Sporting Charts

The NBA's Best Defensive Players (2011-2012)

Individual defense is one of the toughest things to quantify in the NBA, because so much of what goes into defensive performance is not captured by the league's official statistics. This study will introduce one way to rate the effectiveness of individual defenders, and rank the best at each position.

To accomplish this, we surprisingly need only one metric: John Hollinger's PER, or Player Efficiency Rating. The PER takes all measurable NBA statistics, weights each category, and runs all the numbers through a complex formula to come up with a value that represents a player's overall contribution to his team.

Every player in the NBA has his own PER, which indicates the damage he does to his opponents. Thanks to some fine work that has been done at, we can also gauge how well guys limit the damage done by the player they are matched up against from game-to-game.

The methodology for this is inexact, but gives us a solid idea of how players perform defensively. When you compile the results of this over an entire season, you get a good indication of which players are performing well on defense, and which ones are not.

Using raw opponent PER numbers to create league-wide rankings would not yield a completely accurate picture, since each position on the floor has its own standard of what would be considered good offense/defense (an "average" point guard may have a different PER than an "average" center, for example).

So, this list will be broken down by position. The primary position each guy plays has been determined by using stats kept at, where the position each player spent the most time playing last season is considered his primary spot in the lineup.

In order to qualify for these rankings, a player had to play in at least 30 percent of his team's minutes last year (an average of at least 14 minutes per game).

Let's take a look at who shined in 2011-12 when it came to clamping down on their "opposite number":

Point Guards 

  1. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
    • Opponent PER: 10.9
  3. Louis Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
    • Opponent PER: 11.2 
  5. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
    • Opponent PER: 11.7
  7. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
    • Opponent PER: 12.0 
  9. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Opponent PER: 12.8  

An interesting mix of stars and up-and-coming players. Some of the players on this list are known for playing solid defense, but others, like Louis Williams and Chris Paul, might surprise some people. Williams is known more for his explosive offensive game, and Chris Paul's lack of size makes his defensive performance a bit unexpected.

Shooting Guards

  1. Jodie Meeks, Philadelphia 76ers
    • Opponent PER: 9.9
  2. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
    • Opponent PER: 10.6
  3. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
    • Opponent PER: 10.8
  4. Ray Allen, Boston Celtics
    • Opponent PER: 10.8
  5. Ronnie Brewer, Chicago Bulls
    • Opponent PER: 10.8 

It's always good to see someone who "flies under the radar" get some credit...who would have guessed Jodie Meeks was the best defensive shooting guard this past season? Wade and Johnson are stars who are not really thought of as defensive stoppers, and then there's Ray Allen - still getting it done at age 36!

Small Forwards

  1. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers
    • Opponent PER: 8.8
  2. Shane Battier, Miami Heat
    • Opponent PER: 9.2
  3. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
    • Opponent PER: 9.6
  4. LeBron James, Miami Heat
    • Opponent PER: 10.0
  5. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
    • Opponent PER: 10.3 

For those who think Iguodala's career is on the decline, think again. His offensive numbers may not be up to what they once were, but his performance on defense in 2011-12 was nothing short of spectacular. Battier is certainly no surprise, and LeBron, along with Dwyane Wade earlier, are showing that the Heat are winning with defense.

Power Forwards

  1. Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs
    • Opponent PER: 11.3
  2. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Opponent PER: 12.5
  3. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
    • Opponent PER: 12.6
  4. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Opponent PER: 13.2
  5. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
    • Opponent PER: 14.0 

I have a feeling if you had to guess who the top defensive '4' was in the NBA this season, Matt Bonner's name would be far, very far, down the list. It goes to show that reputations are not always the same as reality. All the other players on this list are considered good defenders, but Bonner at number 1 is a shocker. Apparently, he does do more than shoot spot-up 3-pointers!


  1. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
    • Opponent PER: 12.2
  2. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
    • Opponent PER: 12.4
  3. Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Opponent PER: 12.5
  4. Nene, Denver Nuggets
    • Opponent PER: 12.5
  5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
    • Opponent PER: 13.2

The guys on this list definitely pass the "eye test" for good defense, although Bynum being ranked that high might be a little unexpected. 36-year-old Tim Duncan can still play on both ends of the court, even if he's lost a step. Just looking at these names should strike fear into any guard considering a drive to the basket...and not too many big men want to face them, either.

When you look at the 25 players featured above, you see a lot of individual and team success represented. It is fair to say that playing strong defense was a key element that led to that success. There has been a long-held belief that quality defense is important and leads to winning in the NBA - and studies like this continue to confirm that belief.