Can You Identify These Legendary NBA Defenders?

By: Gavin Thagard
Image: peepo/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Swatting balls, stealing passes, pressuring ball handlers and pulling down rebounds: these defenders have done it all on the court to put themselves in the conversation as the best defenders of all time. From the superstars to the lesser known three and D guys, will you recognize them? Find out with this quiz. 

Most young kids who want to be NBA stars spend their time shooting three-pointers and dribbling up and down the sideline for hours, but they often fail to realize that there is another side of the court that requires their attention. Of course, just about any coach will tell you that the biggest aspect of being a good defensive player is effort, so if a kid's willing to put in the effort, they'll have success on defense. 

The defenders you'll find in this quiz went beyond just putting in the effort, though. No, instead they mastered the craft of defense. They learned how to apply pressure, and more importantly, they developed a mindset of never back down, never give an inch. For many of them, that's how they made their living. 

Here's your chance to honor their contributions to the defensive side of the ball by seeing how well you remember their legacies on the court. 

Gary Payton had the responsibility of guarding Michael Jordan in the 1996 NBA Finals. Even though Jordan scored 27 points per game, it was his worst Finals performance, and every point he did score was hard earned.

In his final season in the NBA, Bill Russell was named to the first-ever NBA All-Defensive First Team. Russell's offense had fallen off by then, but he was still putting up nearly 20 boards per game and managed to top off his NBA career with an 11th NBA title.

Since he wasn't the largest player in the league, John Stockton had to rely on his wit to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball. The 19-year veteran did just that, leading the league in steals twice, with his best total coming in the 1988-89 season when he pulled in 3.2 steals per game.

No player has been honored with more Defensive Player of the Year awards than Dikembe Mutombo, who finished his career with four. He won his first of those awards in the 1994-95 season when he was holding up the middle for the Denver Nuggets.

Unlike most NBA players, Dennis Rodman rarely focused on the offensive side of the court, averaging more than 10 points per game only once in his career. However, Rodman was a rebounding machine, leading the league in that category for seven straight seasons.

Artis Gilmore started his professional career in the ABA, where he was named the Rookie of the Year after a stellar first season. His rookie season saw the legendary center put up 17.8 rebounds and five blocks per game while leading his team to a playoff berth.

Playing for Gregg Popovich is not always an easy job, but coaching Manu Ginobili might be just as difficult. When these two came together in 2002, it took a while for them to figure each other out, but after four championships, one could say they made it work.

When it comes to a player's all-around defensive game, no one really compares to Hakeem Olajuwon. With both size and athleticism, Olajuwon could block shots despite being out of position and guard both players on the pick and roll, making him a lethal force against opposing offenses.

You know you have a special defender when he can single-handedly turn around a defense by joining the team. That's exactly what Kevin Garnett did for the Boston Celtics when he was traded there in 2007, earning Defensive Player of the Year in his first season with the team.

Sidney Moncrief was relentless on the defensive side of the ball, using his insane jumping ability to make up for his size when it came to blocking shots. Moncrief was particularly known for applying constant pressure, as he never wanted to be viewed as weak.

When commentators talk about Scottie Pippen, he always gets the credit he deserves for his defensive skills. However, Pippen could put the ball in the hole as well. If you need an example, look at his 1997 game against the Denver Nuggets when Pippen put up a career-high 47 points.

Tim Duncan was cool, calm and collected on the court, but he wasn't one to let anybody show him up. DeMarcus Cousins learned this when he tried to bully Duncan only to have his shot blocked before getting scored on at the other end.

Michael Jordan once called Joe Dumars the toughest opponent he's ever faced from a defensive standpoint. Since Dumars played some of the best man to man defense in the league, it's no wonder why "His Airness" heaped such praise upon him.

David Robinson played in an era where monster centers like Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon dominated in the post. Robinson was always up for the defensive challenge, blocking these players' shots like the NBA was going out of business.

Any point guard who faced Jason Kidd knew they were in for a rough night. Kidd had one of the most complete games in the NBA for a perimeter player. He could score points, grab boards and dish out passes on offense, while also holding his own on the defensive side.

Ben Wallace was the defensive anchor for a Detroit Pistons team that defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals when they were loaded with players like Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Throughout the series, the Lakers never scored over 100 points.

No player has ever imposed their will on opposing teams quite like Michael Jordan. From tip off until the final buzzer sounded, Jordan made sure everyone knew who the best player on the court was.

Proof of Dave DeBusschere's defensive ability can be traced to his incredible playoff performances where he not only defended at a high level but also pulled down an incredible number of rebounds for a forward. Throughout his playoff career, he averaged 12 rebounds per game.

Walt Frazier was a thief on the court who could stay in front of offensive players while also applying pressure for a steal. These skills earned Frazier seven straight NBA All-Defensive First Team honors.

James Worthy was more known for his playoff performances than for his regular season production. In the playoffs, Worthy averaged three more points per game than in the regular season and was one of the team's best defenders in big moments.

There's only one thing you can say about Wilt Chamberlain: He was a force in the NBA. For all the records he holds, one of his greatest accomplishments was his durability, only missing significant time in three of his 15 NBA seasons.

For an undrafted player, Bruce Bowen proved that hard work and hustle could pay off if an athlete was willing to dedicate himself to aspects of the game other than scoring. Bowen displayed this philosophy by winning three NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs, while only averaging six points in the playoffs.

Playing beside legends like Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, it's easy for a player to get lost in the annals of history. Dennis Johnson has been cursed by this, but that doesn't take away from how important he was in the Celtics' last two championships, particularly as a defender.

LeBron James has often been criticized for not taking the toughest defensive matchups on the court. However, James is more about team defense and has proven that he's one of the best off-ball defenders the game has ever seen.

Elvin Hayes put up the best stats of his career with the San Diego Rockets, but he wouldn't find playoff success until he joined the Washington Bullets, where he won a title in 1978. For his contributions, the Bullets retired Hayes No. 11 jersey.

No one played more regular season games than Robert Parish, a testament to his consistency on both ends of the court. Nicknamed "The Chief," Parish might have been quiet on the court, but he was also dominant.

Still a young player in the league, Kawhi Leonard had the almost impossible task of guarding LeBron James in the 2014 NBA Finals. James still got his numbers, but Leonard's defense was good enough to win the title as well as the Finals MVP.

Kobe Bryant was often described for his "Mamba Mentality," which was a reference to his fierce nature at the end of games. This fierceness was usually ascribed to his offensive abilities, but he was just as good on defense when it came to closing out a game.

Nate Thurmond was part of a San Francisco Warriors team that reached the NBA Finals in 1967. They went up against the Philadelphia 76ers, and Thurmond was pitted against Wilt Chamberlain in the matchup. After six games, the 76ers walked away with the title.

Since Andre Iguodala plays beside the "Splash Brothers," his importance on the Golden State Warriors is often dismissed. However, Iguodala has been responsible for guarding the best player on opposing teams, making him a valuable part of their three titles.

Willis Reed made seven NBA All Star Games, but he put on a show in the 1970 All Star Game. Playing against stars like Elvin Hayes and Elgin Baylor, Reed scored 21 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds to win the game's MVP award.

Patrick Ewing was never afraid to go for a big block against the best offensive dunkers. However, this decision sometimes backfired for the big man, as he was posterized on several occasions.

Alonzo Mourning's biggest fault on the court was his ability to stay healthy for a full season. In 16 NBA seasons, he never once played an entire regular season, though he did play at least 70 games six different years.

Despite his defensive prowess, Ron Artest was not an offensive star by any means. However, in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, he hit the biggest shot of the game when he made a three-point shot with only a minute left to give the Los Angles Lakers a six-point lead.

Mark Eaton was a ball-swatting machine during his 11-year career, all spent with the Utah Jazz. Eaton was so good at blocking shots that he finished his career as the NBA all-time leader in career blocks per game.

Dwight Howard won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards, but two years after his third award, he was clearly not the same player anymore. He still put up decent numbers but struggled to stay healthy, while watching the league change to a three-point-driven style that didn't compliment him anymore.

Shane Battier's strong defensive play can be traced all the way back to his time in college, where he played at Duke University. In his senior season at Duke, Battier not only won an NCAA championship, but he was also named the Naismith College Player of the Year and earned the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award.

Dwyane Wade completed his professional career at the end of the 2019 NBA season, where the Miami Heat barely missed the playoffs. During his farewell tour, Wade traded jerseys with players across the league who wanted to honor his time in the NBA.

Chris Paul's physical play on both sides of the court has earned him a reputation across the league and not always a positive one. He's been known for starting confrontations with other players, sometimes players from the same team.

Few players worked as hard on the court as Bill Walton, whose hustle led to an injury-plagued career. That takes nothing away from his ability, however, as Walton proved a challenge against any offense he faced.

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