With NBA offences continually getting more advanced, having capable defenders all over the floor is a necessity for winning basketball. Watching the NBA playoffs, there are two things about defenders that have become abundantly clear - a bad one will get mercilessly pinpointed and attacked, and a great one will change the complexion of a game with their ability to bust up plays and slow down stars.
2021 NBA DRAFT SUPERLATIVES: Best shooters | best passers | best scorers
Here are the defenders in the 2021 Draft ready to come in and be instant stoppers.
Evan Mobley, USC
Centre, 7-feet, 215 lbs.
When projecting the impact a player will have defensively, the two things you're looking at are physical tools and effort level. Mobley has both of those in abundance.
At 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, he has the length to cause all kinds of problems on the interior, whether it's blocking shots or staying in passing lanes to slow down ball movement. Perhaps even more important than his absurd wingspan is his mobility, as the 7-foot Mobley moves like a ballerina, gliding around the court and easily switching out to guards or hedging a ball screen 30 feet from the hoop before recovering to his man.
While he was a college superstar who is now projected to go top-five in the draft, he works like the last guy on the bench trying to scrounge every minute available. His physical tools and motor make him the perfect defensive specimen and it's easy to see him being dominant on that end in the NBA.
Usman Garuba, Real Madrid (Liga ACB, Spain)
Forward, 6-foot-8, 220 lbs.
Despite being one of the younger prospects in the draft, just recently turning 19, Garuba defends with the maturity of a ten-year veteran. Playing in the Spanish ACB, the 6-foot-8 Garuba has already been exposed to an extremely high level of competition and that has helped him turn into one of the best defenders in the draft.
He might not have ideal height for his projected NBA position (centre) but he has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and cunning basketball IQ to make up for it. The ACB is full of incredible talent and equally as good coaching, and the complex offensive actions run with regularity means Garuba is used to diagnosing exotic set plays and responding to them immediately, something that will serve him well in the NBA.
If there is one thing an NBA centre needs to be able to do it's guard pick-and-rolls, and Garuba excels in this area. The angles and footwork he uses are immaculate and he has the burst and length to contest shots or sell out to take away a pass when needed. Already a polished defender in one of the best leagues in the world at 19 years old, it's easy to see why Garuba will work out in the NBA.
Herbert Jones, Alabama
Forward, 6-foot-8, 210 lbs.
Every team in the league is looking for athletic wings that can guard up and down the lineup and there isn't anyone much more suited to fit that role than Jones.
The 6-foot-8 Alabama product has been on NBA radars for a number of years now due to his athleticism and length, and offensive limitations are the only thing that has kept him from truly blowing up. What he lacks in offensive talent is made up for on the defensive side where he is everything you want in an NBA defender.
If there was one word to describe Jones' defensive game, it would be disruptive.
Because of his length, he is difficult to dribble against, and his quickness allows him to be aggressive in passing lanes denying ball reversal. In whatever position he's in defensively, whether on the ball or away from it, he is actively making it hard for his opponent to run offense. While Jones is capable of guarding bigger players, his biggest strength is checking smaller guards and you'd often see him matched up with much smaller point guards in college, hounding them and making it difficult for them to initiate offense.
Teams will be giving up some offence in having Jones on the floor but he'll make up for it with his defensive excellence.
Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Guard, 6-foot-2, 205 lbs.
Mitchell is the kind of defender a coach loves - a guy who will spearhead a defense and set the tone for everyone behind him. Incredible at the point of attack, Mitchell's quickness allows him to crowd opposing point guards and get right into their jersey, making every dribble difficult.
This quickness helps him in pick-and-roll defence as his ability to stay glued to his defender makes him tough to screen and therefore, lessens the effectiveness of these plays. Any guard on the floor in an NBA game is going to have to guard pick-and-rolls repeatedly and with Mitchell's skill in this area, you'll never have concerns for him in that category.
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Mitchell is stout and muscular, something that helps him against physical drivers that try to create space by initiating contact. Mitchell loves contact and plays into it, and his ability to absorb bumps allows him to easily hang with much bigger offensive players. Mitchell is a high effort defender with tremendous fundamentals making him a clear choice to thrive in NBA defenses.
Yves Pons, Tennessee
Forward, 6-foot-6, 215 lbs.
Athleticism isn't everything when it comes to defence but man, does it help. In the case of Pons, one of the best athletes in the draft, defence comes easily.
The French forward does something every night that wows you from an athleticism standpoint and usually, it's on the defensive end. Despite being only 6-foot-6, he was one of the top shot blockers in the NCAA last season and many of them were in help side situations where he rotated over, from seemingly out of nowhere, and punched the ball into the seventh row.
His sense of timing for these help-side situations is going to be huge for the fast-paced NBA game where reads have to come quickly and where the defensive schemes are so reliant on help side rotations. Often when evaluating defenders, people like to see how players guard on an island, which is important in some settings but the NBA game is so advanced defensively in trying to keep up with supercharged offences that help-side can be more important than primary defence a lot of the time.
Pons is plenty capable as a primary defender but he shines as a help-side team defender and that is something that savvy NBA scouts will see and love about him.
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