- The Season's Over -

Protecting the Basket: The NBA’s Eight Absolute Best Guardians of the Rim

January 4, 2008

Josh Smith Blocks LeBron James
Josh Smith Blocks LeBron James (Icon Sports Media)

1. Marcus Camby, Denver Nuggets, 3.7 Blocks Per Game

Camby doesn’t play the fundamental man defense of a Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Rasheed Wallace, but there is simply nobody better in the NBA at discouraging penetration and compensating for mistakes on the perimeter. His 3.7 blocks per lead the NBA this season, but he also had the most blocks per game in last year’s playoffs (3.2) and regular season (3.3), the previous year’s playoffs (2.8) and regular season (3.3), and the playoffs the season before that (3.2). He’s also managed to block at least one shot in 218 of his last 234 games, an impressive feat when you consider how his minutes were limited by injury in many of those contests. Oh, and he just had another triple-double the day after Christmas, too: 10 points, 11 boards and 10 blocks.

2. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics, 1.5 Blocks Per Game

Set aside the relatively low blocks per game. If you want a lesson in Low-Post Defense 101, check out the end of Wednesday night’s Houston vs. Boston game. Fast forward to about three minutes left, and witness the 6’11″ Garnett do everything possible to keep the taller Yao from scoring. He blocks a shot, he plays him physical in the post, he denies him the ball and he steals an entry pass. The Big Ticket guards everybody from centers to point guards, chases people to the perimeter and camps underneath, comes from the help side and bodies up, fronts to deny the ball and keeps people out of the post. What it all boils down to: if Kevin Garnett decides he doesn’t want you to score on any given play, you’re probably not going to score.

3. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets, 2.3 Blocks Per Game

At 7’6″ tall, The Great Wall of China lives up to his name, both in terms of sheer size and immobility. Just by virtue of being so large and possessing arms so freakishly long Ming has been able to swat the sixth-most shots in the league this season. He doesn’t have the recovery speed to catch up to quick penetration or any fast breaks, but once he’s camped out Yao completely walls off one side of the lane. While his blocks are the highest in his career thus far, the shift from Jeff Van Gundy’s half-court game and emphasis on defense to Rick Adelman’s system has put a dent in Yao’s interior effectiveness this season.

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic, 2.7 Blocks Per Game

Dwight Howard Loves That RimHoward would not have been on this list a year ago, but like the rest of his game, he’s made great strides here this season. Dwight Howard is the most physical low-post presence on this list, averaging an NBA-best 15.4 boards per game (3.6 offensive) and hitting a phenomenal 60.6% of his FGs. Outside of Howard, the Magic roster is bereft of any interior presence, forcing Howard to do it all himself. Howard is quick and athletic enough to record his fair share of rejections playing help defense, but he specializes in manning up in the post and using his quick ups and timing to keep big men from scoring underneath.

5. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks, 3.1 Blocks Per Game

J-Smoove is another guy who doesn’t wow you with consistent man defense every possession, but he’s the most dynamic help defender in the league. He rarely camps out under the basket, preferring to use his preternatural timing and lighting-quick hops to seemingly come from nowhere in dramatic fashion. Smith gets his blocks in every possible situation, from fast breaks to point-blank hooks to outside jumpers to inside layups.

6. Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz, 2.0 Blocks Per Game

Last season was one to forget for AK-47, most of it spent pouting and feuding with Jerry Sloan, but even then Kirilenko managed 2.1 blocks per game. He’s out of Sloan’s doghouse now and back to doing what he does best: flying all over the court on defense. Fantasy owners know that there are only a handful of players in the NBA that accumulate the sheer volume of hustle stats that Kirilenko has. In just over six seasons in the league he’s tallied 1,114 total blocks. Kirilenko is one of the best help defenders around and manages his fair shair of swats around the basket, but he also sprints to the perimeter and alters more shots that anybody else in the league.

7. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns, 2.1 Blocks Per Game

Amare was poised to become one of the best big men in NBA history after his breakout 2004-05 season in which he averaged 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game on 56% FGs as a 22-year-old. After a couple of knee surgeries this man-child is a hair slower and less explosive than he once was, but Stoudemire still has pogo sticks for legs. The 2.1 blocks per game this season are a career best; that figure may be a tad inflated playing in Phoenix, where team possessions are maximized and Steve Nash lets anybody and everybody he guards penetrate at will.

8. Samuel Dalembert, Philadelphia 76ers, 2.8 Blocks Per Game

Bert’s length, athleticism and quick hands have always given him the potential to be among the league leaders in rejections per game, but he has struggled with timing, footwork problems, foul trouble and goaltending issues in his career. Dalembert seems to have turned a corner this season, however, averaging his fewest fouls in four seasons and the most blocks of his career. Hopefully he can keep up his gaudy shot-blocking numbers now that the revolving door known as Kyle Korver has left town.

Eight Honorable Mentions:
Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers, 2.8 Blocks Per Game
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs, 1.8 Blocks Per Game
Ben Wallace, Chicago Bulls, 1.8 Blocks Per Game
Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats, 1.8 Blocks Per Game
Shawn Marion, Phoenix Suns, 1.6 Blocks Per Game
Rasheed Wallace, Detroit Pistons, 1.4 Blocks Per Game
Tyson Chandler, New Orleans Hornets, 1.2 Blocks Per Game
Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies, 1.2 Blocks Per Game

Readers’ Choice for Honorable Mention:
Jermaine O’Neal, Indiana Pacers, 2.2 Blocks Per Game

Eight Potential Shot-Blocking Greats:
Sean Williams, New Jersey Nets, 2.1 Blocks Per Game
Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers, 2.0 Blocks Per Game
Andray Blatche, Washington Wizards, 1.5 Blocks Per Game
Andris Biedrins, Golden State Warriors, 1.4 Blocks Per Game
Al Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves, 1.4 Blocks Per Game
Jason Maxiell, Detroit Pistons, 1.3 Blocks Per Game
Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics. 1.2 Blocks Per Game
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks, 1.1 Blocks Per Game

36 Comments »Posted by Andrew Thell on Jan. 4, 2008 at 11:51 am in ETB Articles, NBA, NBA Fantasy News

36 Responses

what about Joel Przybilla? he should absolutely be on the list since many nba players have said he is the hardest to dunk on.

Posted by: will on January 4th, 2008 at 12:24 pm

The Vanilla Gorilla got some consideration, but he just doesn’t get enough minutes right now. I’m no hater though, I was actually in his High School athletics conference in the Twin Cities- he was at Monticello and I at Irondale. I remember him coming into our gym and dropping some crazy line like 40 points, 20 rebounds and 9 blocks.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on January 4th, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Um, Jermaine O’Neal?!? How does he not even make honorable mention? Since returning to form this year he is averaging 2.6 per and has averaged over 2 per for the last few years (when he is healthy of course).

Posted by: jeff on January 4th, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Tyrus Thomas could be in the ‘potential’ list. He’s very long and explosive and when he’s on the floor, he goes after everything and near the rim. Hopefully, he’ll start to get more minutes in the future.

Posted by: mort3965 on January 4th, 2008 at 1:39 pm

An argument could be made for Andrew Bogut. He averages 1.84bpg, 14th in the league, but the Bogeyman is also in the top three at drawing charges. Blocked shots are momentum changers, but they don’t always lead to a possession change. 100% of offensive fouls do.

Posted by: nicolas chopper on January 4th, 2008 at 2:08 pm

How is Jermaine not even mentioned in this? He averages comfortably over 2 blocks/game and only plays around 30 minutes.

Posted by: Brian on January 4th, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Interesting read Andrew. Just a thought:

It may make more sense to put per 40 minute #s for these guys.

That Dwight Howard shot is nice. The man needs a nickname.

Maybe him and Hedo can be beauty and the beast. which is funny considering Hedo may have taken Tyrone Hill’s crown as the funkiest looking dude in the L outside of Chris Kaman who btw looks liek Rik Smits after a 2 week binge.

Posted by: Joseph Lee on January 4th, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Jeff- JO is one of the better pure shot blockers in the league, but those injuries are just too much to ignore. He hasn’t come close to playing in a full season since 03-04.

Mort- Thomas certainly has the physical tools to be an elite defender, and he shows flashes of brilliance. But if his own coach can’t find minutes for him, it’s hard to get behind him. Maybe once he matures mentally.

Nicolas- Bogut was considered, and you could make an argument for him. He supposedly spent the summer working on defensive footwork and timing and the results have been good so far, but this is the first season he’s been a big-time shot blocker. If he keeps it up, he’ll earn a place on here.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on January 4th, 2008 at 2:24 pm

You guys are sleeping on Brendan Heywood. He’s not as good a help-side blocker as some of the bigs on this list, but he’s one of the top 6-8 on the ball post defenders in the game. Every big man in the league sees his averages dip when matched up against Brendan. He’s certainly a better defender than Pau Gasol and other bigs on your “honorable mention” list.

Posted by: Keynote on January 4th, 2008 at 2:41 pm


I dont think JO should be in the top 8, but at least give the guy honorable mention. While he isn’t playing full seasons, hes still consistently playing 50+ games. If you want to factor in not playing full seasons you’d definitely have to rethink your number 1 guy.

Posted by: Brian on January 4th, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I’m really surprised that darko milicic wasn’t mentioned at all, even in the potential shot blocking category. Playing only 20 min / game in 05-06, he avgd 2/game. He’s avgd 1.8 the last 2 seasons, and still only plays 25 min/game. Per 40 min for his career, he averages 3.25 / game. Cmon.

Posted by: J on January 4th, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Amazing. Tim Duncan does all that you have credited KG doing yet gets relegated to “Honorable Mention”.
It is incredible that people are foaming at the mouth at what KG does defensively when TD has been doing it all along.

Posted by: Hoyt Caldwell on January 4th, 2008 at 5:55 pm

“…possessing arms so freakishly long…”

How can you say this about Yao Ming? Yao has the Kevin Willis T-Rex arms going on. That’s a horrible off-base description.

Too many of the justifications for the rankings have nothing to do with shot-blocking ability, or even defense. Re-read the description for Amare. It has a few sentences about completely irrelevant (to the topic) information, then this: “The 2.1 blocks per game this season are a career best; that figure may be a tad inflated playing in Phoenix, where team possessions are maximized and Steve Nash lets anybody and everybody he guards penetrate at will.” So… his mediocre block numbers are his best ever, and they’re inflated by high numbers of possesssions, and bad defense on the perimeter? Then why is he on the list?

Posted by: jerome on January 4th, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Hey J- An argument could also be made for Darko is you were so inclined, but I wasn’t. Any list is going to be somewhat subjective no matter what, so maybe it’s my fault. I try to watch as much basketball as I can on a daily basis, and when I watch Milicic play he just doesn’t strike me as one of the best in the NBA at protecting the basket.

As far as Yao’s arms, they may look short due to his massive frame, but they’re still some of the longest in the NBA. At the 2004 Summer Olympic Games Ming was was listed as having a 7′ 5″ wingspan and a 9′ 8″ standing reach.

For Amare, his blocks aren’t mediocre: his 2.1 blocks per game and 63 total blocks are both eighth in the NBA. However, like everybody’s stats in Phoenix, they’re inflated by fast offense and bad defense- which is why he is behind guys who have fewer blocks like Garnett (on the best defensive team in the NBA, statistically) and Kirilenko. Stoudemire is still excellent though.

I should also mention that blocks aren’t everything here. I featured them prominently because they are the most relevant statistic, but they don’t take into account all the shots these guys alter or discourage. People simply don’t challenge a Yao Ming or Kevin Garnett as much as an Amare Stoudemire. A lot more than just blocks went into the rankings, and the most important factor was actually watching these how these guys play and how they affect the game with their defense of the basket.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on January 4th, 2008 at 6:23 pm

You missed Jamario Moon on the Raptors for potential greats. Averaging 1.57 in 25 minutes a game, and a lot of them come out of nowhere due to his crazy hops.

Posted by: Joe A on January 4th, 2008 at 6:59 pm

After the Lakers-76ers game tonight, I do not see why Bynum is not in the top 8 especially after dominating dalembert, who is in there.

He has also dominated kirilenko and amare. when faced against the “best” shot blockers who make the list, he has come out on top.

JO also deserves to be there…

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Posted by: Celtics 24/7 » Blog Archive » Today’s Links 1/5 on January 5th, 2008 at 8:54 am

Tim Duncan, a defensive monster his whole career, should rank as the no.1.

Posted by: Timmy on January 5th, 2008 at 9:40 am

Yao – “…possessing arms so freakishly long…”

Not really, but a 7’5″ wingspan and a 9’7″ reach is the best in the NBA. Only guy I know who can just tip toe and grab the hoop. Yao’s reach and wingspan are longer than Greg Oden, who is freakishly long.

If Yao has a 9’7″ reach, imagine what it is with his jump?

Posted by: Block on January 5th, 2008 at 10:23 am

Although he is injured, the best Shotblocker in the NBA and possibly in the this Era is Alonzo Mourning

Posted by: Joe O on January 5th, 2008 at 12:33 pm

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Posted by: perkisabeast.com Blog » Blog Archive » Saturday’s “pollish your nuts on his head” Links on January 5th, 2008 at 1:44 pm

i agree, alonzo is the greastest!!!

Posted by: jack w on January 5th, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Never thought I’d say this, but where’s Darko? Or Diop?

Posted by: Anonymous on January 5th, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Mount Mutombo and Alonzo are the best shot blockers of our era. Dikembe still can get down.

Posted by: Cary D on January 5th, 2008 at 11:25 pm

It’s ridiculous to mention Amare. He’s one of he worst defensive players in he league, an absolute cipher. He’s not on his man or on help.

Posted by: Adam on January 6th, 2008 at 2:14 am

He might not rate with these guys in terms of blocks per game, but tayshaun prince is the king of completely out of nowhere, ridiculous swattage. Just ask Reggie Miller.

Posted by: Anonymous on January 6th, 2008 at 6:13 am

What exactly are the criteria for this list? There are players who average more blocks than a lot of these guys, and there are guys who help improve their team’s defense a lot more.

Amare clearly doesn’t belong on this list, and a lot of the others are questionable. ‘Sheed is better than most of them, and Duncan should be #1, yet he’s only an honorable mention.

You’ve overrated “help defenders” like Josh Smith and Kirilenko. They put up good numbers, but they don’t help their team’s defense nearly as much as a boring player like Duncan does.

Posted by: Joe on January 6th, 2008 at 11:41 am

I second it that you forgot Joel Pryzbilla. His career average isn’t as high as some on your list, but if you factor in playing time, he definitely belongs.

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Posted by: El Carnival du NBA Numero Trois du Fifty, et Dans la Garage | Sports news and rumors on January 8th, 2008 at 12:36 am

Yao – “…possessing arms so freakishly long…”

Not really, but a 7′5″ wingspan and a 9′7″ reach is the best in the NBA. Only guy I know who can just tip toe and grab the hoop. Yao’s reach and wingspan are longer than Greg Oden, who is freakishly long.

If Yao has a 9′7″ reach, imagine what it is with his jump?

True Yao’s standing reach may be 9,7″ but that’s pretty low for somebody at 7,5″ barefoot and doesn’t change the fact that Yao’s still got pretty short arms for such a tall dude. There are shorter players than Yao (although they are not in the NBA) like 7,3″ Shagari Alleyne (9,8″-9,9″ standing reach) and 7,4″ Jaber Rouzbahani (he can nearly grab the rim standing flatfooted and can dunk on his tippy toe!)who have higher standing reaches than Yao. Both those players have 8 foot plus wingspans (which is why they have higher standing reaches),too, unlike Yao’s puny 7,5″ wingspan, so in reality Yao’s extra inch or two height over those two players (which come mostly from his enormous head) isn’t going to help him at all; he’s obviously at the disadvantage with both a lower and shorter reach.

Posted by: Anonymous on May 24th, 2008 at 7:08 pm

Yao is at a disadvantage against Shagari Alleyne and Jaber Rouzbahani, eh? Have you informed the Houston Chronicle? This is surely news they would find fit to print. It changes the way I look at NBA games.

Wait a minute… who drafted Shagari Alleyne? Nobody? Oh. And who does Jaber Rouzbahani play for? Zob Ahan Esfahan BC? Hmmm. So Yao still has the biggest wingpsan in the NBA? And this is a post about the NBA, so what is the relevance here?

This just in: Fred Newman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzYh4CGAbCU) makes Kobe Bryant’s jumper look like shit.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on May 24th, 2008 at 11:37 pm

I am just saying being an inch or two taller doesn’t necessarily give you the ‘height’ advantage…but obviously basketball is more about playing ability than length and arm length . Actually, Shaq’s got a longer wingspan than Yao and so does Saer Sene (both of whom are shorter by at least three inches) but Yao’s still the tallest in the league.

Posted by: Anonymous on May 28th, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Yao Ming’s 7,5″ may sound impressive , but when you take into consideration that he’s 7,5-7,6″ that’s not very impressive for his height. At that height, I would expect him to have at least 7,8″ wingspan if not more (maybe over eight feet preferably). I am only 5,9″ (w/o shoes) and i got a 6,0″ wingspan lol (three inches taller than my height) and my standing reach is 7,7(w/o shoes) but i have long arms (my shoulders aren’t that broad) and high shoulders (my head isn’t overally tall nor is my neck long).

Posted by: Anonymous on June 21st, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Yao ming’s got relatively short arms for his height and he plays more like he’s 7,3-7,4″ as a result. But 7,3-7,4″ is still very tall.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 23rd, 2008 at 7:53 pm

what about tayshaun prince?he’s one of the greatest!!

Posted by: Brandon on September 9th, 2008 at 9:08 am

“Yao ming’s got relatively short arms for his height and he plays more like he’s 7,3-7,4″ as a result. But 7,3-7,4″ is still very tall.”

haha. I think somebody who plays like he’s 7’3, still plays like one of the tallest players in the game.

Posted by: Beer Drinker on May 4th, 2010 at 12:07 am

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