Although there are probably not as many great rim protectors in the modern NBA as there used to be, and although a rim protectors’ impact is mitigated by modern NBA offenses, rim protection is still a valuable asset to a team defense.
Rudy Gobert, Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, Clint Capella, Joel Embiid, Serge Ibaka, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams, and Giannis Antetokunmpo are widely regarded as some of the best rim protectors in the modern NBA. All are seven-footers with a massive wingspan. All have “quick ups” and the ability to anticipate when a player is shooting.
But what’s the difference between those players and all the other seven-footers with massive wingspans? Why are some players good at blocking shots, whereas others are foul-prone. Why doesn’t length automatically translate to great rim protection?
For sure, part of it has to do with rhythm. If a guy can’t play offensively, he can’t make as much of an impact on defense because of the rhythm and overall impact he has on the game (Nerlens Noel).
But there is another huge reason why a guy like Draymond Green, and previously guys like Ben Wallace, have such a huge impact on rim protection without being tall or having Rudy Gobert-type wingspans and standing reach.
In short, I think the answer is core strength.
The rule for attacking a rim protector is that you get into his body. If you can get into his body and adjust your shot, you are likely to be able to draw a foul on the protector or be able to get the shot up over his reach.
Why is this? Its because whenever someone gets hit in the chest or stomach, the tendency is to crunch your body. If your arms are up, the tendency is to bring them down to protect your torso.
Suddenly a guy with a 9’1” standing reach has a 8’6” standing reach because he brings his arms down. That makes it easier to finish. Obviously guys with ridiculous standing reaches (ahem *Gobert*) have length to spare even if they get hit in the torso, but guys who don’t have as much length to spare suddenly are not as much of an obstruction going at them.
What’s the counter as a defender if offensive players are driving it into you? Great core strength. The ability to absorb contact in the air while keeping your hands in the way of the shot allows you to functionally maintain all of your length. Its like swallowing a driver as he jumps into you. Its part of the reason why Draymond Green is probably one of the top 3 rim protectors in the NBA even though he is only 6’7” with a 7′ wingspan.
Obviously there are a ton of other factors, like anticipation, rotation, positioning, jumping ability, teammate defense, etc. that make good rim protectors good. However, I think core strength is at least as important to a rim protector’s impact on the game, because it allows him to maintain functional strength why offensive players drive into him.