Lists of top defensive coaches and teams are very deceptive because they fail to take into account the connection between offense and defense. Let me explain.
Good defense is a function of good offense. A better way to say it is that good defense BEGINS with good offense. The most important factor in playing good defense is to “set” the defense 5 vs. 5 each trip down the floor. This is best accomplished through prudent shot selection and low turnover rates. In addition, disciplined offensive organization puts the players in position to “set” the defense consistently.
Further, it can be assumed that a team exhibiting prudent shot selection and low turnover rates will also score more often. The 4-5 seconds gained as the ball goes through the basket and before it is inbounded and advanced up the floor provides the scoring team more time to “get back” and “set” the defense.
The common denominator with the individuals mentioned as top defensive coaches in your post (Jackson, Riley, Brown, Popovich, et al) is that they are each HIGHLY DISCIPLINED OFFENSIVE COACHES. For example, Jackson’s (Tex Winter’s) Triangle Offense is predicated on “not forcing” scoring opportunities and stresses “proper court balance” whenever a shot is attempted.
Dean Oliver makes a compelling case on behalf of offense winning championships (as opposed to defense) in an article posted on his website. Again, not to put words in Dean’s mouth … after reading his findings one can deduce that good offense puts a team in the best possible position to play good defense.
The game of basketball changed forever with the elimination of the center jump after each made basket in 1937. As a result of this rule change, basketball defense and offense became inextricably connected. And as such, it is impossible to separate the truly great defensive coaches from their counterparts on the offensive end.