nba all-defense
Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of familiar faces on ESNY’s All-Defense Teams, but there are a few surprises as well, including Knicks center Nerlens Noel.

Danny Small

NBA All-Defense Teams are completely subjective. Although there are a ton of advanced defensive statistics out there, it’s tough to quantify defense.

How does the impact of big men differ from perimeter defenders? Do counting stats like blocks and assists tell the full scope of how a player defends? These are tough questions that demand answers.

Let’s take a look at ESNY’s 2020-21 NBA All-Defense Teams.

First Team

Rudy Gobert — Utah Jazz
Ben Simmons — Philadelphia 76ers
Draymond Green — Golden State Warriors
Jrue Holiday — Milwaukee Bucks
Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers

Second Team

Giannis Antetokounmpo — Milwaukee Bucks
Nerlens Noel — New York Knicks
Myles Turner — Indiana Pacers
Bam Adebayo — Miami Heat
Mikal Bridges — Phoenix Suns

All-Defense First Team

Let’s start with one of the more polarizing players in the game — Rudy Gobert. It’s fair to question whether or not Gobert can lead the Jazz to a championship, but anyone questioning his defensive credentials can kick rocks. Gobert is one of the best defenders to ever step foot on an NBA floor and he served as the defensive anchor on the third-ranked team in defensive rating this year.

These All-Defense teams are going to skew hard towards big men, but Ben Simmons is more of a hybrid. He can guard smaller perimeter players and hold his own against bigs inside. He’s one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA and the single biggest reason why the 76ers finished second in defensive rating this season.

Did you forget about Draymond Green over the last couple of seasons? Stephen Curry might be getting the attention for what he’s doing on offense, but Green is the defensive anchor that holds this Warriors defense together. He’s similar to Simmons in the sense that he can switch onto any player or guard big guys 1-on-1, but he’s at his best when he’s playing centerfield where he can anticipate passes and force turnovers.

Jrue Holiday is the first true perimeter defender to make his way onto ESNY’s All-Defense First Team. Although Giannis Antetokounmpo is the anchor who can do it all for the Bucks, Holiday is crucial at the point of attack. He’s the best perimeter defender in the game right now.

Joel Embiid is likely going to be the runner-up to Nikola Jokic in the MVP race and his defensive impact is a big reason why. Embiid and Simmons form one of the most dominant defensive duos in the NBA. Embiid can rebound and protect the rim as well as anyone in the NBA.

All-Defense Second Team

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the toughest omission, but Milwaukee’s drop to ninth in defensive rating from first in 2019-20 means we have a tough time putting two Bucks on the First Team. Still, he’s deserving of his Second Team selection. His versatility, rim protection, and length make him one of the toughest defenders in the league.

Knicks center Nerlens Noel is not getting his proper due from a national perspective. Originally pegged as the backup to Mitchell Robinson, injuries thrust Noel into the starting lineup and he hasn’t missed a beat. He ranks third in the NBA with 2.2 blocks per game. He has served as a dominant rim protector on the top-ranked defense in the NBA when it comes to points per game and field goal percentage. Noel excels in Tom Thibodeau’s heavy drop-coverage scheme.

Myles Turner might be falling off of some All-Defense ballots, but that would be a mistake. Prior to a season-ending injury, Turner was the most dominant shot-blocker in the NBA. He averaged a career-best 3.4 blocks per game en route to his first block title.

Bam Adebayo is the most switchable center in the league. He sets the tone for the entire Miami defense with his ability to track guards on the perimeter. It’s nearly impossible to seek out mismatches against the Heat with Adebayo leading the defense.

Mika Bridges is just the second true perimeter defender on this list. Although Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton are the stars receiving the most attention for Phoenix’s turnaround, Bridges’ ability to lock up the best wing on the other team should not go unnoticed.

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