It would be fair to say that the NBA today is more focused on offense. Efficiency on offense, the pace of game, and every other offensive statistic have been continuously increasing. It doesn't help that a certain Stephen Curry added to this even more by influencing the league to maximize the three-point line. The name of today's game does seem to be scoring the ball.
As such, defense always seems to get shunned by modern basketball, as “oldhead” basketball fans are always eager to point out. Young players just aren't as dogged defensively as the likes of Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, and Kobe Bryant, among others.
This is far from the truth. The NBA has a wealth of great defenders who could rival the grit of players back in the day. The likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard are among just the league's superstars who pride themselves on their proficiency on the defensive side of the ball. The future of the league looks bright too in terms of defensive players, with more and more guys coming into the league who are more than willing to grind it out on defense.
In this piece, we rank the 5 greatest defensive players in the NBA today aged 25 or under. All players falling under the age bracket are eligible, except for players who have not played this season (yes, we've got Ben Simmons in mind here, but he'll be an honorable mention nonetheless).
Honorable Mentions: Ben Simmons(out for personal reasons), Herbert Jones, Jonathan Isaac (out with injury), Deni Avdija, Davion Mitchell, OG Anunoby
5. Luguentz Dort
It's no secret now that Lu Dort is one of the best young defensive players who have come into the NBA in recent times.
This wasn't always the case for the 6'3” guard, however. Dort actually went undrafted after leaving Arizona State, eventually getting signed by the Oklahoma City Thunder. He'd have a quiet debut regular season, with averages of about 7 points in 22 minutes of game time.
However, it was in the 2020 Playoffs where he would make himself known to the NBA world at large, during the Thunder's tight 7-game affair against the Houston Rockets. Not only did he increase his production to around 13 points and four rebounds, but he also showed tremendous defensive effort against none other than James Harden.
Houston did win the series due to a clutch Harden block on Lu Dort, but the young gun still came out of the series shining regardless. With his grit and effort on perimeter defense rivaling that of the likes of Marcus Smart, Dort shortly became a certified fan favorite.
Already one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, Dort only looks better and better after each game even on offense. He could very well be one of the best undrafted players in the league for years to come.
4. Jarrett Allen
The ‘Fro is one of the league's most well-known rim protectors. It's not for nothing, mind you; he WILL contest and try to block every shot that comes his way. Yes, this has caused him to be on the receiving end of some nasty poster dunks courtesy of Kawhi Leonard and more recently from John Collins.
However, this willingness to jump with any player has given us several nasty blocks on the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James himself.
As young as he is, this willingness to challenge even some of the greatest players in league history has helped Jarrett Allen become one of the most intimidating rim protectors in the NBA. It doesn't hurt that he's got a 7'5” wingspan, either, which is an above-average length for centers. At a 6'10”-6'11” height, his mobility isn't bad, either.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have certainly gotten a gem from the Brooklyn Nets in acquiring Jarrett Allen. He has the potential to be their established big man for more than a decade, during which he can become the league's most fearsome shot blocker.
3. Dejounte Murray
The San Antonio Spurs have got a potential All-Star with Dejounte Murray.
The 6'4” guard has become the Spurs' undoubted centerpiece after DeMar DeRozan's departure. He's done very well, averaging all-around stats of 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. He's been consistently improving since his rookie year, wherein he only averaged about four points. The University of Washington alum has blossomed into a good offensive player.
However, he has prided himself most on the defensive side of the ball. Not only does he have the defensive grit and hustle, but he also possesses fast hands and the ability to read passing lanes effectively. Combine this with his above-average height at the point guard position and his massive 6'10” wingspan, and we've got ourselves one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, arguably the best in this list.
Murray has constantly been averaging more than 1.5 steals per game since his injury in the 2018-19 season. He's now currently averaging a career-high 2.1 steals.
The sky's the limit for Murray, who holds the record for the youngest All-Defensive selection in NBA history (a record held previously by Kobe Bryant himself). What a draft steal he was at just the 29th overall pick.
2. Myles Turner
Maybe the best young interior big man in the league.
Myles Turner is a versatile big man possessing both a formidable inside game and the ability to stretch the floor. He's as versatile as they come on offense.
However, Turner is even more formidable on defense. He's currently leading the league in blocks per game by quite a bit, with 3.1 blocks per game. That's almost a whole block away from 2nd-placed Mo Bamba.
It's safe to say that Turner is one of the Indiana Pacers' most important players, and overall their most important defender. He serves as his team's defensive anchor, much like Rudy Gobert for the Utah Jazz. He's their main interior protector, and he excels with his immense athleticism and 7'4” wingspan. This deadly combination of size, athleticism, and talent makes driving into the Pacers' paint a daunting task.
With Turner averaging about 13 points and 7 assists for his career, he's an above-average offensive player in the NBA already. However, he hasn't had that All-Star breakout season that fans have been expecting just yet. Nevertheless, he is already a perennial All-Defensive selection with tons of offensive potential. His time's soon to come.
1. Bam Adebayo
Bam takes the Number 1 spot for his overall defensive greatness and versatility.
The 6'9” athletic big man looks to be the future of the Miami Heat and the league in general. He's certainly one of the brightest young players in the NBA from an offensive standpoint; he can catch lobs, shoot from the midrange, put the ball on the floor, and make plays exceptionally well. However, it's his sensational defensive ability that truly puts him a cut above the rest.
Usually, big men are imposing presences in the paint who are constantly threatening to block shots, but are not particularly viable defenders in the perimeter; this has been the constant criticism handed out to guys like Rudy Gobert who struggle defensively the farther they go from the rim. For Bam, as a rather undersized center, he has little issue with guarding guys on the perimeter while also tasked with holding down the paint.
As such, this significantly narrows down the weaknesses that offensive players can exploit. Backing Adebayo down on the block would be tough for any center, while switching him to a smaller player will not be quite as effective either. It's this defensive versatility that makes the young forward-center such a good defensive anchor for the Miami Heat. Kindly refer to his game-saving block against Jayson Tatum in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals to see just how excellent Bam is on defense overall.
Miami's best young player is surely set to add to his two NBA All-Defensive selections as his career progresses, as well as win a few Defensive Player of the Year awards.