Paul Pierce wrote a column last year about the most difficult players to guard in the NBA. It’s a great time to revisit it. The 38-year-old Clippers small forward has seen his fair share of combat in the NBA. The former ex-Celtics NBA champion and 10-time All-Star is 6’7 and 235 pounds, boasting defensive prowess like few others.
Pierce started off by defining the NBA as being in the era of the point guard. I attribute this purely to the game-play of Steph Curry. Any doubters that Curry shouldn’t be considered one of the best players in the history of the NBA should look at how the man has changed the role of his position.
Five to six years ago, the NBA was dominated by the physically imposing wing players, and Pierce described how he was in charge of stopping them on defense. Here are the five toughest players to guard, according to the defensive legend.
1. Kobe Bryant
You knew Kobe was going to be on this list, there’s no doubt about that. ‘Black Mamba’ shook everybody from Michael Jordan to LeBron James during his reign in the NBA. He took charge of the Lakers and created a team where he could have the ball as much as he wanted and return dividends.
“Kobe has the mentality of a basketball serial killer. He’s going to come at you every single way possible and he’s not going to let up.” Pierce said in the article for The Players’ Tribune.
“Once Kobe knows he has you, he’s going to keep attacking you. He’ll throw you down, beat you up and even when you’re knocked out, he’ll keep hitting you.”
Kobe’s strategy was to break down the defender by taking so many shots. He broke guys’ confidence and then continued to go after them. The Celtics won against the Lakers in 2008, but were shut out by Kobe in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals.
2. Tracy McGrady
T-Mac is 6’9 with long arms and hops like no other. He could shoot easily over any defender. Pierce says that anytime McGrady jumped, he got so high that you were at his will. He was the type of player where you just had to hope he missed.
Pierce described his strategy for combating McGrady: “Since there was no way to stop Tracy’s shot, you just had to do everything you could to make sure he didn’t get in a position to shoot.”
This meant an extremely physical game even before McGrady got the ball.
3. Vince Carter
Pierce describes Vince Carter as a true athletic freak. Carter was known for posterizing the greats and would get four to five highlights every game.
“My mission would always be not to make the Vince Carter highlight reel, so before the game even started, he was already in my head,” Pierce explained.
This showtime sort of athleticism is a cerebral play. Opponents would up their defensive game to prevent Carter from driving in for a dunk and putting them on a SportsCenter replay, but then he would get hard from 3-point range. Tough position to be in.
4. LeBron James
LeBron James is one of the fastest players in the NBA and easily the most athletic. At 6’8 and 260 pounds, you do not want LeBron coming at you full speed by the basket. Pierce says the only way to stop LeBron is to hope he’s having an off night. If he gets to your side, you can’t keep up with him. If he drops a shoulder into you, you can’t overpower him. He can also finish with his left and right with ease. His ability to move the ball around is also phenomenal. He wears you down and draws fouls.
“The only way to stop LeBron from getting an and-one is to straight up tackle him. Slapping down on his hands simply won’t work – he’s too strong.”
After having to stick LeBron all night, you are going to be feeling it for a few days after. This is dangerous during playoff time when games are only a few days away.
5. Carmelo Anthony
Pierce claims that Carmelo is the most difficult player to guard. Every component of his game pays off in buckets.
“A lot of guys might shoot better from certain areas, so you try to force them elsewhere on the floor,” Pierce said. “Carmelo doesn’t have a spot on the floor where he can’t consistently hit shots.”
Carmelo’s shooting touch and physicality puts defenders in a very tough position. Pierce says Carmelo’s post game is better than Kobe’s, and Carmelo’s jump shot game is better than LeBron’s. “If you give him space to shoot, he’ll make it many more times than he misses it.”
Many guys are going to be thrown into the fire in the 2017 season. Now’s not a bad time to start analyzing some defensive strategies to stop the best from making you the fall guy on SportsCenter or dropping 40+ on you. Vince Carter might be 39 but he is still on the Grizzlies’ roster and ready to do damage. You already know you’re going to have a bad time playing King James in Cleveland. The Knicks look dangerous enough to give Carmelo an opportunity to finally get a ring.
Who’s going to stop them?