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Ranking all 30 NBA defenses: Why the Grizzlies, Celtics and Nets stand out from the pack

There are a number of ways an offense can be great in the modern NBA, as we detailed when we ranked all 30 offenses ahead of the 2023-24 season. You can thrive through shooting. You can dominate in the paint. You can generate easy buckets in transition. You can rack up freebies at the line. While there are certain markers that apply to most elite offenses, there’s not a single trait that dominates offensive basketball in quite the same way there is on defense.

So, what is that single, defining trait for elite modern defenses? Rim protection. The last six No. 1-ranked defenses have started two big men, at least one of whom either earned All-Defense honors that season or in the year prior, and finished at or near the top of the league in some statistic that measures rim protection.

  • The 2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers started All-Defense power forward Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. They allowed the second-lowest field goal percentage in the restricted area in the league (62.7%).
  • The 2021-22 Boston Celtics started All-Defense power forward Robert Williams III and Al Horford. They allowed the second-fewest field goal attempts in the restricted area per game (21.4).
  • The 2020-21 Los Angeles Lakers started former All-Defense power forward Anthony Davis and a combination of former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and Andre Drummond. Their restricted area stats weren’t quite elite, but they allowed the lowest field goal percentage in the league on non-restricted area paint shots (39.2%).
  • The 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks started Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo and All-Defense center Brook Lopez. They allowed the fewest restricted area field goal attempts per game (24.2) and the lowest restricted area field goal percentage (55.2) in the league.
  • The 2018-19 Bucks were led by the same duo. They also allowed the fewest restricted area field goal attempts (25.5) and the lowest restricted area field goal percentage (58%) in the league.
  • The 2017-18 Utah Jazz started Derrick Favors at power forward and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert at center. They allowed the third-fewest restricted area field goal attempts per game (24.6).

There are plenty of factors that contribute to elite defense, but to get to the top of the league, you have to protect the basket. That is the prerequisite for top placement on this list. Ideally, you can do so while playing two big men without straining your offense. If you’re going to play smaller, you’d better have top-of-the-line point-of-attack defenders. If you have a bit of scheme versatility, that certainly doesn’t hurt, but as you’ll see below, the best defenses all have at least one elite defensive big man. So, without further ado, here are our projected rankings for all 30 NBA defenses. Keep in mind, that these rankings are meant to reflect what the end-of-season rankings look like, not simply rate each team’s talent. Therefore durability, coaching and regular-season motivation will all factor in here.

1. Memphis Grizzlies

What they’ll do well: Protect the basket. Memphis allowed the lowest restricted area field goal percentage in the league last season (62.1%). They have a reasonable degree of schematic versatility as Marcus Smart can guard just about anyone and Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman can switch when needed. Their worst defensive player (Ja Morant) will miss the first 25 games. They still have all of their own first-round picks to trade if they decide they need a more traditionally forward-sized defender.

Where they’ll struggle: They ranked 22nd in defensive rebounding last season. Jackson may be the NBA’s best rim protector, but he provides little on the glass. Smart had a down year last season after winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2022. Was that an ankle injury, or the beginning of the end of his prime? Luke Kennard‘s minutes will be an offensive necessity. He’s pretty easy for opponents to pick on. Jackson has had one fully healthy season in his career.

2. Boston Celtics

What they’ll do well: Point-of-attack defense. The pairing of Jrue Holiday and Derrick White is going to torture opposing guards. Both earned All-Defense honors last season. Kristaps Porzingis is coming off his best defensive season, ranking fourth in the NBA in contested shots per game (11.4). He and Al Horford both shoot so well that Boston can go to two big looks without sacrificing anything offensively. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both plus-defenders who will rarely have to exert maximum effort on that end of the floor because of everything around them. They allowed the second-fewest corner 3’s in the NBA last season (6.7 per game).

Where they’ll struggle: The top six are great. The depth, despite the fun of Kornet Kontest, is decidedly geared towards offense. Porzingis tends to miss games. Horford is 37. Holiday is 33. There is going to be a period of schematic adjustment, as the loss of Smart and Williams will mean less switching and more drop coverage. The Celtics benefitted from some opposing shooting luck last season, as opponents made just 36.7% of their wide-open 3s, the third-lowest mark in the league. 

3. Brooklyn Nets

What they’ll do well: Almost everything. Nic Claxton ranked second in the NBA in contested shots last season and can function in any scheme. Ben Simmons looks like his former self so far in the preseason, and he might not even be the best perimeter defender in his own starting lineup with Mikal Bridges around. The depth is remarkable. Plenty of teams would kill to have Dorian Finney-Smith or Royce O’Neale as perimeter stoppers. They’re coming off of Brooklyn’s bench. Dennis Smith Jr. might struggle to find minutes and he was, according to most analytical models, among the very best guard defenders in basketball last season. This team is going to generate a ton of turnovers. 

Where they’ll struggle: Relying on Simmons carries risks. They absolutely cannot play two traditional big men because of the shooting issues Simmons and Claxton will have. Cam Thomas has to play meaningful minutes for the offense. That’s not going to go well defensively.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

What they’ll do well: Protect the rim, as we covered above. The talent isn’t great in the backcourt, but Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland fully bought in last year and at least brought the necessary nightly effort. They generated the third-most turnovers per game last season and allowed the eighth-fewest free throw attempts. Isaac Okoro is still on the roster as a maybe, possibly one-day wing stopper, albeit in a reduced role. 

Where they’ll struggle: A team with two traditional big men should not rank 20th in defensive rebounding. Allen and Mobley got manhandled by the Knicks in the postseason and Mobley, specifically, needs to add strength. Lineups are going to be geared towards offense with the additions of Max Strus and Georges Niang, putting an even heftier burden on the two big men. Allen is already dealing with an ankle injury.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

What they’ll do well: Rudy Gobert isn’t quite the rim-protecting force he once was, but he still grades out near the top of the league in most advanced defensive metrics. Jaden McDaniels got robbed of an All-Defense nod last season and has the physical tools to earn such recognition for years to come. Anthony Edwards takes defense far more seriously than most young guards of his stature and has looked like a stopper in spurts. Getting Karl-Anthony Towns back for most of the season should help solve their paltry No. 26 ranking in defensive rebounding. Kyle Anderson is one of the smartest bench players in the NBA. For all of the fit concerns that were raised about Towns and Gobert, lineups featuring both ranked in the 98th percentile in defensive efficiency last season, according to Cleaning the Glass. They deflected the third-most passes in the NBA last season at 15.9 per game.

Where they’ll struggle: Having Gobert means playing drop coverage. Towns struggles in drop coverage, and Chris Finch will have to take steps to hide him. Mike Conley is 36 and has only so much left in the tank defensively. Only the Pistons allowed more opposing free throw attempts last season.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

What they’ll do well: Generate turnovers. No team in the NBA created more of them last season than the Thunder. The presence of Chet Holmgren gives the Thunder the big man they lacked last season. No, really, they largely didn’t even have a traditional big on the roster. If Holmgren is average he’s a major improvement. If he’s as good as he’s looked in Summer League and the preseason, they’ll be even better. Lu Dort is immune to screens. Cason Wallace is his new understudy. Only the Kings allowed fewer points on fast breaks.

Where they’ll struggle: This is one of the NBA’s youngest teams, and young teams typically struggle on defense. The Thunder in particular devote a lot of developmental minutes to bench players, and those are minutes that may not go well on defense. Their aggressive approach to defense also tends to lead to quite a few free throw attempts for opponents. The Thunder ranked 28th in defensive rebounding rate last season. Only the Heat allowed more corner 3s.

7. Toronto Raptors

What they’ll do well: Only the Thunder generated more turnovers last season, and no team came close to their 18.1 deflections per game. Their rim numbers were surprisingly strong considering they didn’t land Jakob Poeltl until the trade deadline. He’ll help quite a bit on that front. OG Anunoby is probably the best man-to-man defensive forward in the NBA. Their wings give them endless schematic flexibility. Dennis Schroder is remarkably annoying to play against. They had dreadful shooting luck last season as opponents made 41.3% of their wide-open 3s last season. Only the Spurs had less luck, and to be fair, some of that may have been intentional.

Where they’ll struggle: They allowed the third-most corner 3s in the NBA last season (9.9 per game). They have so little shooting in the projected starting lineup that they’ll have to devote bench minutes to poor defenders to compensate. Odds are, Grady Dick won’t be a good defender as a rookie. With Anunoby and Pascal Siakam headed for free agency, a trade shakeup seems very likely. Scottie Barnes is fine on the ball but loses track of the play off of it too often. 

8. Miami Heat

What they’ll do well: The Heat almost never foul, allowing the third-fewest opponent free throws last season, and they bring the ball in on misses, ranking fourth in defensive rebounding rate. They allowed the second-fewest shots in the restricted area last season, and Josh Richardson is a defensive upgrade on Max Strus. Bam Adebayo is one of the few players in basketball who can genuinely cover all five positions as needed.

Where they’ll struggle: The Heat don’t allow many rim shots, but opponents made 69.1% of the ones they got. That’s the fifth-worst mark in the league. They also give up the most corner 3s in the NBA (10.8 per game last season), and Jimmy Butler, now 34, tends to miss a handful of games every season.

9. Los Angeles Lakers

What they’ll do well: Anthony Davis is the best defender in the world. He broke Golden State’s beautiful offense in the second round last season. The collective basketball IQ of Davis, LeBron James, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell might be higher than any starting foursome in the league. Jarred Vanderbilt is a menace to opposing guards. The Lakers never foul. They do a reasonably good job preventing 3s and securing rebounds.

Where they’ll struggle: Considering Davis’ presence, the Lakers were surprisingly underwhelming at protecting the rim. In fairness, their horrific backup centers had something to do with that, but Davis frequently misses time. So does James, who is not particularly involved on the ball on most nights. Instead, he’s a backline helper and communicator at this stage of his career. That is ideally Russell’s role, but the Lakers have far more high-IQ but physically deficient players than they’d like. Vanderbilt’s value is muted off the bench, and it looks like Taurean Prince will be the fifth starter. They almost never generate turnovers.

10. Philadelphia 76ers

What they’ll do well: A little bit of everything. The 76ers had no single elite trait defensively last season, but they were above average at the rim, did a fairly good job of preventing corner 3s, were around league-average in fouling and rebounding and generated a decent amount of turnovers. There’s little special about this defense, but Joel Embiid and P.J. Tucker are very good, and that’s an excellent starting point. James Harden getting traded would help quite a bit, as it would open up more minutes for De’Anthony Melton, who is a good defender. Nick Nurse will try funky defenses on a whim and throw opponents off of their game for a quarter or two because of it.

Where they’ll struggle: Their transition defense is atrocious. Only the tanking Rockets and Jazz allowed more fast-break points. Tucker is now the second-oldest player in the NBA behind LeBron James. Embiid is injury-prone, and losing Harden would only increase his offensive burden, which would make things harder on defense.

11. Golden State Warriors

What they’ll do well: Almost everything that went wrong last season has been corrected. Jordan Poole and James Wiseman are gone. Gary Payton II is back to help fix their dreadful point-of-attack defense. Andrew Wiggins probably won’t miss half of the season with a personal issue again. Draymond Green is the best switch-defender in modern NBA history, but can function in whatever scheme Golden State’s personnel requires. No team allowed fewer shots in the restricted area last season.

Where they’ll struggle: No team allowed more shots in floater range than the Warriors last season. Green is already dealing with an ankle injury. How many minutes are there for Payton with Chris Paul joining Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt? With all three aging, none are really equipped to defend high-usage ball-handlers. Golden State’s veterans didn’t exactly commit to consistent defensive effort last season. At their age, they might not be able to.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

What they’ll do well: They’ll be among the NBA’s best rim defenses so long as Antetokounmpo and Lopez are in place. Milwaukee somehow managed to allow the fourth-fewest restricted area shots and the fewest corner 3s in basketball last season. The Bucks have barely fouled in recent years. Adrian Griffin should help them generate a few more turnovers. Only the Celtics were better on the defensive glass last season. 

Where they’ll struggle: There probably isn’t a worse group of perimeter defenders among the contending class. Damian Lillard is bad. Malik Beasley is bad and being asked to take on signature matchups. Mike Budenholzer was among the best regular-season defensive coaches in basketball. Adrian Griffin is a rookie, and he’s bringing in an aggressive Toronto scheme that is essentially the opposite of Budenholzer’s drop-coverage approach. Can Lopez play the sort of stationary rim defense he always has in Milwaukee now that he has Lillard and Beasley in front of him? How long will it take the Bucks to adjust?

13. Los Angeles Clippers

What they’ll do well: The Clippers are due meaningful regression when it comes to opposing shooting luck, as opponents made over 40% of their wide-open 3s last season. They were above average in preventing both rim shots and corner 3s and, despite preferring smaller lineups, they ranked seventh in defensive rebounding. They rarely foul. Kawhi Leonard might still be the best “we need a single stop to win the game” defender in the world. It seems as though Robert Covington has finally beaten out Marcus Morris for real rotation minutes, and he is still among the NBA’s best help defenders.

Where they’ll struggle: Leonard and Paul George are frequently injured. Russell Westbrook can be lethal on the ball in high-profile matchups, but his effort on random regular-season nights is typically poor. This is the second-oldest team in the NBA, so effort and athleticism are likely to be relatively low. They’re trying to trade for James Harden, who is a poor defender. The wings can make up for it in some regards, but the guards are largely bad defenders.

14. New Orleans Pelicans

What they’ll do well: They are a great defensive-rebounding team, ranking fifth last season. Their rim numbers are solid across the board. Herb Jones can defend anyone. Dyson Daniels has the tools to do so as well. Jose Alvarado might be the best per-minute ball thief in basketball. They generated the ninth-most turnovers in the NBA last season. 

Where they’ll struggle: Much of their defensive success last season came without Zion Williamson. He still has a lot to prove defensively, and his presence makes it harder to play defense-first players. The only reliable defender in the projected starting five is Jones. Brandon Ingram makes poor use of his excellent defensive tools. Jonas Valanciunas has to be handcuffed to the rim, and that limits this team’s schematic versatility while he’s on the floor. Larry Nance Jr. opens things up a bit, but he is already dealing with an injury.

15. New York Knicks

What they’ll do well: No team allowed fewer overall points in the paint last season than the Knicks. That’s the Tom Thibodeau way. Mitchell Robinson has been crowded out of All-Defense voting by the league’s great frontline depth, but he warrants consideration. The Knicks typically play among the most two big lineups in the NBA with Robinson and Julius Randle. Josh Hart’s relentless effort rubs off on his teammates. Immanuel Quickley is known for his floater and instant offense off the bench, but he’s growing into a defensive star.

Where they’ll struggle: Just as Thibodeau teams tend to do a great job of preventing looks at the rim by funneling action to the center of the court, they also tend to give up a ton of 3s, especially in the corner. Sure enough, the Knicks allowed the fifth-most 3-point attempts in the NBA last season and the sixth-most corner 3s. Jalen Brunson is too small and unathletic to meaningfully contribute to a great defense. Randle’s tools are great. His effort is inconsistent. The lineups are probably going to be a bit smaller with Donte DiVincenzo replacing Obi Toppin

16. San Antonio Spurs

What they’ll do well: With Jeremy Sochan playing point guard and Victor Wembanyama wearing their uniform, the Spurs will have one of the biggest lineups in the NBA next season. It will also be remarkably young as Devin Vassell is 23 and Keldon Johnson is 24. That has drawbacks, but it means the Spurs will be incredibly athletic and eager to generate turnovers. Gregg Popovich’s teams tend to outperform expectations on defense. With Zach Collins possessing reasonable mobility, this team has a fair bit of schematic versatility. No team had worse opposing shooting luck last season.

Where they’ll struggle: Young teams tend to be very fun to watch defensively, but rarely especially effective. It’s going to take the young Spurs time to figure things out on that end of the floor, and that’s fine. They’re in no rush. There are barely any veterans on this roster. Wembanyama will probably play light minutes and miss games with minor injuries in his first NBA season. 

17. Denver Nuggets

What they’ll do well: They’re around average at almost everything. They’re pretty good at keeping shots away from the rim but allow too many corner 3s. They rebound well when Nikola Jokic is on the floor. The collective basketball IQ makes up for their athletic limitations. They have a significant continuity advantage over most of the field.

Where they’ll struggle: Bruce Brown is gone, and he was their primary point-of-attack defender against the best opposing guards. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can handle that job to some extent, but it’s a downgrade. Their regular-season effort waxes and wanes (and all but disappeared in March). The bench is relying on a lot of young players who probably need time to defend adequately. Are they finally ready to commit to Zeke Nnaji as the backup center? They had the NBA’s best opponent’s shooting luck on wide-open 3s last season, so there’s some regression coming on that front.

18. Utah Jazz

What they’ll do well: Walker Kessler is among the NBA’s more promising rim protectors. Kris Dunn seems primed for a significant role, and that should terrify every ball-handler in the league. They’re going to play bigger with John Collins starting next to Kessler and Lauri Markkanen

Where they’ll struggle: The numbers for Kessler, personally, were strong. The rim protection numbers for the team were far worse. There isn’t an adequate wing defender on this roster unless Dunn is guarding much bigger opponents. They never generate turnovers and they foul too often. Most of the overall defensive numbers on this team were fairly uninspiring.

19. Chicago Bulls

What they’ll do well: They have Alex Caruso. I wish it was more complex than that. Caruso hounds opposing stars to such a degree that Chicago was able to generate a ton of turnovers (ranked eighth in the NBA last season) without fouling much (allowed the sixth-fewest free throws). No one perimeter player was more integral to a team’s defense last season. Throw in the league’s third-best defensive rebounding rate and the Bulls were among the more improbable top-five defenses in recent NBA history.

Where they’ll struggle: They allowed the second-most 3-point attempts in the NBA last season and the fourth-most corner 3s. Their rim numbers leave a fair bit to be desired as well. Oh… and they’re completely reliant on Caruso with Lonzo Ball out. Jevon Carter should help out a fair bit, and Patrick Williams has the physical capacity to be great defensively, but overall, the talent here is bad.

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20. Orlando Magic

What they’ll do well: It turns out that playing enormous lineups can go a long way when it comes to protecting the rim. The Magic were young and had few proven defenders last season, but they allowed the sixth-fewest points in the paint last season because all of their lineups were huge. Jonathan Isaac is presumably healthy, and before his string of injuries, he was among the NBA’s best rim protectors. Paolo Banchero flashed some very interesting small-ball center potential for Team USA. They foul far less than you’d expect out of a team so young and generate a good amount of turnovers. Jalen Suggs is going to make an All-Defense team someday.

Where they’ll struggle: They gave up the third-most overall 3-point attempts last season and the fourth-most corner 3s. They barely give up any shot attempts at the rim, but opponents made 70.6% of the looks they did get, the second-worst mark in the league. There are so many recent first-round picks fighting for a place on this team’s long-term future, so aside from being especially young, they’re at risk of players focusing too much on offense rather than defense in the hopes that it’ll help them stick around.

21. Indiana Pacers

What they’ll do well: The Pacers are the opposite of the Magic. They allow a ton of shots near the basket (30.5 per game, third-most in the league), but only 64% of those shots actually go in (fifth-lowest mark in the league). That makes perfect sense when you look at their personnel. Their guards can’t stay in front of anyone, but Myles Turner is so good at the rim that he covers plenty of their mistakes. Jarace Walker should be able to defend well even as a rookie. The Pacers emphasize turnover generation for the sake of their incredible transition offense, and they ranked sixth in turnovers created last season as a result. Bruce Brown will provide badly-needed defense in the backcourt.

Where they’ll struggle: Allowing that many rim shots, even when you’re stopping a lot of them, is a bad process. They foul constantly. They’re good at preventing 3s as a whole, but too many of the 3s they do give up are in the corners. Brown will help the guards, but many of them are still bad defenders. There are no wings to speak of here.

22. Atlanta Hawks

What they’ll do well: Gobert had quite a bit to do with this, but Quin Snyder coached four top-three defenses in Utah and never fell below 14th in his entire tenure there. He has a viable rim protector in Clint Capela and a better pair of perimeter defenders in Dejounte Murray and De’Andre Hunter than he ever had in Utah. Onyeka Okongwu is a potential menace when the time to switch comes.

Where they’ll struggle: Trae Young is, without hyperbole, the worst defensive player in the NBA. Building a viable defense around a player all 29 teams can comfortably pick on without much scouting is extremely difficult. Murray’s defense isn’t what it was in San Antonio. The Hawks tried to trade Capela to Dallas over the summer. 

23. Sacramento Kings

What they’ll do well: No team allowed fewer fast-break points last season. They rarely foul. They’re right around league average when it comes to generating turnovers. Mike Brown’s defensive track record is strong. His scheme is simple, and while it won’t create a top defense with this talent, it will at least give the Kings a baseline of competence. Davion Mitchell creates chaos.

Where they’ll struggle: They were one of the worst rim defenses in the NBA by most measures last season. They are probably the only team in the NBA without an above-average defender in the starting lineup. Their two biggest offseason additions were Chris Duarte and Sasha Vezenkov, both imported for shooting. The Kings want to outscore you. Defense is not their priority. 

24. Portland Trail Blazers

What they’ll do well: Robert Williams made an All-Defensive team two years ago and he probably won’t even start here. That’s what the Blazers have going for them. There are just too many proven veterans on this roster for the defense to be that bad. Matisse Thybulle is another former All-Defense choice. Jerami Grant, Deandre Ayton and Malcolm Brogdon have all been plus defenders at some point.

Where they’ll struggle: The team is built around three guards, one of whom has never really defended and two of whom can’t legally drink yet. The point-of-attack defense when Thybulle isn’t in the game is going to be awful. Half of the veterans will get traded by February. Chauncey Billups’ two defenses since taking over the Blazers have been ranked 29th and 28th. 

25. Phoenix Suns

What they’ll do well: Frank Vogel is arguably the NBA’s best regular-season defensive coach. He led three No. 1 defenses between his Lakers and Pacers tenures and won a championship based on defense in Los Angeles. Josh Okogie was a low-minute defensive star last season, and Keita Bates-Diop is solid as well. Kevin Durant is a stellar help-defender when he wants to be. They’re going to score so many points that transition opportunities for opponents will be rare.

Where they’ll struggle: Durant is 35, so “when he wants” to defend might not be all that often. Bradley Beal has never defended, and Devin Booker is only passable. Jusuf Nurkic can’t move, and the decision to swap Ayton for him was questionable even if the trade added meaningful depth. Everyone gets hurt. The front office has left itself no tools for in-season improvement. Okogie is probably the only consistently above-average defender on the team.

26. Charlotte Hornets

What they’ll do well: Mark Williams was the breakout defensive rookie of the second half of the season. Only the Grizzlies and Cavaliers allowed a lower field goal percentage in the restricted area. He’s going to be one of the NBA’s best rim protectors someday, and Charlotte ranked 11th in defense after the trade deadline and they generated the 12th most turnovers in the league last season. Steve Clifford’s teams always defend.

Where they’ll struggle: LaMelo Ball doesn’t defend. Brandon Miller is a rookie. Miles Bridges has never played up to his physical potential defensively. Gordon Hayward always gets hurt. Terry Rozier is tiny. Dennis Smith Jr. was the best perimeter defender on this team and now he plays for the Nets. Williams is really the only sure thing on this defense. 

27. Houston Rockets

What they’ll do well: Ime Udoka holds players accountable. If he has to criticize them in public, he’ll do so. Dillon Brooks will set the tone on the floor, and for all of his offensive woes and poor media judgment, he is an incredible defender. Fred VanVleet is still quite good, and Jabari Smith Jr. will be better than that someday. Tari Eason will make one incredible hustle play per game. 

Where they’ll struggle: There’s no rim protector here. At all. Alperen Sengun is here for offense and nothing more. Jalen Green doesn’t defend either, and most of the reserves are extremely young. No team allowed more 3’s last season. Few teams fouled more often. 

28. Dallas Mavericks

What they’ll do well: They ranked seventh on defense two years ago. Grant Williams provides valuable versatility, capable of guarding most forwards straight up and offering some rim protection. They were an above-average rebounding team last season. Jason Kidd makes a point of benching players when they don’t live up to his defensive expectations.

Where they’ll struggle: Williams was really valuable as the sixth-best defensive Celtic in 2021. Now he’s expected to be the single best defender on a winning team? They foul constantly. They never generate turnovers. They’re starting a rookie center who was hardly elite defensively in college. Jason Kidd’s first Milwaukee defense ranked fourth and never rose above 18th after that, a sobering omen considering how well the Mavericks defended when Kidd arrived. Luka Doncic doesn’t defend. Tim Hardaway Jr. doesn’t defend. Seth Curry doesn’t defend. Kyrie Irving rarely defends. It’s hard to point to a single area in which the Mavericks should be better than league average. 

29. Detroit Pistons

What they’ll do well: They play more two-big lineups than just about anybody. Cade Cunningham looks like he’ll grow into a strong defender. Killian Hayes is already there if he can stay on the floor offensively. Monty Williams has a solid defensive track record in Phoenix, ranking sixth and third in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Where they’ll struggle: Who… who is good here? Maybe Hayes? Everyone is young except for the veteran shooters (Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Joe Harris), and they don’t defend. None of the youngsters have proven much on the defensive end. Maybe Isaiah Stewart? Jalen Duren should get there in time. It’s hard to have a good defense when most of your roster is in the developmental stage and none of them have done much defensively yet.

30. Washington Wizards

What they’ll do well: Delon Wright is great. Deni Avdija is OK. End of list.

Where they’ll struggle: Kristaps Porzingis protected the rim well enough to give the Wizards a baseline of competence defensively last season. Porzingis is gone. Daniel Gafford won’t do the same. It looks like they’re starting a rookie in Bilal Coulibaly. He has great defensive tools, but rookies are rarely good on defense. Jordan Poole is here to take 30 shots per game, he doesn’t have time to talk about defense. Anyone worthwhile is getting traded in February. 

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