Defense wins NBA championships. Not only is this the oldest cliche in basketball history, but it is also a true statement. The defensive end will always determine how far a contending team can go in the NBA Playoffs.
Even if a great team is based on its offense, like the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets, timely defensive stops will usually take that team to the biggest prize in the league.
Underrated defenders in the NBA this season
In the 2020-21 NBA campaign, some elite players have had great performances for their team on the defensive side of the court. Usual suspects like Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo are objectively among the strongest candidates for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
However, there are some players who have been essential to the defensive system of their teams. Most of them have not received the respect they deserve as defensive specialists in the league.
In this article, we will list the five most underrated defenders in the 2020-21 NBA season.
Without further ado, let us start.
#5 Montrezl Harrell - LA Lakers
The reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner, Montrezl Harrell, has been stellar for the LA Lakers off the bench.
Normally, Harrell's main contribution comes on the offensive side of the court. However, he's been very good defensively in the 2020-21 NBA season.
Even though Harrell has started just one game for the LA Lakers, he has been available in the team's 48 games of the current season and has played great defensively.
Harrell ranks fifth in Defensive Rating with 105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions and is second in the team, behind LeBron James. He is 13th in the entire NBA in Defensive Win Shares. Moreover, he is fifth in charges drawn per game among players with at least 20 minutes per game and 20 games played.
#4 Clint Capela - Atlanta Hawks
Clint Capela has not really been an underrated defender for most of the 2020-21 NBA season, but his name was not mentioned in the NBA's most recent DPOY ranking. Ten names were mentioned on the NBA's official site as candidates for the NBA DPOY, and Capela was not among those players.
However, the Atlanta Hawks' center has been great for the team on the defensive end, and the crew around him isn't really the greatest defensive unit a team can have.
Still, Capela is sixth in the NBA in Defensive Rating, 14th in Defensive Win Shares, first in Defensive Rebound Percentage, third in blocks per game, and fifth in Block Percentage.
#3 Bam Adebayo - Miami Heat
Bam Adebayo is a solid defensive presence for the Miami Heat and is quickly becoming one of the best defenders in the NBA. Despite his merits on defense, Adebayo has not been mentioned as a candidate for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
Despite not being heavily recognized as one of the league's best defenders, Adebayo is versatile on defense and can protect the paint.
Adebayo is 11th in the league in Defensive Rating, sixth in Defensive Win Shares (team leader), and 10th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (team leader).
#2 Jimmy Butler - Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler is the Miami Heat's most essential player, and the outcome of games is drastically different with him on the floor. Butler has missed 15 games in the 2020-21 NBA season, and the Miami Heat went 4-11 in that stretch.
With Butler on the floor, the Miami Heat have a 21-13 record, which is no coincidence. He is averaging 21.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game.
Butler has been huge for the team on offense but has also been a great presence on defense. He has the team's best Defensive Rating (106.3) and is ninth in the NBA.
Moreover, Butler is second in the league in Defensive Box Plus/Minus and is tied with Jrue Holiday for the most loose balls recovered per game with 1.4.
#1 Nikola Jokic - Denver Nuggets
Most diehard NBA fans understand the tremendous ability that Nikola Jokic displays on offense night in and night out. However, his defense has also been solid so far.
The Serbian center is the frontrunner for the 2020-21 NBA MVP mainly for his offensive prowess because his defensive abilities have often been under scrutiny.
Jokic has been stellar on offense as he is averaging 26.5 points, 11 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game with 57/43/87 shooting splits. He is also the Denver Nuggets' "point center."
Jokic's defensive ability has surprisingly been good this season. The Serbian center is fifth in Defensive Win Shares and is fourth in Defensive Box Plus/Minus in the entire NBA. He is also ninth in the NBA in steals per game with 1.6.