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The Best Defender of the Decade…and Ever?

 

There might not be a human being alive who watches more NBA basketball than Kelly Dwyer, so it means something when he says a certain player is the best at something. And today, he anointed KG the best defensive player of the last ten years.

Here’s Dwyer:

1. Kevin Garnett(notes)

KG stands alone because he pitches nearly as many perfect games, while combining Tim Duncan’s length and frame with a guard’s ability to move his feet. Garnett has become a bit more showy about things after getting traded to the Boston Celtics, but his time spent toiling for those awful Minnesota teams prior to that, and his years spent dominating on some solid-to-great Timberwolves teams prior to that were the work of a defensive genius. He just guarded everyone, every play, every feint, every drive, everything. And then he’d get the rebound. Pity that nobody seemed to be paying attention.

Like all of Kelly’s top 10 lists this week, the whole thing is a must read. And he’s right about KG.

It might be time to ask the question: Is Kevin Garnett the greatest defensive player in NBA history? Is that blasphemous to ask, given that this is a Celtics-themed Web site, and a certain Celtics center with more rings than hand digits is widely considered the greatest ever?

I’d contend it’s a fair question, given KG’s incredible versatility. And Dwyer is right to throw in the “and then he’d get the rebound” bit at the end of his post. Because, in addition to all the feet-moving and feint-giving, all the jostling in the post and showing on screen-rolls, KG has been the best defensive rebounder of the last decade. He led the league in DRB percentage for four consecutive seasons (2003-04 through 2006-07), and he is still a top five DRB man even as his minutes climb toward the 40,000 mark.

Is he the best defender ever? I think it’s a fair question.

  • http://www.celticstown.com Jay King

    I think another Celtics great might have something to say about the best defender ever argument.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    You mean besides Bill Russell, who I mention–albeit not by name–in the post?

    Maybe John Bagley?

  • Colin

    It's a fair question, but I think Dwyer's lists have been pretty hack-ish, and I'm normally a huge Dwyer fan.

    I don't know how you can justify KG at the top and Tim Duncan at 5. It's really tough to say. Both have played in great defensive systems on great defensive teams, and both have dominated. KG has more range and versatility, Duncan is a superior 1v1 defender in the post.

  • http://www.celticstown.com Jay King

    I meant Tony Battie, Zach.

  • http://www.celticstown.com Jay King

    Jerome Moiso might take offense, too.

  • saudiboy

    chris ford anyone……… he he he he

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  • Pete

    I think it's a layered title: "best defender ever". Sure, you could go ahead and say Jordan was the best overall "offensive player ever" but was he the best passer? The best shooter? The best post player? The best playing away from the ball? None of the above. But what made him widely considered the best is partially that he was highly skilled in all of the above categories, though maybe not the best, but also that he created his own offensive formula for which contributed to winning in what proved to be a very efficient manner.

    I've watched Kevin Garnett superbly defend the basket, but not as well as Dwight Howard. I've seen KG dominate the defensive boards, but not on the level of a Rodman or Ben Wallace in his prime. I've seen him, tall as he is, play help defense on the Kobe Bryants and Dwayne Wades, but not to the extent an Andrei Kirilenko at his peak could. What KG does do, similar to Michael on offense, is he is highly skilled in each of those categories, but additionally he adds his own level of intensity, hustle, defensive leadership and other unique contributions which significantly contributes to his teams success.

    So with all due respect to Dwight Howard, Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, Kobe, Artest, Kirilenko, Camby, Ben Wallace and Tim Duncan, I'm very comfortable with KG as the top defender of the decade (though if Dwight stopped blocking the ball out of bounds every time he might start competing someday). With that being said, I'm also a firm believer that the athletic capabilities of today are so far superior to that of the past NBA generations, and someone of Kevin Garnett's size, ability and finesse would be completely unmatched in the past. Granted, if Thabeet, Yao Ming or even Cris Kaman played 40 years ago they would've absolutely the 6 foot 9 Bill Russell (with all due respect to the greatest winner, leader and player of his time).

    So KG best defender ever? As an overall picture of who contributes to his team's success the most through defense, I'm all for it. Nice work guys.

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  • http://Aol.com Matthew

    Nicely written column. Fair question…? I say yes. But it's a quick answer. No. He is possibly the second best. Bill Russel is number one…his preparation, effort and skill and titles won earned him that title. KG is a close number 2. I see possible number 2/3's David Robinson, a young Shaq, The Dream, pippen, the list isnt all that long. All I know is that Kevin even when not on my Celtics roster was one of my favorite players because of his defense. Lots of guys can score points. Not a lot of guys can guard man up, team d, pick/screen & roll, multiple positions, help d, block shots and get loads of boards….. Etc…etc…etc. KG is a rare freak of nature with size, agility, speEd, stamina, leaping ability, and an NBA mind. In my eyes of the modern erea of basketball nobodys been better. Over all though Bill's got the rings to back it up.

  • dslack

    Pete, with all due respect, this is crazy: "Granted, if Thabeet, Yao Ming or even Cris Kaman played 40 years ago they would’ve absolutely the 6 foot 9 Bill Russell" — at least if the word between "absolutely" and "the" was supposed to be "dominated" or something along those lines.

    Wilt was 7'1" and an amazing athlete and Russell was known as the best defender in the league. While it's true that the average player is far more athletic now than in the 60s, you don't seem to realize what an incredible athlete Bill Russell was. He ran the 400-m in 49.4 seconds, and he high jumped more than 6'9". I'd like to see Hasheem Thabeet or Chris Kaman try to break 70 seconds in the 400. Fat chance. (As for Wilt, the guy Russell defended better than anyone else did — lest you think he was an athletic slouch, you should know that he became one of the world's best volleyball players after his hoops career, and.)

    In the modern era, I have a hard time placing KG ahead of Rodman, who used to defend everyone from point guards to centers.

  • Pete

    Fair point Dslack, I'm actually usually at the end other end of the spectrum in defending former stars and their abilities. I should specify by saying I think those guys could've handled Russell on defense, they had not known a 7 foot 5 athlete with as much coordination as Ming or Thabeet. But I agree that Russell's interior shutdown and team defense should not be underrated, and I think he would have no problem controlling Kaman and Thabeet in the post. Yao would be a more difficult prospect, but he would fair about on level of a Carlos Boozer covering the truly big men. I guess I think Russell would still be a quality Power Forward today, but with all due respect to his ability to cover the 7'1 Wilt, I don't think he'd be much one on one against a Dwight or a Yao.

    But regardless, my missing verb seems it would've been a bit too harsh. Russell should not be underestimated for his intelligence, hustle and finesse despite how much the game has changed in tactics and athletics. Russell is one of the few from a distant era I feel could still compete today, and I took a bit too much liberty in my attempt at making a point. Thanks for the good feedback.

  • dslack

    Hey, Pete, thanks for the feedback.

    I remember how good a defender Ben Wallace (also 6'9") was a few years ago, and I think that Russell was a much better athlete than Wallace.

    I also think that Boozer — never known as a great defender — is the wrong undersized modern day comparison for Russell. Ben Wallace and Big Baby both have had decent success against Yao, and I suspect that Russell would have too. Yes, 7'5" is a lot for a 6'9" guy to cover, but I think Russell was too athletic and too smart to let a slow guy like Yao get the better of him.

    There's a great interview with Russell here:
    http://bit.ly/gdein
    I love the bit about how he blocked the first 5 shots that the preseason All-American guy took, and then his coach told him to play defense differently.

    Best,

    dslack

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  • CGL

    Dennis Rodman could legitimately guard anyone at any position and shut them down and also dominated the boards at 6'6" or 7". I love KG and the Celtics but I would definatley consider Rodman better and probably the best.

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