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

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


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