Faceoff: Can Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverly challenge the best all-time defenses?

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When excellent two-way players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George decided to migrate to the Los Angeles Clippers, joining Patrick Beverly, the team’s defensive-minded guard, a fine defensive trio was formed.

Based on the past performances of this trio in the past, they collectively can challenge the defensive players of yesteryears for a spot in the all-time rankings.

Defense is one of the aspects of a basketball game that’s difficult to assess because they are not measured in numerical terms. There are, however, figures that might give one an idea of how good a player is defensively. Here’s some career defensive numbers of today’s Clippers and how they stack up against other great defensive trios:

Today’s Clippers trio

Player Kawhi Leonard Paul George Patrick Beverly Player Kawhi Leonard Paul George Patrick Beverly
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 5.1 6.4 3.1 Defensive Player of the Year 2 0 0
Blocks per game 0.7 0.4 0.4 1st All-Defensive Team 3 2 1
Steals per game 1.8 1.8 1.2 2nd All-Defensive Team 2 2 1
Defensive rating 100 102 108

The Defensive rating stat is an estimate of points allowed by a player for every 100 possessions.

When ranking these trio among the greats, I would consider the size and the function to make a more or less appropriate comparison. The Clippers trio occupies the “small” positions and ideally be compared to the same player combos.

Having that said, this trio is the most elite backcourt-small forward defensive unit that pops up in my head:

Bulls “Small” defensive combo

Player Michael Jordan Scottie Pippen Ron Harper Player Michael Jordan Scottie Pippen Ron Harper
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 4.7 4.6 4.3 Defensive Player of the Year 1 0 0
Blocks per game 0.8 0.8 0.7 1st All-Defensive Team 9 8 0
Steals per game 2.3 2 1.7 2nd All-Defensive Team 0 2 0
Defensive rating 103 102 104

This trio that won three consecutive NBA titles was a defensive beast with their imposing size. The most unheralded one in the trio ironically was the swing factor. Harper’s size often provides opposing offense a challenge given the style the play back then.

Expanding the comparison, let’s go pound for pound. Here are some of best defensive “big” combos:

Spurs “Big” defensive combo

Player Tim Duncan Bruce Bowen David Robinson Player Tim Duncan Bruce Bowen David Robinson
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 8.1 2.2 7.5 Defensive Player of the Year 0 0 1
Blocks per game 2.2 0.4 3 1st All-Defensive Team 8 5 4
Steals per game 0.7 0.8 1.4 2nd All-Defensive Team 7 3 4
Defensive rating 96 102 96

Celtics “Really Big” defensive combo

Player Robert Parish Kevin Mchale Bill Walton Player Robert Parish Kevin Mchale Bill Walton
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 6.3 4.9 8.2 Defensive Player of the Year 0 0 0
Blocks per game 1.5 1.7 2.2 1st All-Defensive Team 0 3 2
Steals per game 0.8 0.4 0.8 2nd All-Defensive Team 0 3 0
Defensive rating 102 106 96

And some of the other best defensive combos ever:

Bulls All-time defensive combo

Player Michael Jordan Scottie Pippen Dennis Rodman Player Michael Jordan Scottie Pippen Dennis Rodman
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 4.7 4.6 8.4 Defensive Player of the Year 1 0 2
Blocks per game 0.8 0.8 0.6 1st All-Defensive Team 9 8 7
Steals per game 2.3 2 0.7 2nd All-Defensive Team 0 2 1
Defensive rating 103 102 100

Jazz All-time defensive combo

Player Mark Eaton Karl Malone John Stockton Player Mark Eaton Karl Malone John Stockton
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 5.8 7.7 2.1 Defensive Player of the Year 2 0 0
Blocks per game 3.5 0.8 0.2 1st All-Defensive Team 3 3 0
Steals per game 0.4 1.4 2.2 2nd All-Defensive Team 2 1 5
Defensive rating 100 101 104

Pistons All-time defensive combos

Player Ben Wallace Tayshaun Prince Chuancey Billups Player Ben Wallace Tayshaun Prince Chuancey Billups
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 6.5 3.2 2.4 Defensive Player of the Year 4 0 0
Blocks per game 2 0.5 0.2 1st All-Defensive Team 5 0 0
Steals per game 1.3 0.6 1 2nd All-Defensive Team 1 4 2
Defensive rating 96 108 107
Player Bill Laimbeer Dennis Rodman Joe Dumars Player Bill Laimbeer Dennis Rodman Joe Dumars
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 7.1 8.4 1.5 Defensive Player of the Year 0 2 0
Blocks per game 0.9 0.6 0.1 1st All-Defensive Team 0 7 4
Steals per game 0.7 0.7 0.9 2nd All-Defensive Team 0 1 1
Defensive rating 104 100 110

Hawks All-time defensive combos

Player Dikembe Mutombo Mookie Blaylosk Tyron Corbin Player Dikembe Mutombo Mookie Blaylosk Tyron Corbin
Defensive stats Defensive Awards
Defensive rebounds per game 7.1 3 3.1 Defensive Player of the Year 4 0 0
Blocks per game 2.8 0.3 0.3 1st All-Defensive Team 3 2 0
Steals per game 0.4 2.3 1.2 2nd All-Defensive Team 3 4 0
Defensive rating 99 105 105

Not to be forgotten other notable defensive combinations are Bill Russell-John Havlicek-KC Jones, Walt Fraizer-Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Bill Walton-Bobby Gross-Lionel Hollins, Sidney Moncrief-Paul Pressey-Jacki Sikma, Bobby Jones-Maurice Cheeks-Julius Erving, and Wilt Chamberlain-Jerry West-(add another teammate from that Lakers era).

Leonard, George, and Beverly are expected to play for at least three more years. At the end of their partnership, could they make a run at becoming the best defensive trio ever over these guys?

By Armando M. Bolislis

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