The last line of defense, shot-blockers are the most essential part of an NBA defense.
Without a competent shot-blocker, you're going to encounter teams that will do nothing but try to relentlessly exploit your weakness in the middle. If there's no shot-blocker in the middle, expect a lot of work to be done on defense because you're going to have to make up for the shortcomings of having a center who can't deter the high-percentage shots.
What that leads to is packing the paint. Once you start packing the paint, teams will start shooting from the perimeter. It becomes pick your poison, as you either run the risk of constantly giving up shots near the rim or allowing the opponent to get into a rhythm because of the number of open shots you're giving it.
That's why it's great to have a player who can always provide the threat of sending back a layup or dunk. You have one or two guys who can protect the paint, while the rest of the team spends time defending the perimeter. Having that big-time shot-blocker changes the entire outlook of the opposition as it looks for new ways to score without having to come face-to-face with said shot-blocker.
That's why a team like the Orlando Magic has made it to the NBA Finals or why the Dallas Mavericks won last year's championship. They had centers who were notorious shot-blockers and defenders. Having that post player who can completely affect the outcome of a game thanks to his shot-blocking prowess alone is one of the most valuable commodities you can have in the NBA today.
We take time to celebrate these players by naming the five most intimidating shot-blockers currently in the NBA, in no particular order.
Serge Ibaka may be the next Dikembe Mutombo, but that doesn't give him the right to blatantly copy 'Deke's trademark finger wave.
Ibaka has to come up with his own gesture. Even if he and Mutombo share similar origins—Ibaka is from the People's Republic of Congo, while Dikembe is from the Democratic Republic of Congo—and have a similar game, Serge should be trying to find ways to distance himself from the player he resembles. You have to create your own legacy, not replicate one that's already been finished.
If he's trying to copy Mutombo, he's doing a great job at it. In only his third year in the league, Ibaka is leading the league in blocks per with nearly four per game, the most any player has averaged since Marcus Camby in 2008, and could very well be on his way to one of many Defensive Player of the Year awards starting this season.
Ibaka is an absolute force to be reckoned with when it comes to defending the rim. He has a great deal of athleticism that allows him to sky to seemingly unreachable heights, the timing that must be infused in every shot-blocker and the length to block or deter shots. Even if he isn't actually blocking the shot, Ibaka's presence alone is enough to keep slashers out of the paint.
The 22-year-old who was selected 24th in the 2008 draft has a Hall of Fame-worthy career in front of him as long as he continues to make his presence felt on defense.
His greatest rejection: Ibaka sends back Tyson Chandler's dunk
As much as we criticize and fault JaVale McGee for having a poor basketball IQ, we can't deny that he's got some serious skills when it comes to shot-blocking.
Prior to having his minutes reduced with the Denver Nuggets, McGee was averaging nearly three blocks per with the Washington Wizards. This year will mark the second consecutive season that JaVale has averaged at least two blocks per. We are just about certain that he has the potential to average over two blocks per game for the next decade.
Supported by freakish athleticism and a stunning wingspan that nearly clears eight feet, McGee is one of the league's most imposing shot-blockers based on those two attributes alone. His knuckles drag on the court when he's stationary, and he's got paint chips under his fingernails from scraping the ceiling of the stadium he's playing in when going up for a shot block.
This is a player that can shut down the paint if he sets his mind to it.
Alas, he doesn't. McGee's immaturity is the reason why he's no longer playing in Washington. The Wizards organization was fed up with the disturbingly bad shot selection, the showboating and the obvious goaltending calls where McGee will block a shot that's nearly on the rim. The near three blocks per game weren't convincing anybody to keep him around.
Perhaps with George Karl, McGee can turn his career around and might be able to grow up a little. He could become more than the guy who misses dunks from the foul line or that one player who ran back on defense while his team continued to play offense. He has the potential for greatness, but he needs a lot of refining.
His greatest rejection: McGee gets dirty on Wesley Matthews
A list of the league's most feared shot-blockers just wouldn't be the same without Dwight Howard, wouldn't it?
While Serge Ibaka has youth and athleticism and JaVale McGee has length on his side, Howard just about has it all. He's young (at heart, at least), extremely athletic and has impeccable timing and unmatched strength that no other center could even begin to compete with. The mere sight of Howard alone is enough for opponents to do nothing but take three-pointers.
Howard has won three consecutive DPOYs for a reason, and it's not just because of his shot-blocking. He's an excellent one-on-one defender, is the only reason why the Orlando Magic can even be considered a solid defensive team and has more defensive influence in the paint than any other shot-blocker in the league.
When you play against Howard, you have to rewrite your entire game plan just to find ways to score without having to enter the lion's den. If you test Howard, you will not win. So many players have attempted to leave their mark on Howard, but so few have succeeded. Howard's size, strength, athleticism and quickness are too much for any opponent to handle.
Howard is currently averaging two blocks per game. It will be the fifth consecutive season that Howard has averaged a legitimate two blocks per. He has led the league in blocks per twice and has averaged as much as three per, which came in 2009, when he led his Magic to their second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
Howard's shot-blocking prowess is the sole reason the Magic are relevant today. Now you know why the entire NBA community was waiting at the edge of their seats to know just where the 6'11" behemoth was heading.
His greatest rejection: Howard tells Kevin Durant to drive stronger next time
Steve Blake's face defines the mistake he just made.
Since Blake Griffin only utilizes his athleticism on offense—he's averaging less than a block per—it's up to DeAndre Jordan to step up to the challenge of deterring shots.
Challenge accepted and completed.
Jordan has taken advantage of the minutes that the Los Angeles Clippers have given him over the past two seasons by posting nearly two blocks per in each season. The sudden burst of minutes came as a result of former Clippers center Chris Kaman sitting out with injury troubles. Jordan was inserted into the rotation and quickly made his presence felt on defense.
The Clippers were so impressed by Jordan that they sent Kaman, their first-round pick in 2003, to the New Orleans Hornets. Even though Jordan didn't nearly have the same offensive game as the previous starting center, he had defense, youth and athleticism on his side as support. The fact that he was also staying on the court without getting hurt was just another positive.
Jordan's shot-blocking is supported by unmatched athleticism and extraordinary length. He can block any layup or dunk attempt that comes his way to the stratosphere. Don't expect it to stop either. Jordan is only 23 years old and in his fourth year. He just started receiving significant minutes last season, so we might as well stick around for the show.
DeAndre has to gain some notoriety for himself. With his teammates either being All-Stars and/or slam dunk champions, Jordan has made a name for himself as a shot-blocker. He's the only form of deterrence in the Clippers frontcourt and has done an excellent job at making up for the defensive shortcomings of the team's starting power forward.
The most feared 6'9" shot-blocker of our generation, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith has built a career on being an incredible defender and high-flyer for a player his size.
While we sit here and talk about all of the seven-footers that are impressive shot-blockers in their own right, you always have to give a great deal of credit to a player like Smith. He's not the tallest player on the court, but he's still the player you fear the most on the Atlanta Hawks when going to the rack.
If you're playing the Hawks, you're not worried about Zaza Pachulia or Al Horford—you're worried about Smith.
Smith has actually seen his blocks per drop a little below two the past two seasons, but it has done little to change our opinion on just how scary he's capable of being. This is a 6'9" forward who averaged nearly three blocks per for three consecutive seasons. Not only is he possible of shutting down your team's small forward, but he'll also shut down the paint while doing so.
So how is Smith capable of this? Timing, of course, but athleticism has seemed to play the largest factor. The 2005 slam dunk champion can grab a stack of quarters off the top of the backboard with one hand and repel your shot with the other hand in the same sequence. Smith can flat-out fly, and since he doesn't utilize that advantage on offense as much as he should, we get to witness it on defense instead.
At 26, Smith is averaging over two blocks per for his career and has finished in the top five in that category on four occasions. Among active players, he's fourth in blocks per and is 19th among all NBA players throughout history.
His greatest rejection: Smith sends back Dwight Howard's shot