBA history, giving them more appearances in the all-time top 25 than any other team. The greatest dynasty in NBA history was also the best multi-year defensive team in NBA history, and our top 100 list bears this out.