A look at a list of top candidates for the EuroLeague Best Defender award on the eve of the 2021-22 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season. helps make the case that defense wins championships. Why you ask? Because six of the players on this list are EuroLeague champions! Let's have a look.
Bryant Dunston, Anadolu Efes Istanbul
A two-time EuroLeague Best Defender and the competition's all-time leader in blocks, Bryant Dunston anchors the frontline for defending champion Anadolu Efes Istanbul. Unlike some other rim protectors on this list, Dunston relies less on his size and more on his quick leap to challenge from the weak side and swat shots. Once he disrupts a few shots from the weak side, the opponents are off-kilter.
Pierria Henry, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul
No player has recorded more steals over the past two seasons than Pierria Henry, who took his ball-hawking skills to Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul over the summer. A quick, clever and tough on-the-ball defender, Henry's value is not only in the steals he collects – 99 (1.68 per game) since 2019, but in the time he forces opposing point guards to waste in setting up the offense and thus strengthening his team's defense at every position.
Kyle Hines, AX Armani Exchange Milan
The ultimate team player, Kyle Hines has been doing it all for teams for more than a decade and is now second on the all-time charts for blocked shots. He is a four-time EuroLeague champion and a two-time Best Defender who uses his great footspeed, quick hands and fantastic timing to surprise and disrupt bigger players resulting in steals and blocks, or his strength to nullify them on the blocks. What's more, his experience has made Hines a leader on both ends of the floor.
Nikola Kalinic, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade
Nikola Kalinic is back home with his former club Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and figures to have a bigger role than ever before on both sides of the ball. The same skills that make him a nightmare to guard are what make Kalinic a superior defender; he has the combination of speed and length to match up with any player. What's more, Kalinic brings a level of tenacity to the floor that few players can match, so when he picks the opponent's best scorer to guard, that player is in trouble.
James Nunnally, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv
Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv sought after James Nunnally this offseason for the three traits he is best known for: three-point shooting, defense and experience. A 50-40-90 shooter over the past two seasons, Nunnally is brilliant both as a lockdown defender on the wings or a team help man. As with many elite defensemen, statistics don't always make the best case for Nunnally, but there is no doubt that Maccabi will be better on defense with him on the floor.
Georgios Papagiannis, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens
At times it's hard to remember that Georgios Papagiannis is only 24 years old and that the Panathinaikos OPAP Athens center is still improving. He has established himself as one of the top pivotmen in the league and can dominate games through his rebounding and shot-blocking. In fact, Papagiannis's elite rim-protection skills often cause opposing players to give up on the paint altogether and settle for mid-range shots. When your defense causes the opponent to change his plans, you know you are top-notch.
Kostas Papanikolaou, Olympiacos Piraeus
The long arms of Kostas Papanikolaou have been a mainstay for 10 seasons with Olympiacos Piraeus. He should collect both his 1,000th career rebound and 100th career block this season and thus become only the sixth player to ever reach those numbers plus 200 career steals. After an injury-plagued season, Papanikolaou looks to get back to top form and become his typical game-changing nuisance on defense.
Dyshawn Pierre, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul
As a EuroLeague rookie last season, Dyshawn Pierre played a key role off the bench for Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. The small forward plays fantastic pick-and-roll defense because no team gets an advantage if he switches since Pierre is strong enough to handle big men and quick enough to frustrate guards. Now in his second season, Pierre's role should only grow and that is not good news for the players he guards.
Walter Tavares, Real Madrid
Nicknamed Sergeant Swat, Real Madrid center Walter "Edy" Tavares is a two-time reigning Best Defender and perhaps the most intimidating center in the game. A 2.20-meters, Tavares owns the painted area on the floor and because he is so light on his feet, there is no getting around him. He also comes off the best offensive season of his career. However, Tavares appears on this list for his defense and in recent years, he has been second to none.
Victor Wembanyama, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
By far the youngest player on this list, Victor Wembanyama was just 16 years of age when he blocked 4 shots in his 7DAYS EuroCup debut with Nanterre 92. Now that he's stepped up to the EuroLeague with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne, there is sure to be a learning curve. However, when Wembanyama is on the floor, the 2.20-meter center promises to follow in the footsteps of the best defensive centers in basketball and to wreak havoc on would-be scorers.