Ahead of free agency, we've been breaking down the best players available at various positions, as well as the best specialists, such as passers (think Rajon Rondo and Marc Gasol) and shooters (think Fred VanVleet and Joe Harris).
Today, it's time to look at the best rim protectors.
To do so, I'm using four categories to break down each player:
- The blocks: This is self explanatory - how many blocks per game a player averaged this season.
- The stops: This is where the rim protector part comes into play. Blocks are valuable, but they don't account for how many shots a player contests and alters. Using NBA.com, you can see how many shots per game a player defends around the basket and what shooting percentage they hold opponents to.
- The versatility: Krishna Narsu of The BBall Index has a handy tool that filters through the matchup data to spit out a versatility rating for each player in the league. A high versatility rating doesn't mean a player is necessarily a good defender, but it can indicate how switchable someone is.
- One stat: Also self explanatory - a stat that puts their value as a rim protector into perspective.
Got it? Great. Let's get to it.
Quick note: I'm not including Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond because it doesn't look like they'll actually be available this offseason. Davis will reportedly opt-out of his player option to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers and Drummond has said that he intends on picking up his player option, keeping him with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the foreseeable future.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Portland Trail Blazers (unrestricted)
The blocks: Nobody averaged more blocks per game than Whiteside (2.9) this season. It's the second time in his career that he'd led the NBA in blocks, the first coming in 2015-16 when he averaged a career-best 3.7 blocks per game.
The stops: Whiteside contested 9.7 shots per game within six feet of the basket this season, the most in the league. He held opponents to 49.5 percent shooting in those situations, putting him on the same page as the likes of Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner and Kristaps Porzingis.
The versatility: Whiteside posted a versatility rating of 52.7 this season, the result of him guarding centres (60.6 percent) and power forwards (17.4 percent) almost exclusively.
One stat: Whiteside was one of only two players this season to block five or more shots in at least 10 games. He did it 14 times compared to 11 for Brook Lopez.
JaVale McGee, C, Los Angeles Lakers (player option)
The blocks: McGee averaged 1.4 blocks in 16.6 minutes per game this season, ranking him 19th in the league and behind only Davis (2.3) for most on the Lakers. Per 36 minutes, McGee averaged 3.0 blocks, putting him behind only five qualified players for most in the league, one of those players being Whiteside.
The stops: McGee contested 4.6 shots per game within six feet of the basket this season and held opponents to 50.3 percent shooting.
The versatility: McGee posted a versatility rating of 54.7 this season, similar to that of Whiteside. He spent 59.7 percent of his minutes guarding centres and 16.4 percent guarding power forwards.
One stat: McGee has 1,077 blocks in his NBA career following the 2019-20 season, ranking him 85th all-time.
Nerlens Noel, C, Oklahoma City Thunder (unrestricted)
The blocks: Noel came off the bench in 54 of the 61 games he appeared in this season. The only player in the league to average more blocks per game as a reserve than Noel (1.4) was New York Knicks centre Mitchell Robinson (1.9).
The stops: Noel contested 5.0 shots per game within six feet of the basket this season and held opponents to 54.9 percent shooting, the latter being the lowest of this group.
The versatility: Noel posted a versatility rating of 55.5 this season, although he spent more time guarding power forwards (23.7 percent) than both Whiteside (17.4 percent) and McGee (16.4 percent).
One stat: Noel is one of only nine active players averaging at least one block and one steal per game in their career.
Chris Boucher, PF/C, Toronto Raptors (restricted)
The blocks: Boucher averaged 1.0 blocks in 13.2 minutes per game this season. That worked out to be 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes, ranking him 11th among qualified players.
The stops: Boucher contested 3.7 shots per game within six feet of the basket this season. Opponents shot only 49.8 percent against him in those situations.
The versatility: Boucher guarded mostly centres but spent enough time on point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards to post a versatility rating of 72.0, making him the most versatile defender on this list.
One stat: Boucher blocked 12 3-pointers this season, according to PBP Stats. Only six players blocked more 3-pointers, a list that includes Davis, Robinson and Pascal Siakam.
Robin Lopez, C, Milwaukee Bucks (player option)
The blocks: Lopez isn't a big-time shot blocker. He averaged 0.7 blocks per game this season and is averaging 1.2 blocks per game in his career.
The stops: Lopez contested 3.5 shots per game within six feet of the basket this season and held opponents to 46.1 percent shooting.
The versatility: Lopez posted a versatility rating of 53.4 this season. Some of that had to do with the system he was playing in - Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer likes to play a drop scheme to keep opponents out of the paint - but Lopez has never provided much switchability.
One stat: The only player in the league to hold opponents to a lower shooting percentage around the rim than Lopez this season was Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Jakob Poeltl, C, San Antonio Spurs (restricted)
The blocks: Poeltl averaged 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes this season, ranking him behind Whiteside (3.5) and McGee (3.0) but tying him with Noel (2.9) and putting him ahead of Boucher (2.7).
The stops: Poeltl contested 5.2 shots per game within six feet of the basket this season and held opponents to 51.3 percent shooting.
The versatility: Poeltl posted a versatility rating of 54.2 this season, in keeping with Whiteside, McGee and Lopez.
One stat: Poeltl was a per 36 minute darling this season, profiling as one of the best rim protectors in the league on paper. Only 25 years old, he's the youngest player on this list.
Dwight Howard, C, Los Angeles Lakers (unrestricted): Howard proved that he still has some gas left in the tank this season, contributing off the bench for a Lakers team that won it all. He's not the shot blocker he once was, but Howard is still capable of protecting the rim in bursts.
Serge Ibaka, C, Toronto Raptors (unrestricted): Ibaka is a far better offensive player than defensive player at this stage of his career. Even so, he's still a factor around the rim, standing at 7-feet with a 7-foot-3 wingspan.
Marc Gasol, C, Toronto Raptors (unrestricted): Gasol is clearly on the decline, but the Raptors were at their best defensively with him in the lineup during the regular season, giving up 98.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to 106.6 with him on the bench.
Montrezl Harrell, C, LA Clippers (unrestricted): Harrell is always going to be a limited shot blocker because of his size, but opponents shot only 51.4 percent against him at the rim this season, a rate similar to the aforementioned Whiteside, McGee, Boucher and Lopez.
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