From Bill Russell to Ben Wallace, the history of basketball is filled with players that have claims to the throne of the sport’s best-ever defender.
The hard-to-quantify nature of defensive value that permeates every sport allows dozens of players to enter the conversation. The most recent entrant was Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green.
It should not surprise you to hear that the person who endorsed Green for the title was ... Draymond Green, who had some interesting statements after the team’s Game 2 win on Thursday.
Draymond Green enters himself into best ever defender debate
“The best ever defender?” Green said after the Warriors held Portland to 46 points on 38.5 percent shooting in the second half in Thursday’s 114-111 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
The best defender ever?
“Me.” Green punctuated his declaration with a nod as he strutted out of the locker room with a smile. But he wasn’t joking. “That’s what I believe. Wholeheartedly.”
Green wasn’t entirely without backup while making his claim, as longtime teammate Andre Iguodala called the power forward the “Melo of defense.” The idea there was that as good as Carmelo Anthony was on offense, Green is similarly good on the other end of the floor.
Fine. Of course, there’s a very large difference between being the Carmelo Anthony of defense and the best defender in the history of basketball. Green’s stats don’t exactly stack up to that second argument.
Is Draymond Green even close to the best-ever defender title?
Usually, when you’re trying to crown a best-ever in any sport, it helps to have the highest of some kind of number. Rings, points, goals, touchdowns, home runs, hits, rings again; sports debates like their numbers.
It is very hard to find a number to crown Green as the best-ever defender. Green’s only won a single Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017. Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace both won four. Green’s only made four NBA all-defense teams. Tim Duncan made 15, eight of them first-team.
Defensive win shares attempt to quantify total value provided on defense, and let’s just say that stat isn’t very helpful to Green’s argument. Here’s an abridged leaderboard for career defensive win shares:
1. Bill Russell: 133.64 (all-time leader)
2. Tim Duncan: 106.34
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 94.49
15. Dwight Howard: 69.65 (active leader)
18. LeBron James: 67.04
21. Michael Jordan: 64.13
58. Andre Iguodala: 45.94
94. Kevin Durant: 40.76
148. Carmelo Anthony: 34.58
225. Kyle Korver: 28.98
252. Draymond Green: 27.7
Obviously, Green has played fewer games than every player on that list, but it could still be seen as a sign that he still has a long way to go before making this argument. Defensive win shares are also not a perfect metric, so Green sitting outside the top 250 could be evidence the metric is flawed, not his defense.
Those numbers also come from the regular season. Green’s postseason DWS is much more respectable, already ranking 29th all-time at 7.47.
And again, it’s very hard to quantify defense, and possibly even harder to quantify Green’s defense. Green’s true value comes from his defensive versatility and leadership, his ability to go toe-to-toe with Clint Capela and Chris Paul in the same possession while also keeping an eye on James Harden. The NBA has built itself more and more on versatile defenders that can switch onto any player, and Green is the face of that movement.
There’s a very convincing argument that the Warriors’ current dynasty and its widely feared death lineup would not exist without Green calling the shots on defense, and that might be how someone other than Green starts making a case for him. That would likely require the 29-year-old sticking around in Golden State and winning titles for several more years, but it’s at least a path.
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