When it comes to defense, James knows a thing or two about stopping his opponents. Along with being in the top-10 in steals, he’s a five-time NBA All-Defensive first-teamer and has made some incredible chase-down blocks in his career. He currently averages 1.7 steals per game this season.
James is tenth on the list, but how far is he away from No. 1? If he hopes to catch the top player, the 37-year-old forward might have to pick up the pace.
Here’s an updated list of the top-10 NBA players in steals:
The Utah Jazz teams of the 1990s were led by the dynamic duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone. Stockton, the 6-foot-1 point guard, knew how to take the ball away from the opposition.
His 3,265 steals are the most in league history by a wide margin — over 500 more than the next player on this list. In addition, he was the league’s steals champion in 1988-89 averaging 3.2 per game, one of seven players to average more than three steals in a season, per StatMuse. Stockton ranked No.1 in steals again in 1991-92 and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive second-team five times in his career.
He’s roaming the sidelines as the Dallas Mavericks head coach nowadays, but Kidd was looking for steals on the hardwood when he played from 1994-2013. He was especially skilled early in his career, where he averaged two or more steals a game from 1995-2003. Kidd was a four-time All-Defensive first-team selection and averaged 1.9 steals per game during his career.
Many recognized Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan for his sensational scoring ability, as he ranks fifth all-time in points scored. But he was equally great on the defensive end.
He led the league in steals three times (1987-88, ’89-90 and ’92-93) and won the Defensive Player of the Year in 1988. He was a nine-time first-team All-Defensive selection in his 15-year NBA career, tied with Kobe Bryant, Gary Paytonand Kevin Garnett for the most in league history.
Nicknamed “The Glove,” Payton was exceptional at plucking the ball away from his foes — and talking trash to them. He led the league in steals during the 1995-96 season, which helped him secure Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was selected to the All-Defensive team nine times, all first-team. Payton entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Steals: 2,402 and counting
Chris Paul is still playing in the NBA, adding to his 2,402 career steals. He averages 1.9 steals per game this season for the Suns, his most since 2018-19. The 36-year-old guard has led the league in steals six times, four of those spanning from 2011-2014. He’s also a nine-time All-Defensive selection — seven on the first team.
Class of 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Cheeks never led the league in steals during his NBA career, but he’s still regarded as an elite defender. He averaged 2.1 steals per game for his career and averaged two or more in his first ten seasons.
Scottie Pippen was one of the best defenders of his era and the first forward to appear on the all-time steals list. The six-time champion averaged 2.9 steals a game in 1994-95, helping him secure the league’s steals title. In 17 seasons, he made the NBA’s All-Defensive team 10 times, eight as a first-team selection.
Clyde Drexler’s consistency on the defensive end helped him average two steals a game for his career. Although he’s top-10 all-time in steals, he does not have an All-Defensive selection, a unique distinction from the other players on this list. After playing 16 seasons, Drexler was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.
Although his post moves were smooth, Hall of Fame big man Hakeem Olajuwon was a force on defense. He won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Awards from 1993-95, the same years he won his championships with the Houston Rockets. Olajuwon made the All-Defensive first team five times and is the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks. In addition, he’s the only center to rank in the top 10 all-time for blocks and steals.
Steals: 2,113 and counting
James is the newest addition to the top-10 and joins his friend Paul as the only active players to rank in the top-10. The Lakers forward could ascend higher on this list as the season progresses. He’s within striking distance of Olajuwon and Drexler and could pass them before the year ends. However, he has a long way to go if he wants to catch Stockton at No. 1.
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