One of the key elements to giving these shooters in the NBA a struggle is defense, specifically perimeter defense.
The NBA has become a “shooters” league and we can thank Stephen Curry for that. Not only him but also Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, and even rookie, Trae Young.
However, the saying “defense wins championships” is still valid in any sport today, especially basketball. Smart perimeter defensive players are the key to not letting a shooter get off his shot.
There are a handful of players below that could be labeled as the top perimeter defensive players in the NBA today, but I’ve narrowed it down to 5 with an honorable mention as well.
1. Paul George
Paul George is the number one defensive player in the NBA this season. He’s averaged 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, but his defense is what sets him apart. Based on how he’s played on both sides of the ball, George is making a competitive run in the MVP race.
He is a highly skilled defensive player because of his active hands, ability to jump without fouling, and reading the passing lanes well.
PG leads the NBA in multiple defensive categories; 3.7 deflections per game and 2 loose balls recovered per game.
George is great at contesting and staying in front of his man. When players do happen to get some space and take him to the rim, he’s adept at staying straight up when he jumps or swiping and only making contact with the ball. Most of the time, it results in a difficult shot attempt without fouling. A player with a high defensive IQ like George can drastically change a game.
2. Klay Thompson
Thompson has always been a defensive weapon for the Warriors. One of the X-factors to his defensive game is knowing personnel. Thompson is good at knowing when to apply pressure to a guy that can hit the shot from the perimeter consistently. This makes him very good at making other players score for other teams.
Thompson’s good at moving his feet and shuffling around screens when guarding quick players like Russell Westbrook. A primary player like Thompson, whos averaging 21.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists, is valuable come playoff time.
Surprisingly, Klay Thompson has never made an NBA All-Defensive team and maybe it is time he deserves one for this season.
3. Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart is like a tick; he picks at players and gets them frustrated. At 6 foot 4 inches, Smart is the sixth in the NBA for steals per game with 1.8 because he can guard guys bigger than him. The Celtics are the fourth in the league with the most steals per game and Marcus Smart is a big part of that.
Whenever we see Smart get caught up guarding top tier players like LeBron James, he can body them up and get his fingers on the ball. When getting screened, he’s good at getting in between his matchup and the ball to force a turnover.
As fans of the NBA, we know Smart is capable of being ejected from a game. His retaliation towards small things can cost him playing time just like it did against the Sixers when he was ejected for shoving Joel Embiid.
However, when Smart is capable of keeping himself in the game, he’s one of the best perimeter defenders on the court. His strength and ability to get in players heads are the key to his defensive success.
4. De’Aaron Fox
De’Aaron Fox can be considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA today. Fox came into the league as one of the best defensive players in his draft class because of his awareness and speed.
He’s good at tipping the ball out of players hands when they are in triple threat position. That has to do with good timing and spacing when playing on-ball defense. It’s beneficial for the Kings because a lot of their transition offense comes from a steal or block from Fox.
In Fox’s rookie season, he averaged only one steal per game. This year, he’s averaging almost double that with 1.7 steals per game, good enough for eighth in that category for the NBA. He’s making a case for an NBA All-Defensive Team his sophomore season.
5. Derrick White
Derrick White is good at positioning himself on defense to make it a difficult shot for his opponent. White can keep a hand up on the perimeter and as a player, they tend to forget to do that on defense. White leads the league in contesting shots the most with 9.6 per game; 5.2 two-point shots and 4.4 three-point shots.
One of White’s specialties on defense is getting his hand on the ball from player’s blind side. When players are capable of taking him to the rim, he can poke his hand on the ball to cause a turnover or difficult shot. White’s quickness to recover from screens help him contest these perimeter shots and mess up a shooters shot.
Mikal Bridges is setting defensive records as a rookie for the Phoenix Suns. From January 19 to March 6, he averaged one steal in 20 consecutive games making it the longest streak as a rookie since Chris Paul with 31 straight games. Bridges led the qualified rookies and the Suns’ team with 1.6 steals per game and 129 total. He has always been a defensive specialist because from the help of his 7-foot 1-inch wingspan.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) April 2, 2019
Lonzo Ball has improved his defense enough to make it as an honorable mention perimeter defender. Ball is good at applying pressure full court and causing turnovers before the offense can even set up. Ball’s speed helps him have the ability to stay in front of his matchup the full length of the court and get in passing lanes for the steal.