Dan Favale | Sat 27/01/2018 - 03:37 EST

Five Best and Worst NBA Defensive Teams Halfway Through 2017-18

Championship odds come via TopBet. Remember to go over these numbers with a fine tooth comb before submitting a wager, as they tend to shift regularly. And if you want to check out our ranking of the NBA's five best and worst offenses, you can do that here.

Five Best Defenses

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (+3000)


No one expected this from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Andre Roberson and Paul George are both lockdown perimeter defenders, while big man Steven Adams has his moments. But few could have foreseen a team that plays Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook heavy minutes falling this high on the defensive scale.

A lot of things are admittedly going the Thunder's way. Westbrook looks completely engaged on defense this year, and they unlock some switchable lineups with Patrick Patterson in the rotation. And while they aren't great at preventing buckets following a defensive rebound, they're so talented at grabbing their own misses, it almost doesn't matter.

Having all that extra time, then, to set up their defense allows them to ward off transition opportunities while stamping out half-court sets. And with George garnering lower-level Defensive Player of the Year consideration, they're going to be tough to crack in the playoffs. 

4. Toronto Raptors (+1800)


Another surprise inclusion.

Though the Toronto Raptors didn't profile as a bad defensive squad before the start of the season, they most certainly weren't supposed to be hovering around fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions. They have some defensive talent, but not a lot. Their bigs aren't really switchable, and DeMar DeRozan is, at times, a liability on the perimeter.

But the Raptors are enjoying a few surprises. Youngsters like Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and, most notably, OG Anunoby are putting in work on the less glamorous side. And everyone, including DeRozan, is making a concerted effort to remain alert when possessions change hands.

Only one team in the league, in fact, allows fewer points per 100 possessions after committing a turnover. That says a lot about this group. They're not real title contenders so long as the Golden State Warriors exist, but their +450 Eastern Conference odds have to be taken seriously. 

3. Philadelphia 76ers (+8000)


The Philadelphia 76ers' defensive success is twofold.

First, they have a handful of scrappy individuals. Robert Covington is an enthusiastic pest who can chase around everyone from point guards to power forwards. Ben Simmons, while prone to rookie mistakes, is long and knows how to switch and recover when caught out of position. Reserve bigs Richaun Holmes and Trevor Booker are do-gooders.

Second, and most importantly, the Sixers have Joel Embiid, the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year at this moment. He is a gnat around the rim and has even shown he can hold his own in space, against smaller and quicker ball-handlers. 

Embiid is so important to what the Sixers do, they cannot function without him. They go from defending like the league's second-best team when he's on the floor to barely posting a top-five rating when he steps off. 

2. San Antonio Spurs (+2000)


Don't be alarmed. You're reading this correctly: Two time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard has missed most of this season, and the San Antonio Spurs still have one of the NBA's two best defenses.

Their secret, aside from head coach Gregg Popovich? Controlling the pace. The Spurs limit the number of possessions their opponents get by milking the shot clock on offense, then ensuring they're in set stances at the other end.

It helps, too, that they have some length on the perimeter, even in Leonard's absence. Dejounte Murray, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson have all proven instrustemental to keeping the Spurs' defense in the most elite zone.

Granted, this control-the-pace approach won't work against more explosive opponents over the course of a seven-game playoff series. The Spurs remain vulnerable to squads like the Warriors and Houston Rockets. Beyond those two or three juggernauts, though, they're a golden championship contender. 

1. Boston Celtics (+900)


On paper, the Boston Celtics don't look like the NBA's best defensive outfit. But then you watch them, and it all makes sense.

Team president Danny Ainge has assembled a roster brimming with like-sized wings who can switch across all outside positions, along with mobile bigs such Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis and Al Horford who can go from patrolling the paint to navigating pick-and-roll coverage in a flash.

Tack that on to head coach Brad Stevens convincing Kyrie Irving to try harder on defense than ever, and you have what you see here—championship-caliber stopping power. 

Five Worst Defenses

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (+3500)


The Minnesota Timberwolves' inclusion is a little misleading. They have a bottom-five defensive rating on the year, but they're about average since the turn of the calendar.

That they're still 26th overall, though, speaks to how bad they were to begin with. 

Yes, they have Jimmy Butler, one of the NBA's best perimeter worker bees. And sure, Karl-Anthony Towns is improving defensively—particularly when rotating around the basket. But there just isn't enough defensive talent on this team aside from these two, and Taj Gibson, for the Timberwolves to experience more than artificial championship love.

27. Orlando Magic (+200000)


No surprises here. The Orlando Magic have been a collective mess in every aspect of the game since beginning the season 8-4. And nothing about their performance has suffered more than the defense. 

Starting point guard Elfrid Payton has regressed over the past few years in this department, the Magic don't have any intimidating wing defenders other than Jonathon Simmons, and there isn't an imposing rim protector in their frontcourt rotation—except for maybe Bismack Biyombo, who they canot play too much because of how unpolished he is on the offensive end.

Buckle up, Magic fans and bettors. It's going to be a bumpy, and fruitless, ride for the near-to-distant future.

28. Sacramento Kings (+300000)


This is what happens when a team pays a ton of money to veterans who can't defend and then pivots into an all-youth movement midseason.

The Sacramento Kings have no discernible way outside this defensive pit. Staving off league-worst status is a minor miracle for them. Willie Cauley-Stein and rookie De'Aaron Fox are their sole prospects with high defensive ceilings—and both of them are so young, they're still incurring demonstrative growing pains.

Get used to seeing the Kings in the bottom five if you haven't already. They're going to be here for some time.

29. Phoenix Suns (+200000)


Scary question: How many plus defenders do the Phoenix Suns employ?

Scarier answer: We cannot be sure.

Tyson Chandler comes pretty damn close, but he's old, and his value as a rim protector plummets when he's not surrounded by one or two other strong defensive presences. Rookie Josh Jackson is supposed to be a defensive stud, but he's shown little in the way of read-and-react advancements; he also doesn't appear to have the size or brawn to square off against larger forwards.

And don't even get us started on Devin Booker. Aside from the occasional savvy play against pick-and-roll ball-handlers or in one-on-one situations, he's a train wreck here.

Bake in a handful of foul-happy bigs and general inexperience, and the Suns don't have the personnel to be more than a bottom-three defensive unit. 

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (+650)


It's not everyday you see a championship contender notch the league's worst defensive rating. In fact, it never happens. Even when defense isn't a calling card, the league's most relevant teams tend to showcase at least some level of competence.

The 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers are the exception to end all exceptions. Their pick-and-roll coverages are an inconsistent mess, and they give up more wide-open three-pointers than any other team.

Fortunately for them, their offense remains potent enough to make it out of the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for them, should they face the Rockets or Warriors in the NBA Finals, their porous defense stands to be their downfall.

One potential fix: Staggering the minutes of Isaiah Thomas, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love, all of whom are starting. Playing them all at the same time is begging for disaster to strike.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference or NBA.com.

Category : Sports Betting News

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