Where Have All The Shot-Blockers Gone?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The demise of the true center is typically lamented by the dearth of low-post skill on offense, but we can’t ignore its effects at the other end, too.

You know what they say about every action: there is an equal and opposite reaction. Among other things, the evolution of the face-up, jump-shooting “big”, and the age of the drive-and-kick 3-pointer have taken a toll on the art of shot-blocking. With seemingly fewer one-on-one, low-post defensive opportunities there is an equally diminishing chance to deliver an opposite reaction.

There are tremendous shot blockers in the league. Thunder power forward/center Serge Ibaka will attempt to become the first player to lead the league in shot blocking three consecutive seasons and average at least 3.0 bpg in three straight seasons since Marcus Camby did it from 2006-08. Ibaka’s 3.65 bpg in 2011-12 was the highest since Alonzo Mourning‘s 3.7 in 1999-2000.

Bucks rim protector Larry Sanders could cross the 3.0 barrier. Indiana’s young, old-school center Roy Hibbert made a significant jump last season to 2.61 bpg, fourth in the league, from 1.97. A healthy and happy Dwight Howard could surge to 3.0 for the first time in his career.

Still, today’s drooping block numbers are eye-popping when compared to prior decades. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season. That season, five players averaged at least 3.0 bpg, led by Elmore Smith (4.8 bpg), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5), Bob McAdoo (3.3), Bob Lanier (3.0) and Elvin Hayes (3.0). In the seven officially recorded seasons in the 1970s, two players averaged at least 3.0 bpg in a season five times.

In the ’80s, it was seven of 10 seasons, and at least three players averaged at least 3.0 bpg four times. Utah’s 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton still holds the single-season record of 5.56 bpg in 1984-85. The ’90s — with shot-swatters such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Bradley, Theo Ratliff, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning – marked the salad days of shot-blocking.

Every season during the physical, hold-and-grab ’90s saw at least two players average at least 3.0 bpg. Eight times at least three players recorded 3.0 bpg or more. Four times the season leader topped 4.0 bpg, and two more times the leader finished at 3.9 bpg.

Those numbers haven’t been sniffed. Since the close of the ’90s, only four times in the last 13 seasons have at least two players finished a season averaging at least 3.0 bpg  (and largely credit Ben Wallace and Ratliff early in the 2000s for that). It hasn’t happened since 2005-06 when Camby (3.29) and long-armed small forward Andrei Kirilenko (3.19) finished one and two, respectively.

The lowest league-leading shot-block averages have all come since the turn of the century, and two of the three lowest have been posted in the past five seasons. Andrew Bogut‘s 2.58 bpg in 2010-11 is the lowest season leader of all-time. Howard’s 2.78 bpg the season before is the second-lowest and his 2.92 bpg to lead the league in 2008-09 is better than only the 2.8 bpg put up in 2000-01 by Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Bradley.

Could 2013-14 be the season we see one, two or even more players join Ibaka in 3.0 territory? Sanders is trending that way and Hibbert and Howard are candidates, but it’s hard to envision Tim Duncan surpassing last season’s career-high of 2.65 bpg.

Maybe 3.0 is a stretch for most. Only five players averaged between 2.45 bpg and Ibaka’s 3.03 last season.

Here are my five players that could vault into this season’s top-5 (but may not necessarily get to 3.0):

1. Derrick Favors, Jazz: The 6-foot-10 power forward is going to see his minutes jump as he moves into the starting lineup with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone. Favors averaged 1.7 bpg in 23.2 mpg off the bench last season. He’ll go up against more elite front-line players this season, but it’s not a reach to suggest he could average 2.5 bpg.

2. JaVale McGee, Nuggets: With Washington in 2010-11, he finished second in the league at 2.44 bpg, but his minutes dropped dramatically the past two seasons in Denver under George Karl. The 7-footer should be in for quite a change with Brian Shaw taking over for Karl and ownership wanting to see McGee earn his money on the floor. More minutes are in his future. Are more blocks?

3. Brook Lopez, Nets: Last season was the first of his young career to average more than 2.0 bpg (2.1) and that number could be on the rise this season playing next to Kevin Garnett. If KG doesn’t teach Lopez a thing or two about defending the post, he might just frighten the 7-footer into protecting the rim at all costs.

4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Potential is running thin for this 6-foot-11 center from Texas A&M. Entering his sixth season, it’s time to mature and play big in the middle for a team that will need it to contend for the West crown. He took a step back last season and under Doc Rivers he’ll need to prove he’s worthy of more minutes. He can do that by swatting basketballs.

5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans: The youngster just looks like a shot-blocker with those long arms and all. He’ll head into his second season healthy, accustomed to the NBA game, smarter and stronger. He’s got great natural instinct, athleticism and a desire to dominate defensively. During his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 4.7 bpg. The 20-year-old blocked 112 shots in 64 games as a rookie. Expect more.

15 Comments

  1. Loose Change says:

    Anotha art thats lost(but not completely). Just like the mid-range jump shot. Some things about this game shouldn’t have changed. Some big men are just too scared to play in the post. Thats that European style that D’Antoni brought. We need to start playin like Americans again.

  2. Rocket33 says:

    The problem I see is that players are trying to draw charges now instead challenging the ball at the rim. And I think the league has this all wrong. They should be trying to protect the guy who leaves his feet, not reward the guy who comes in underneath him. A dangerous play in my book. Unfortunately, I think it will take a serious injury to a Kevin Durant or LeBron James before they address this rule. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying let the offensive player run over people. I’m just saying if the attacking player is already in the air and the defender is still moving it shouldn’t be a charge. It seems to be called on the point of impact now.

    I want to see both players go up and meet at the top. If its a poster dunk or a huge block I don’t really care. And let them Mutombo finger wag each other too, it’s entertainment!

  3. Markus71 says:

    R.Hibbert
    L.Sanders
    A.Drummond

  4. RealAnd1GM says:

    Defensive 3-in-the-key? No hand-checking? Who can prevent penetration? You gotta be 8′ tall and fast to block shots now..!!

  5. BG get there says:

    man love blake griffin use that jumping skills to get rebounds blocks and they well shout danger bg32 & cp3 nba 2013 -2014
    nba champs lets go

  6. q says:

    AL Jefferson is not on the Jazz anymore

  7. John says:

    Where have they gone? Leauge’s just not lookin for them as it becomes weaker and weaker with all the fake-jumpshooting

  8. J says:

    terrific article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Alex says:

    i’m really looking forward to seeing how dwight howard plays this season. if he can’t improve his play with the help of olajuwon’s and mchale’s mentorship then we know he’s a scrub. p.s. i just want it to be known that shaq’s rookie scoring and blocks numbers are better than dwight’s in any season. end the comparison.

    • You know, I think the Rockets have a great nucleus in Harden, Lin and Dwight Howard.

      Remember that D12 led the Magic to the Finals in 2009 (against the Lakers) and lost to Kobe. I believe that Dwight might still have some resentment towards Kobe for that. Also, according to my sources Kobe said to Dwight that he will ‘teach you to become a champion” which sounds very arrogant, but plausible coming from Kobe.

      Looking at Dwight’s stats ( http://www.hostnumber.com/dwight-howard-career-stats.html ) his teams were most successful when he had help from Rashard Lewis, Hedo and Jameer. This is why I am cautiously optimistic that Houston can make it far.

  10. Gallo says:

    I just think,many of them don’t even try to block,cause they are afraid to get “posterized” and beeing the next youtube-hit.

  11. Simpkly the best shot blocker of all time Dikembe Mutombo should come back as a Defensive Trainer for the Houston Rockets, to help Dwight Howard with his defense. I know Hakeem is already there helping with Post-Up moves. Houston, please bring back Deke. http://www.hostnumber.com/dikembe-mutombo-career-stats.html