After looking at the best shooters in free agency, we're turning our attention to the best rim protectors in this summer's class. It's a list comprised of only centres, with all but one of them being unrestricted free agents.
UFA = Unrestricted Free Agent, RFA = Restricted Free Agent, PO = Player Option, TO = Team Option
Brook Lopez, UFA
2018-19 salary: $3.4 million
Despite being the ninth-highest paid player on the roster this season, Brook Lopez was the starting centre on the best defensive team in the league.
Not only did he average a career-best 2.2 blocks per game, Lopez held opponents to 51.1 percent shooting around the basket. That was the eighth-best rate in the league among qualified players (at least 40 games played), besting even a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert.
Lopez's success as a rim protector wasn't a case of small sample size, either, as only nine players contested more shots than him in that area on the season. It helped the Bucks keep teams to league-low 42.2 points per game in the paint during the regular season, a big reason why they moved past the Utah Jazz for the best defensive rating in the NBA.
When combined with his 3-point shooting, Lopez is one of the more unique big men in the league.
Robin Lopez, UFA
2018-19 salary: $14.4 million
Standing at 7-feet and 275 pounds, Robin Lopez is a similar presence in the paint as his brother, Brook Lopez.
For the first time since 2011-12, Lopez was primarily a backup this season - the result of the Bulls selecting Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh pick in the 2018 NBA Draft - but he still blocked 1.1 shots per game and limited opponents to 53.0 percent shooting at the rim.
Lopez posted similar numbers as a starter last season, blocking 0.8 shots per game and limiting opponents to 55.2 percent shooting at the rim.
While he isn't the shooter that his brother is, Lopez was among the league leaders in scoring in the post last season and does all of the little things that make a difference at the centre position, from boxing out and setting hard screens to protecting the rim.
In the right situation, he could still make a difference.
JaVale McGee, UFA
2018-19 salary: $2.4 million
JaVale McGee was one of only six players to block multiple shots per game this season, joining Myles Turner, Mitchell Robinson, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez. He was almost just as effective as altering shots at the rim as Lopez, too, holding opponents to 52.0 percent shooting on 6.4 attempts per game.
McGee was so dominant defensively at the start of the season that he was getting early Defensive Player of the Year buzz, both from the media and his teammates.
LeBron James threw JaVale McGee's name out there as a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate at shootaround today. And there's actually a case to be made. McGee might be the best bargain in the league making the vet's minimum of $2.4 million.- Dave McMenamin (@mcten) November 3, 2018
McGee, however, wasn't able to maintain that torrid pace after he missed seven games in December due to pneumonia. He ended the season on a high, but the Lakers finished with a defensive rating of 111.1 with him on the court, down from 105.4 with him on the bench.
Even so, McGee has proven to be an elite rim protector who can impact the game on both ends in spurts, both as a starter and a reserve.
Jonas Valanciunas, UFA
2018-19 salary: $16.5 million
Few players protected the rim as well as Jonas Valanciunas this season - by the numbers, at least.
In addition to 1.1 blocks per game, opponents shot 50.2 percent when Valanciunas was standing between them and the rim. That was the fourth-best rate in the entire league among qualified players (again, at least 40 games played), behind only TJ Leaf, Derrick Favors and Hassan Whiteside.
Valanciunas has never been known for his defence, but he's a huge body in the paint as a 7-footer with a massive 7-foot-6 wingspan. He's gotten better at using that size to his advantage as his career has progressed, to the point where he's no longer a negative on that end of the floor.
That's a huge development considering Valanciunas is a walking double-double, capable of scoring upwards of 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds on any given night.
Maxi Kleber, RFA
2018-19 salary: $1.4 million
Whereas the likes of Brook Lopez, JaVale McGee and Jonas Valanciunas are at their best hanging back in the paint, Maxi Kleber is more of a new-age centre, in that he's comfortable switching onto perimeter players.
According to Bobby Karalla of Mavs.com, opponents shot only 18-for-53 (34.0 percent) when the German switched on to them after a pick-and-roll this season, a remarkable rate that put him ahead of the Draymond Greens and Clint Capelas of the league. Not all of those possessions ended with Kleber blocking their shot, but a decent amount of them did.
In addition to having the foot speed to switch, Kleber has the explosion to quickly recover when a player does take him off the dribble.
In total, Kleber averaged 1.1 blocks per game in his sophomore season with the Dallas Mavericks while giving up only 53.1 percent shooting at the rim. Being a restricted free agent, the Mavericks will have the opportunity to match any offer he receives this summer.
Al Horford, UFA - One of the best all-around defenders at his position, Horford is mobile enough to guard out of his position and a good enough rim protector to anchor the paint.
Dewayne Dedmon, UFA - More of the mould of Brook Lopez, Dedmon can protect the rim and stretch the floor out to the 3-point line.
Ivica Zubac, RFA - The youngest player on this list, Zubac helped the LA Clippers make the playoffs this season with his solid play on both ends.
Boban Marjanovic, UFA - The biggest player in the league at 7-foot-3 and 290 pounds, Marjanovic is as imposing as it gets.
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