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PHOTOS: The WNBA’s Defensive Players of the Decade

As the 2010s come to a close, it’s time to reflect on the WNBA’s Defensive Players of the Year — those rejection-minded baddies out to steal, block and rebound their way into the record books.

WNBA Finals - Game Four
Tamika Catchings (left) and Sylvia Fowles together won five of the decade’s 10 Defensive Player of the Year awards. Just three other players collected the rest.
Photo by Michael Hickey/ Getty Images

Defensive Players of the Year are the baddies of the league, those players who get their jollies from wrecking an opponent’s day — well, at least, her play. With active hands and sheer will, they grab rebounds to give their teams a new possession or a second chance to score. A hard rejection can send a clear message that only perhaps expletives could replace. Not to mention that these women are thieves. As the 2010s wind to a close, Swish Appeal reflects on the WNBA’s Defensive Players of the Decade — an elite group of just five players.

Tamika Catchings — 2010, 2012

2010 season averages

18.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.2 steals

2012 season averages

17.4 points,, 7.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.0 steals

Indiana Fever v Washington Mystics
Tamika Catchings (left) rises up to block a shot attempt from Monique Currie during an Indiana Fever-Washington Mystics game in July 2010.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

In the 2010s, Tamika Catchings won her fourth and fifth Defensive Player of the Year awards. No other player in WNBA history has won the award five times. Catchings earned her first in 2005, a year after Leslie Leslie won it and two years after the honor went to Sheryl Swoopes, underscoring how Catchings dominated the WNBA across not only decades, but eras; she won her second and third DPOY trophies in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Though willing to block any shot and collect as many rebounds as possible — she ranks third all-time in rebounds, with 3,316 career boards — Catchings’ defensive specialty was steals. She leads the league with 1,074 career steals. With Ticha Penicheiro in second place with 764, and everyone else in the top 10 either retired or nearing retirement, Catchings should hold onto that record for years, if not decades, to come.

Sylvia Fowles — 2011, 2013, 2016

2011 season averages

20.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.2 steals

2013 season averages

16.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks

2016 season averages

13.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1.3 steals, 1.2 assists

Chicago Sky v San Antonio Silver Stars
Sylvia Fowles (right) transforms into a human wall of defense for the Chicago Sky during a game against the San Antonio Silver Stars in August 2011.
Photos by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Showing that her defensive prowess isn’t team-specific, Fowles won her first two Defensive Player of the Year awards with Chicago Sky and her third as a member of the Minnesota Lynx. Fowles’ defense was integral to both teams’ success — the Sky’s 2014 WNBA Finals run and the Lynx’s 2015 and 2017 championships. Eleven years into a decorated career, Fowles can still do damage on the leader boards. Her 3,332 career rebounds place her second of all time behind another defensive-minded Lynx star: Rebekah Brunson. Fowles is fourth on the all-time blocking list, behind Brittney Griner (third), Lisa Leslie (second) and Margot Dydek (first). With mostly retired players behind her to round out the top 10, Fowles should stay near the top for the foreseeable future.

Brittney Griner — 2014, 2015

2014 season averages

15.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 1.6 assists

2015 season averages

15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.0 blocks, 1.3 assists

Phoenix Mercury v Los Angeles Sparks
Brittney Griner (right) has her own plans for Candace Parker’s shot attempt during a game between the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks in July 2014.
Photo by Chris Elise/Getty Images

To top her 2014 Defensive Player of the Year performance, Griner averaged a clean four blocks per game in 2015 to repeat for the award. Her rejection-minded rim protection was an X-factor to the Phoenix Mercury’s championship-winning 2014 season. In just seven seasons, Griner has blocked her way to 636 career rejections, good enough for third in WNBA history. She reached 500 career blocks in 2018, faster than player in league history. Depending on how long she plays, Griner has a chance to catch and pass second-place Leslie’s 822 blocks, while getting to Dydek’s 877 career blocks will require a concerted effort on Griner’s part. It seems likely she’s up for the challenge.

Alana Beard — 2017, 2018

2017 season averages

6.9 points , 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.0 steals

2018 season averages

4.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals

WNBA Finals - Game Four
Alana Beard battles Maya Moore for the ball in the WNBA Finals between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx in October 2017.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Alana Beard is a master of the intangibles. She is never unwilling to get her hands dirty battling for the ball. Thirteen years into her WNBA career, she won her first, but assuredly long overdue, Defensive Player of the Year award while a member of the Los Angeles Sparks, who won the championship the year before. Beard repeated for the award in 2018, a season in which the box score did not support her cause. But those who watch her play understand the defensive pressure she puts on opponents, especially in transition. For those who need hard numbers to accept Beard’s defensive prowess, she has recorded 710 career steals and ranks third all-time behind Penicheiro (second) and Catchings (first).

Natasha Howard — 2019

2019 season averages

18.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.7 blocks

Seattle Storm v Los Angeles Sparks
Natasha Howard slivers to the basket through defenders against the Los Angeles Sparks in September 2019.
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

In direct contrast to Beard’s style of defensive, it’s a case of “numbers don’t lie” for Natasha Howard. After coming off the bench to help the Minnesota Lynx to a championship in 2017, Howard shined in a starting role for the Seattle Storm the following year, help the franchise to its third title. With the Storm’s superstars out with injury in 2019, Howard put together an All-Star-caliber year. Just five years into her WNBA career, if Howard keeps this up, she’ll find her name atop the rebounding leader board soon enough.

Also in this series:

PHOTOS: The WNBA’s Sixth Women of the 2010s