After spotlighting the top 10 scorers inside the paint earlier this week, we now shift our focus to the defensive players tasked with preventing shots at the basket.
Entering play on Dec. 30, here are the top 10 rim protectors so far this season – the players that allow the lowest field goal percentage at the rim while defending at least four shots at the basket per game.
The list is headlined by the two players that have combined to win the last four Kia Defensive Player of the Year Awards – Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019-20) and Utah’s Rudy Gobert (2017-18, 2018-19, 2020-21) – with both players holding opposing teams below 48% shooting at the basket so far this season. To put that mark in perspective, all teams have combined to shoot 62% on all shots within five feet so far this season.
A key point that must be made when it comes to defending the basket – blocking a lot of shots does not directly correlate with elite rim protection. Let’s take another look at the top 10 rim protectors and compare their rankings in blocked shots.
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||47.1||1.6 (12th)|
|Rudy Gobert||47.7||2.3 (2nd)|
|Jaren Jackson Jr.||48.7||1.8 (5th)|
|JaVale McGee||49.3||0.9 (43rd)|
|Isaiah Hartenstein||49.6||1.3 (18th)|
|Hassan Whiteside||50.0||1.3 (16th)|
|Evan Mobley||50.3||1.7 (7th)|
|Kristaps Porzingis||50.4||1.7 (9th)|
|Precious Achiuwa||50.4||0.5 (87th)|
|Deandre Ayton||51.1||0.8 (48th)|
For some players, the link between blocks shots and low field goal percentage allowed holds as they rank in the top 10 in both categories – Gobert (2nd in both DFG% and BLK), Jaren Jackson Jr. (3rd DFG%, 5th BLK), Evan Mobley (7th in both) and Kristaps Porzingis (8th DFG%, 9th BLK). Meanwhile, blocks leader Myles Turner (2.9 bpg) ranks 16th in rim protection (54.0% allowed).
For others, they hold a top 20 ranking in blocks to go with their top 10 ranking in rim protection – Giannis (1st DFG%, 12th BLK), Isaiah Hartenstein (5th DFG%, 18th BLK) and Hassan Whiteside (6th DFG%, 16th BLK). And finally, there are three players in JaVale McGee, Precious Achiuwa and Deandre Ayton that do not rank in the top 40 in blocks, but are top 10 in rim protection.
We must point out that Hartenstein (16.4), Whiteside (15.6) and McGee (16.3) all play fewer than 17 minutes per game, which reduces their chance to rack up blocked shots. If we look at blocks per 36 minutes, Hartenstein ranks second, Whiteside is third and McGee is 22nd in the league among the 330 players that have appeared in at least 20 games.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Giannis is defending a career-high 4.9 shots at the basket so far this season and allowing his second-lowest field goal percentage (47.1%) at the rim. The only year he topped this season’s mark was when he won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2019-20 as he held opponents to a league-low 41.7% on 3.2 attempts at the rim per game.
Rudy Gobert: Player tracking data debuted during Gobert’s rookie season so we have rim protection numbers for every season of his career. Outside of his rookie season when he averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game, Gobert has ranked in the top 10 in rim protection every season, including five top-five finishes (not including this season) and leading the league in 2016-17 (47.2% allowed).
Jaren Jackson Jr.: Jackson is averaging a career-best 1.8 blocks to go with his career-best mark in rim protection at 48.7% allowed, which is 6.7 percentage points lower than the 55.4% he allowed last season. The Grizzlies lead the NBA in point differential in the paint (+10.6 ppg) and Jackson’s defense plays a key factor in Memphis limiting opponents to 43.3 ppg in the paint.
JaVale McGee: The Suns rank third in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions. In McGee’s 555 minutes on the court, that defensive rating improves to 99.3. Over the past four seasons, McGee has established himself as an elite rim protector in limited minutes with three different teams – allowing under 52% shooting each season while playing with Los Angeles, Denver and now Phoenix.
Isaiah Hartenstein: In his fourth NBA season, Hartenstein is averaging career-best numbers on both sides of the ball. In 16.4 minutes per game this season with the Clippers, he is averring 7.7 points on 66.2% shooting, 4.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals per game.
Hassan Whiteside: The Jazz and Suns are the only two teams on this list with multiple players in this top 10 as Whiteside joins Gobert to give the Jazz an elite rim protector on the floor at all times. Whiteside ranks second only to McGee with the most double-doubles this season (five) while averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game.
Evan Mobley: The only rookie to rank in the top 10, Mobley has made an immediate impact on the Cavaliers’ defense, which ranks second in the league this season (103.4) after finishing 25th last season (113.5). The combination of Mobley and a full season of Jarrett Allen (51.8% rim protection, 12th in league) have given the Cavs one of the top defensive frontlines in the league.
Kristaps Porzingis: Through his first 25 games played this season, Porzingis has returned to being the top 10 rim protector he has been every season of his career (leading the league in 2017-18 at 49.2%) and proving that last season’s 32nd ranking and 61.9% field goal percentage allowed was an aberration.
Precious Achiuwa: Achiuwa ranks last on this list in blocked shots (0.5 per game, 87th in NBA), but has proven to be a strong rim protector by altering shots. Of the 33 players in the league that have defended at least 20 pick-and-roll roll man plays, Achiuwa allows the fewest points per possession (0.55), according to Synergy play type data, with opponents shooting just 30% against him on those possessions.
Deandre Ayton: Ayton is allowing a career-best 51.1% at the rim in his fourth NBA season as he anchors Phoenix’s third-ranked defense. Ayton’s progression from his rookie season (64.9% allowed, 40th out of 47 qualified rim protectors) to this season is a testament to the work he’s put in on that side of the ball.