This is a summary and debriefing of five previous articles that focused on the top big men in the 2022 NBA Draft and their ability to defend, notably with unique tracking data geared toward exactly how they accrued their blocked shots during this past season and what we can learn from them.
In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight contributor Bjorn Zetterberg continues ‘Data Tracking,’ a new series that explores some of the nitty-gritty nuances surrounding different groups of 2022 NBA Draft prospects.
In case you missed it, you can read the full, individual articles in greater detail by clicking on the names below:
Throughout the month of June, I examined five premier big men in the 2022 NBA Draft and wanted to observe how they blocked shots in hopes of learning how they defended the paint. Specifically, what hand they used around the rim to defend, how effective they were in help vs. on-ball D, vertical contest capability, and how they handled contact. Every player stood out in different ways and had such a different style of rim protection, so I wanted to quickly cover who I found to be best in their respective areas and how. In case you want the TLDR version of the study, I edited some key passages from their individual articles and sprinkled in some additional nuggets about how they differentiated themselves as shot blockers.
Quick note: ‘Second jump’ and what foot they took off from to contest I was also curious about, but the data was super one-sided and not useful. Everyone in this study blocked shots gathering off of two feet at a rate of over 99-precent, and second jump blocked shots were incredibly infrequent as well at a similar rate, so I tossed those out, as well.
Most Ambidextrous Shot Blocker: Mark Williams
From the 2022 NBA Draft combine, Williams measured in at 7’0” (no shoes) with a 7’6.5” wingspan and a 9’9” standing reach. That’s a Goliath package of size, length and even with just O.K. leaping, presents an impressive shot blocking radius. It’s then by no surprise that he had the highest share in this study of blocks in the paint among bigs at 95-percent. Probably the most fascinating part about his play was that he ended up as the most ambidextrous shot blocker of the bunch with 53-percent coming right-handed and 40-percent with his left. The median results for bigs in this study were 70-percent right-handed, 21-percent left-handed and 9-precent two-handed.
Most Physical Defender: Chet Holmgren
This is true among the group by volume of mid-air collisions taken on his blocked shots in the paint. As one would expect from a 7-footer who weighs under 200 pounds, Chet gets moved fairly easily after being contacted in the paint. This situation at the rim is where length appears to be a suitable counter to getting aerially pushed of his air space, as even when he’s knocked back, Chet’s wingspan still has plenty of slack to get at least a finger on the ball. One of the more amusing things from watching his blocked shots was that Holmgren frequently would take an elbow or shoulder to the midsection. This would happen after the shooter lost their dribble in the paint, but just before they went up for the shot, in hopes they could clear some space. The significant pre-shot hit happened on a stunning 25 of 99 (~25%) paint possessions where the attacking offensive player initiated contact before going up for the shot, and yet still resulted in a block. If you add 13 mid-air collision plays where there wasn’t contact before the shot as well (38/99 blocks in paint), that’s an incidence of 38-percent of Chet’s blocks coming with physicality. It’s understated how tough Chet is, and seems even tougher to conceive of with his build. He defends the paint with an edge and physicality, a relentless willingness to get right back into his man after taking a knock.
Best Help Defender: Jalen Duren
Jalen has a keen awareness reading help defense, as he had the highest total of blocked shots coming over from help D despite a considerably lower volume of blocks than the other prospects. However, he had a low rate of vertical defensive contests by naturally coming off help and trying to high-point blocks at their apex, avoiding mid-air contact. When he did face contact in-air he was largely unmoved, absorbing the hit on 10 of 13 blocks where there was significant contact initiated from the shooter, a very high rate showcasing his strength. Duren is very good at high-pointing shot attempts on defense, showing off his explosive leaping ability and length to turn looks away just as they are about to reach their peak. The median rate of help defense blocked shots for prospects in this study was 45-percent, while Duren’s was 76-percent from help D.
Best Vertical Defender: Jabari Smith
Smith was equally productive as an on-ball shot blocker as he was coming from help defense, as it was nearly a 50-50 split on his 33 blocks as freshman. He’s a fearless rim protector coming from the weak side, showing a willingness to step up into the lane and challenge anything, even if it means being posterized. He had by far the highest rate of vertical contest share on blocks at the rim tracked in this study among the top big men in the 2022 Draft. He shows a maturity and NBA readiness already at the rim with defensive instincts, quick reflexes, and good technique. He handled contact in mid-air collisions and effectively used length to respond, not shying away from contact, at all. While he only held his aerial real estate half the time on those contest collisions, Smith’s length showed prominence on those plays to get a hand on the ball and was a fantastic deflector when he was physically moved mid-air. Smith had a 50-percent vertical contest rate on his shot blocks in the paint while the median rate for prospects in the study was 25-percent.
Best Perimeter Shot Challenger: Paolo Banchero
Paolo’s perimeter defensive competency in one-on-one situations to challenge shots from mid and three-point range was the best of the top big prospects in this draft study by rate of blocked shots. For perspective on his proclivity with this, despite recording a fraction of the blocked shots that Chet Holmgren and Mark Williams did, Paolo actually registered as many or more total perimeter blocks than each of them. PB shows good ability to contest shots outside, as the anticipation, instincts and hand positioning for when the shooter is going up are all there. Banchero is going to be challenged on switches and forced to answer the call on the perimeter, something he can sneakily respond with when taken to task. He’s not an elite lateral mover for a big at the NBA level, but competent and agile enough to survive on an island if he locks in. Even though it was lesser volume, Banchero blocked 18-percent of his shots defending the perimeter while the median rate for prospects in the study was 9-percent.
*Numbers are rounded to nearest percent
Bjorn has worked in the NBA for about a decade as an associate analyst with the Orlando Magic, Video Analyst Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers and Advance Scout for the Idaho Stampede. You can follow him on twitter @bjornzetterberg and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.