Do NBA Players Don’t Play Defense Anymore?

What happened to the defense in the NBA?

Don’t they even practice them anymore?

NBA players are still playing defense today just not as much as they did decades ago. This is because teams have evolved to focus more on offense to outscore their opponents.

Aside from that, the rule changes and increase in the skill of competition makes it hard for defense to shine today. So, let’s take a look at what exactly causes these.  

Do NBA Players Don’t Play Defense Anymore?

Over the years, the defense in the NBA seems to visibly worsen or so the old heads would say.

But is this really the case?

The truth is defense is not the priority now for most teams. But not because players are lazy. But because there have been so many changes over the years.

Here are the exact reasons:

1. The league has evolved to focus on offense

Over the years, NBA teams started taking more shots per game. This started in the early 2000s and evolved in the Golden State era where everyone shoots threes.

Back in 2003, the average points per game of the Dallas Mavericks were 104.9 which was first in the league.

But in today’s game, that would be the 28th place. Teams now are averaging well over 115 ppg.

So, when a team is scoring like crazy, the rest tend to copy. Now, everyone shoots threes even a center.

When you compare different NBA eras like this, you’ll see that defense didn’t really die. But the offense has just risen more than ever to the point that teams are more focused on outscoring each other.  

Ultimately, the NBA is a business and fans love to see their favorite players scoring more than just defending.

2. Rule changes

On the 2004-05 season, the NBA implemented the hand check rule. The rule prevents defenders from placing their hands on the opponent unless they’re near the basket.

This rule changed the game because it allowed perimeter players to get free and score far from the basket.

Before the hand check rule, there was more physicality in the NBA. Now, we mistake non physicality for not playing defense a lot.

But that’s because of rules like this where players must be more careful not to overly exert otherwise, they’re called for fouls.

It doesn’t help that referees are rewarding players more now with just a bit of a contact and the right angle. Thankfully, the league is noticing this and are making gradual adjustments.

3. Higher competition

To the untrained eye, it might seem like NBA players now aren’t playing defense. But the truth is that the level of competition has just become higher.

Just ask yourself, how do you stop a 7-footer freak of nature that can dunk and finish in the rim however he wants?

Or how about when a player pulls up from the logo every time?

Most teams can’t even stop Stephen Curry from shooting even if they double or triple team him.  

So, it’s clear that players today have decades of gameplay to learn from and new technologies and strategies to help them improve quickly.

We can look at it this way. The offensive skills of players have evolved more quickly over the past years. But the defensive skills remained almost the same.

So when there’s so many ways to score now than ways to defend, then the result is today’s league.

NBA Defensive Ratings Before vs. Now

Fans of the game can visibly see a lot of lapses in defense in today’s game. But as we mentioned before, there are a lot of reasons for it not because they’re lazy.

But how does defense in today’s game really look like through the stats?

To understand this, we’ll look at the defensive ratings of teams in the past versus now. Basically, this rating determines how many points a player gives up per 100 possessions. This means the lower the rating is, the better.

In the 2021-22 NBA season, the Boston Celtics led the league in defensive rating with 106.2. If we compare that to the 1996-97 season, that would be the 17th place.

So, there’s definitely a small change there but not to the point that we can fully say that teams don’t play defense now.

That’s because back in 1996, the top defensive team had a rating of 99.2 while all of the teams today are in the hundreds. This could mean that defense is getting bad, but it also means that teams shoot now more than ever.

Just take the 3-point revolution as an example. The ratio of 3 point attempts by teams has increase from 2.3% in the 80s to 39.2% in 2020.

As we said, the primary focus of most NBA teams now is their offense.

Top Defensive Teams in the NBA

Now we know that teams shoot now more than ever. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t play defense anymore. In fact, the best teams in the league today have a healthy balance of the two.

You might be surprised that the offensive heavy Golden State Warriors ranked 2nd in defensive rating in the 2021-22 season. This is a team that has revolutionized shooting forever and they play incredible defense!

Then, they played Boston Celtics which is the number one team in defensive rating in that season as well. It was a close match at the start with a chance for an upset but in the end, the offensive prowess of Steph Curry was just too much even for the best defensive team.


Basketball is an ever-evolving sport and it’s now the era of offense. Although defense isn’t dead, it’s not the priority anymore of NBA teams now.

Besides, fans love to see players draining threes and dunking on people more than a normal defensive stop.

Related posts:

Leave a Comment