Greatest Defenders in WNBA History

The Top Ten Defensive Players in WNBA History

The WNBA is a league that is full of incredibly talented athletes. While offensive players often steal the spotlight, there are some amazing defensive players throughout league history who deserve recognition as well. In this post, we will rank the 10 best defensive players in WNBA history, based on their individual accolades, team success, and defensive statistics. 

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1. Tamika Catchings

The first player on our list is Tamika Catchings. Catchings is a former ten-time WNBA All-Star and was named the Defensive Player of the Year FIVE times (no, that’s not a typo). Tamika led Indiana to a Finals championship in 2012 and is essentially responsible for every successful moment in the history of that franchise.

Catchings was known for her ability to defend any player on the court, no matter their position. At 6’1”, Catchings was technically listed at small forward, but she may be the most ‘positionless’ player of all time. Her ability to jump into passing lanes and disrupt plays was unreal, and with 1074 steals, she’s the WNBA’s all-time leader in that category by a significant margin.

Perhaps the most impressive line on Catchings’ ridiculous resume is the win shares. With 93.66 total career win shares, Tamika has a bigger lead on #2 all-time (Lauren Jackson) than #2 has over #15 on the list. This absolutely mind-boggling statistic is a testament to the unbridaled impact Catchings had on the floor.

2. Sheryl Swoopes

A member of the dynastic Houston Comets, Air Swoopes was a crucial founding figure of the WNBA. In fact, she was the first player to ever ink a deal with the new league. Her impact on both ends was unquestionable, and Swoopes has three league MVPs to show for it.

Swoopes is a three-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and is one of the league’s all-time leaders in steals. Her ability to affect the game as a wing/perimeter defender has not been replicated by anybody else throughout the history of the league. If you need to shut down the opposing team’s best scoring guard, Sheryl Swoopes very well might be the best of all time to achieve that task.

3. Sylvia Fowles

Perhaps the greatest defensive center of all time, Sylvia Fowles has taken home four DPOY awards in her illustrious career. She’s also a two-time WNBA champion, and was named the Finals MVP in both of her championship seasons. Fowles is the league’s all-time leading rebounder and has been a virtual lock to put up a double-double throughout her career.

Sylvia is known as a shot blocker who has anchored defenses in the traditional sense, but her foot speed and mobility set her apart from other shot-blocking centers. The versatility that Fowles can offer a defensive unit automatically raises the defensive ceiling of the other four players on the court at all times.

4. Lisa Leslie

Sparks legend Lisa Leslie is another player who deserves to be near the top of this list. Leslie was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and is one of the best shot blockers in WNBA history. At 6’5”, Leslie had the size to match up with any center and the athleticism to compete with forwards and wings. Her fingerprints are all over the WNBA’s early history and its record books: Leslie is currently fifth all-time in total rebounds, second all-time in blocks, and 17th all-time in steals. 

5. Alana Beard

If you’re looking for another player who could really shut down the opposition on the perimeter, then you need to look no further than Alana Beard. Beard was named the Defensive Player of the Year twice and was a four-time All-Defensive team member. She is also a two-time WNBA champion. Standing just 5’11”, Beard did an excellent job of using her quickness to stay in front of offensive scoring threats. She ended her career in 2019 with 709 total steals, good for 4th all-time.

6. Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner is one of the best defensive players in the game in the modern era. She has won two Defensive Player of the Year awards and is a four-time All-Defensive team member. Griner has accumulated blocks at an unprecedented rate in her career and could quite possibly retire as the all-time block leader in league history.

7. Yolanda Griffith

Griffith was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and is one of the best rebounders in WNBA history. She helped lead the Sacramento Monarchs to a WNBA championship in 2005. Griffith was known for her physical play on the defensive end of the court and anchored strong defensive units in Sacramento for years.

8. Teresa Weatherspoon

Weatherspoon won the first two Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1997 and 1998. Despite her peak years occurring before the WNBA was created, Teresa is one of the league’s all-time leaders in steals. She helped lead the New York Liberty to the WNBA Finals in 1997 and 1999, and while she’s known for her miraculous game-winning shot in game two of the ’99 finals, T-Spoon was an absolute menace on the defensive end. If she would have been able to play out a full career in the WNBA, there’s no doubt she’d be higher on this list.

9. Candace Parker

Despite being a primary scoring option for the bulk of her career, Parker has always been dominant on the defensive end.  She was crowned Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 and has been named to the All-Defensive team four times. Parker is an excellent rebounder and shot blocker who uses her size and strength to great effect on the defensive end of the court. CP3 is one of the most disruptive players in league history, and her athleticism and passing makes for easy transition buckets going the other way.

10. Lauren Jackson

Jackson won the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007 and was named to the All-Defensive team five times. Her two-way play was key to the championship runs Seattle made in 2004 and 2010. She was an excellent rebounder and a force at the rim: Jackson is fifth all-time in WNBA history with 586 blocked shots, and 16th all-time in total rebounds.

Honorable Mentions

  • Debbie Black
  • Rebekkah Brunson
  • Alysha Clark
  • Margo Dydek
  • Armintie Herrington
  • Sancho Little
  • Maya Moore
  • Breanna Stewart
  • Brittney Sykes

These are just some of the great defensive players who have left their mark on the WNBA, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. What other players would you add to this list? Let us know on Twitter @hoop_social!

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