May 20 2014 10:14AM

Hail To The Rim Protectors!


Rob Carr/NBAE/Getty Images

No position on the basketball court is as important as the rim protector.

So often, that shot-altering center--or in some cases, shot-changing power forward--plays an MVP role on the NBA's top defensive teamss that largely goes ignored by the public, whether we're talking about NBA execs, coaches, media or fans.

Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert may have led the NBA 2013-14 reegular season in defending-the-rim percentage (minimum 5.0 shots-at-rim per game and 300 total), with opponents making only 41.4 percent of their shots at the basket, but critics will spend more time in the postseason concentrating on things that matter much less--like his three zero-point games--than all the games he won with his defense on the NBA's No. 1 defensive squad (96.7 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Remember, defense is half of basketball, and quite often over the years, a top rim protector can prove to be just as valuable as someone who is given an MVP award.

Take the career of 14-time (soon to be 15-time?) All-Defensive big man Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, the greatest defensive player of the modern basketball era, who also has quarterbacked 10 of the 50 all-time best defenses in the modern basketball era (1980-thru-present), while also becoming the best all-time plus-minus leader (since the stat was kept) and whose 17-year Spurs are the most consistent winners in NBA history.

There is little doubt Duncan's rim-protection prowess is a big reason why he is everything mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Even at 38, Duncan once again is dominating the paint, holding opponents to a Western Conference postseason-low .402 percentage at the rim, ranking third in these 2014 NBA Playoffs.

Fans saw that talent on display once again Monday night when Duncan's rim D, along with Splitter's renowned rim-protection rep (fourth-best rim protector in the regular season), limited OKC to 14-of-24 (.583) shooting, as far out as eight feet of the basket.

The best contrast, though, was watching the Thunder struggle on their defensive end of the court after losing their rim protector, Serge Ibaka, for the postseason due to a left calf strain.

In the 2013-14 regular season, Ibaka was the NBA's third-best defending-the-rim percentage protector (.439), trailing only Hibbert (.414) and Robin Lopez (.425), among players with opponents attempting 5.0 attempts at the rim per game (and 300 total).

So it was only natural that Oklahoma City would miss their defensive MVP when he was ruled out for the postseason before Game 1 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals against the Spurs.

In its 122-105 Game 1 loss to San Antonio Monday night, Oklahoma City--without Ibaka--gave up 66 points in the paint (40 in the first half), as the Spurs went unchallenged at the rim, even making 31 of 43 shots (.721) as far out as eight feet of the basket.

Hail, indeed, to the rim protectors!

They may not get the universal love of a Kevin Durant or LeBron James at election time. But believe me, KD and LBJ know these restricted-area dwellers are the MVPs of D, and have full capability of stripping their superpowers on any given playoff day.

2014 NBA PLAYOFFS: DEFENDING THE RIM

PLAYER GAMES MPG BLK OPP FGM @RIM OPP FGA @RIM OPP FG% @RIM
1. David West, IND 14 36.4 13 1.9 5.0 .386
2. Taj Gibson, CHI 5 30.8 12 2.8 7.0 .400
3. Tim Duncan, SAS 13 33.6 20 3.9 9.8 .402
4. Roy Hibbert, IND 14 26.7 23 2.7 6.7 .404
5. Omer Asik, HOU 5 26.2 4 2.2 5.2 .419
6. Dwight Howard, HOU 6 38.8 17 3.7 8.5 .431
7. Chris Andersen, MIA 10 16.5 14 2.3 5.1 .451
8. LaMarcus Aldridge, POR 11 40.3 18 5.0 11.4 .440
9. Draymond Green, GSW 7 32.8 12 3.3 7.0 .469
10. Nene, WAS 10 32.5 12 2.5 5.3 .472
11. Chris Bosh, MIA 10 34.3 14 3.6 7.6 .474
12. Zach Randolph, MEM 6 39.6 1 2.5 5.2 .484
13. Tiago Splitter, SAS 13 26.9 3 2.7 5.5 .486
14. Paul Millsap, ATL 7 38.3 13 5.1 10.6 .486
15. DeAndre Jordan, LAC 13 33.4 33 4.9 9.9 .496
16. Joakim Noah, CHI 5 42.1 7 4.2 8.4 .500
17. Serge Ibaka, OKC 13 34.5 29 4.6 9.2 .504
18. Marcin Gortat, WAS 11 34.8 15 5.3 10.4 .509
19. Jonas Valanciunas, TOR 7 28.8 7 3.6 7.0 .510
20. Robin Lopez, POR 11 33.5 20 7.2 13.4 .537

SOURCE: Stats.NBA.com

KEY: Minimum 5 field goal attempts at rim per game; MPG minutes per game; BLK blocked shots; OPP FGM @RIM opponents field goals made per game at rim; FGA @RIM opponents field goals attempted per game at rim; OPP FG% AT RIM opponents field goal percentage at rim; boldface denotes team still in playoffs.