2017 NBA playoffs: Three key underrated defenders who deserve more recognition

The NBA is a scorer’s league, now more than ever. We’ve seen an offensive explosion this season. We’re seeing a man trying to be the first since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double. We’ve seen James Harden drop two 50-point triple-doubles. We’ve seen the Warriors jump out to the best offensive rating in history. Thirty-point performances are the norm. Last season there were 511 30-point games. There have already been 521 this season. 

So is defense irrelevant now? Far from it. The teams we see at the top of the win percentage marks on the whole are good defensive teams. Seven of the top defensive teams are currently playoff squads. Eight of the top offensive teams are playoff teams, which tells you about the importance of scoring in today’s NBA, but you still need those guys who can make big defensive plays for you. 

Here are three guys going under the radar defensively this season. 

The Celtics haven’t been good defensively this season, but Crowder has been. Opponents are shooting 2.7 percent worse vs. Crowder via NBA.com, and he ranks in the 85th percentile in defending jump shots. 

Crowder is super active, always moving, and his ability to contain even guards off the dribble is valuable for switches. 

But if you want the real reason the Celtics value Crowder so much, it’s his versatility. In a playoff environment, Crowder’s ability to defend point guards, small forwards, power forwards and small-ball centers is irreplaceable. LeBron James will hit this shot more often than he’ll miss, but watch how little room Crowder surrenders. 

And for a guy his size, his ability to hedge and recover in pick and rolls is huge. Especially since he plays next to Isaiah Thomas with so many defensive limitations. 

Crowder has honestly become such a valuable piece to the Celtics and their entire scheme that you start to understand why they are so hesitant to give him up in any trades. 

Dedmon has taken the starting spot from Pau Gasol permanently, and for good reason. 

With Dedmon on the floor, Kawhi Leonard has a 97.6 defensive rating. With Dedmon off the floor, that number jumps to 105. Dedmon makes up for all the issues that Gasol had created, and covers a lot of what LaMarcus Aldridge needs as well. He’s in the 92nd percentile on Synergy Sports. 

Blake Griffin eventually gets the and-one here, but look at the effort and precision Dedmon shows defending Griffin here: 

And even vs. super freaks like Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’s able to contain in space. 

Guards face the same problem. He has incredible ability to maintain position while moving laterally and keeping his hands high. This is C.J. McCollum: 

Dedmon could be the difference in the Spurs advancing to the conference finals or not. Everyone thought he would be a steal this season, but he might actually be the third-most important Spur on the roster. 

JaMychal Green is maybe the most underrated player on the most underrated team in the league. The Grizzlies’ starting power forward is maybe the best stretch four defender right now, as he is in the 76th percentile guarding the ball-handler and 94th percentile guarding the roll man in pick-and-rolls. Opponents are shooting 3.5 percent worse on 3-pointers vs. him, and he’s able to seamlessly hedge and then recover to contain space:

And the same is true vs. bigger, tougher opponents, like DeMarcus Cousins. Watch how Green recovers, stays with and challenges him here: 

And on top of all this, opponents are shooting just 28 percent vs. Green on spot-up shots this season. 

These three players show you what flexible, versatile, mobile defenders can do for playoff teams. Expect Crowder, Dedmon and Green to have a lot to say defensively when the playoffs come around. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

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