The discussion and debate surrounding the NBA’s best rim protector is misinformed and, quite frankly, very frustrating to listen to sometimes. I think a lot of casual fans don’t understand the difference between a shot blocker and a rim protector - and yes, THERE IS a difference. Although a blocked shot is a lot more visually appealing and exciting than a contested (and missed) layup, we need to modify our understanding of rim protecting to include these missed layups, because they are just as effective as blocks. In fact, there is a legitimate argument to be made that a missed layup is actually MORE beneficial to your team than a blocked shot. The statistics are nowhere to be found, but I would venture a guess that a team on defense is far more likely to retrieve the ball as a result of a missed layup than a blocked shot; a large portion of blocked shots either end up out of bounds or back out on the 3 point line where the offensive players are more likely to be. Obviously there are also missed layups that are recovered by the offensive team, but logic would tell me that is far less likely to happen than on blocked shots.
Taking contested (and missed) layups into consideration in addition to shot blocking ability allows us to more holistically evaluate a player’s rim protection ability. That being said, I will be looking at two statistics which I think accurately determine how effective someone is as a rim protector. The first is block percentage (BP%); this is the percentage of 2 point attempts that are blocked by a player when they are on the court. I chose this stat over blocks per game because BPG has more variables that are impossible to control for (player’s minutes, team pace, etc). The second statistic is defensive field goal percentage within 6 feet of the hoop (DFG%<6ft). This allows us to understand the impact that a shot blocker has even when he doesn’t actually block the shot (which I explained the importance of above). When looking at these 2 statistics, and only considering players who have played more than 20 games and defend more than 3 shots per game within 6 feet, there are only 5 players who rank in the top 10 in BOTH. Both the numbers and the eye test suggest that these guys are the top 5 rim protectors in the league, and now I’ll go about ranking them!
5) Jarrett Allen: #6 BP% (5.6%), #5 DFG% (46.6), 1.8 fouls/game
It’s incredible to think that Jarrett Allen is only 22 years old. It seems like he’s steadily improved season after season, yet he still has a lot of time to even further develop his skills. In terms of his rim protecting ability, Allen really has all the prototypical tools that a team would want. He’s 6’11 with a 7’5 wingspan and is very quick off his feet with great leaping ability. He pairs these physical tools with incredible timing and instincts; you’ll often see offensive players try to give 3 or 4 up-fakes around the rim before going up, only for Allen to guess perfectly and block the eventual shot attempt. Allen also has an excellent second jump; as I mentioned earlier, many blocks end up back in the offensive players’ hands, so it’s pivotal to be able to go back up quickly for the second shot attempt. There’s no glaring weakness in Allen as a shotblocker - in fact, he’s very well rounded and has literally everything you could want in a rim protector - but there are simply 4 rim protectors who have put up better stats than him so far this season. That being said, Allen is the youngest player on this list, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a top 5 rim protector in the league for years to come. If I had to guess, I would say that Jarrett Allen will surpass most, if not all, of the guys ahead of him on this list within the next few seasons, and that’s why I predict he will be a 1st or 2nd team all defense player next season
4) Clint Capela: #4 BP% (6.3%), #10 DFG% (48.8%), 2.2 fouls/game
Capela, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated NBA players. What he lacks offensively he makes up for in his rim protecting ability and overall defensive game. Standing at 6’10 with a 7’4.5 wingspan, Capela is by far the best athlete on this list; he’s the quickest off his feet, the highest jumper, and he gets up and down the court the fastest. It’s truly special to watch Capela get up and down the court and still play with incredible energy on both ends - he’s got to be one of the best cardio athletes, especially for his size, in the NBA. He uses this elite athleticism and motor to be an absolute anchor for a Hawks team that struggles guarding teams on the perimeter. The most unique skill that Capela has as a rim protector, though, is his ability to block/contest shots with both hands. I haven’t seen other players be able to do this, especially players who contest as many shots as Capela does. This rare ability allows Capela to cover A LOT MORE space than he would be able to otherwise. He pairs these abilities together - elite athleticism and ambidextrous shot blocking - to be one of the most feared defensive big men in the league. Capela is only 26 years old (surprisingly) so I think he’ll be on this list for the next couple years.
3) Myles Turner: #1 BP% (9.6%), #3 DFG% (44.7%), 3.7 fouls/game
I’m well aware that Myles Turner is #1 in BP% and #3 in DFG%, and it therefore won’t surprise me if people are a little bit rattled that he’s only number three on this list. But, I have to put him where I think he deserves to go despite where my initial logic tells me he ranks. There’s no question that Turner is a special shot blocker. At 6’11 with a 7’4 wingspan and solid athletic ability, along with really good instincts off the ball (he’s an excellent help side defender), Turner is a force to be reckoned with. However, Turner has a fouling problem (3.7/game which is #2 in the league), and it’s easy to see why after watching his film. To put it plainly, he’s overly aggressive both on the perimeter and around the rim. On the Perimeter, he usually plays too close to the offensive player and is a little too overzealous with his hands; he gets a lot of fouls called on him because he doesn’t slide his feet quickly enough and essentially cuts off the offensive player illegally with his hip. In the paint, Turner is similarly over-aggressive. He jumps for shots that he has no business blocking, and he has a bad habit of putting his lower hand (off hand) on the offensive player’s midsection while trying to block the shot with his other hand. He gets away with it sometimes (and it’s super effective when he does), but it’s a large reason why he gets a lot of fouls called on him. If Turner could clean up his fouling and pick his spots more in terms of when he tries to block shots and body people at the rim, there’s no question he would be number one on this list.
2) Rudy Gobert: #3 BP% (7.4%), #9 DFG% (48.5%), 2.2 fouls/game
No list of the top 5 NBA rim protectors - which has been written by people with brains and eyes - will not contain Rudy Gobert. The 2 time DPOY stands at 7’1 with a 7’9 (!) wingspan, by far the longest on this list. He’s also a solid leaper and is surprisingly mobile for his size. He pairs this elite length and athleticism with exceptional timing and instincts; he’s basically the prototype NBA rim protector. I also think Gobert is the most versatile rim protector on this list. The Jazz are very comfortable switching picks, and it’s because they have confidence that Rudy Gobert can defend guards on the perimeter. And, he rarely disappoints in this aspect. He’s impressively good at sliding his feet for his size, and even when he does get beat to the rim, he often bails himself out with his length by blocking a shot no one should have any business blocking. Another thing I noticed when watching film of Gobert and the Jazz is that their entire game plan literally rests on Gobert being the excellent rim protector that he is. Perimeter players on the Jazz always trail screens, essentially sending the offensive player towards Gobert at the rim. The general goal seems to be to shade the offensive player with the ball, no matter where he is on the court, to Rudy Gobert. After that, the plan is simple: let Rudy work his magic.
1) Jakob Poeltl: #5 BP% (5.8%), #1 DFG% (43.9%), 1.5 fouls/game
Before you start sending me hate mail and twitter DM’s, I will require that you watch AT LEAST 2 full games of the Spurs. It’s understandable that some might not yet be aware of Poeltl’s rim protecting ability, but that will not last for long. Poeltl, despite being the only player on this list without a longer wingspan that his height (7’1, 7’1 wingspan), is the best rim protector on this list. He’s not going to WOW you with his athletic ability or length, but for a true basketball nerd like myself, he’s basically your dream defender. He’s unbelievable - probably best in the league - at keeping vertical. Even when he’s in the air and gets hit by the offensive player, he does an incredible job receiving the contact and KEEPING his arms/hands completely straight upwards, not allowing the ref to bail out the offensive player with a foul call; he clearly has underrated strength, as it’s quite tough to be able to take the contact and not adjust your defensive positioning (especially in the air). Poeltl is also the best off-ball defender in this group of players. He does an excellent job of jabbing at the offensive player but still getting back into a good, legal guarding position. He’s also just very smart; Jakob never gets caught ball watching and is always a few steps ahead of the offense. Next time you watch the Spurs, just watch Poeltl when they’re on the defensive end. Don’t watch anyone else. Notice how he moves and is in tune with the 4 other players on his team. Notice how he always takes the right angle to beat the offensive player to his spot. Notice how he stays vertical, even when taking contact from some of the NBA’s best scorers. Notice how smart he is on the defensive end. You won’t be disappointed.