Shaquille O’Neal is remembered for his backboard breaking dunks and being unstoppable on the offensive end of the basketball court. However, Shaq was just as devastating on the defensive end of the court. He averaged over 2 blocks per game in his career, despite losing his ability to consistently block shots in his last few years in the league. Shaq could dominate the paint with his presence. He stood looming over players who penetrated towards the hole, waiting for them to release the ball, and then swatted their shots out of bounds.
Tim Duncan’s footwork and efficiency in the post is his basketball legacy, however he was also a great shot blocker for most of his career. In fact, Duncan was a better shot blocker than Shaq. Coaches told their players to go into the body of Shaq, because he would foul by swinging down or making contact with the body on most plays. The same coaches told their players to stop short and shoot jumpers against Duncan because he would block it without picking up the foul.
The Big Dipper is the most prolific scorer in NBA history and one of the most prolific rebounders, however he was also the biggest deterrent for players that came into the paint. Wilt used his athleticism to block shots at will. He stood six inches over most players of his era. And when you add in his wingspan and his leaping ability, Wilt could swat almost anything within fifteen feet of him.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
The sky hook is the most unstoppable shot in the history of basketball, and it was invented by Kareem Adbul Jabbar. But, Kareem was undervalued as a defender also. He anchored the Los Angeles Lakers defense through the eighties and started their devastating fast breaks with a rebound and an outlet pass or a timely blocked shot. He was mostly a right-handed shot blocker however Kareem could block shots with either hand.
No one stepped into Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood when he entered the league. If they did, they usually ended up on their butts with their shots sent back. David Robinson had one of the most amazing years in basketball history, and his work on the defensive side of the ball was more incredible than his scoring. Robinson is the only man to rate in the top ten in five statistical categories. He was in the top ten in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, steals, and most importantly, blocks. He lead the league in blocks twice, and his highest blocks per game average was 4.5.
Artis Gilmore is considered to be one of the strongest and most intimidating centers to ever play basketball. He is one of the few players to ever give Kareem Abdul Jabbar a difficult time scoring in the 70′s and 80′s. Artis Gilmore was a bully under the rim. He played physical basketball in a time when the game was at its physical peak. Gilmore finished his career as the all-time leader in blocks in the ABA and as the all-time leader in field goal percentage in the NBA. He never placed out of the top ten in blocks in his career.
The 4-time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace, made multiple All-Star teams solely off toughness and defensive prowess. He anchored a Pistons defense that was historically great, allowing total fewer points and points per game than any other team in NBA history before them, and defeated a Laker’s team that had won three previous consecutive NBA championships. Wallace was grossly under-sized as a center, but made up for his size with muscle and pure athleticism. At 6’7″, Wallace regularly gave up 3 to six inches under the rim and often weighed 10-30 lbs. less than his opponents, but only Shaquille O’Neal bullied him during his prime. Wallace is the only undrafted player to ever make a NBA All-Star team and has never averaged more than 9.5 points per game in a season. His worth was built solely on the defensive side of the basketball.
Goal tending was invented because of Bill Russell. He would stand in front of the rim in the fifties and grab opponents shots before they went into the rim. Russell dominated games with his defensive prowess. Even after the goal tending rule was invented, he could win games simply through stopping shots and rebounding. Russell was the backbone of 11 of the Boston Celtics 18 championships.
Olajuwon used great positioning timing and superb athleticism to leave the game as the all-time leader in blocks (and in the top ten in steals too). He won Defensive Player of the Year, and anchored the Rockets defense that won two consecutive championships. Hakeem played good on-ball defense against opposing centers, denying them the basketball before they received an entry pass, and then muscled them before blocking their shot. He was one of the best weak side defenders in NBA history. The Houston Rockets’ defensive strategy was to pressure perimeter players and funnel them into Olajuwon so that he could block their shots and give the Rockets easy baskets in transition. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, but only lead the league in blocks twice during his career. He averaged 3.1 blocks per game, the third highest average in the history of the National Basketball Association. And, Olajuwon finished his career as and is still currently the the all-time leader in blocks.
Mutumbo is the purest shot-blocker in league history. Though he was not as naturally athletic as Olajuwon, Wallace, or Gilmore, he was long, quick to his spot defensively, and had perfect timing on blocked shots. Mutumbo did not bite on pump fakes, he rarely fouled out, and he blocked shots with the appropriate hand every time. When moving to his right, he blocked shots with his right hand. When moving to his left, he blocked them with his left hand. Mutumbo blocked lay-ups, short jumpers, and most importantly, dunks. Mutumbo single-handedly blocked his way into the history books by helping the Denver Nuggets become the first eight seed to defeat a one seed. He stopped Shawn Kemp the uber-athletic power forward at the rim three times to seal the last win for the Nuggets. He changed the culture of the Atlanta Hawks and made them a perennial playoff team. He steadied the paint for Steve Smith and helped them contend for a title. Then, Mutumbo helped the Philadelphia 76′ers (who were led by Allen Iverson) to reach the NBA Finals. Mutumbo guarded the paint and allowed Allen Iverson and Aaron McKie to gamble for steals on the perimeter. Mutumbo’s defense transformed several different teams from average to high achieving by averaging 4+ blocks per game in his best seasons (not to mention how many shots he changed without actually blocking them). Dikembe Mutumbo is the best shot blocker that ever lived.