It’s no secret that the Bucks are the best team in the league at defending the rim. The Spurs experienced that firsthand, particularly in their loss in Milwaukee over the weekend when they were blocked a whopping 10 times (including 7 from Brook Lopez) and at least deterred countless other times from what appeared to be simple shots at the rim.
While the Spurs learned and adjusted in the win two nights later by “only” getting blocked 5 times, watching the Bucks defend and deter shots was still giving flashbacks back to the Twin Towers days with David Robinson and Tim Duncan manning the paint for the Spurs, and there’s a reason for that (beyond Mike Budenholzer). It turns out they have the three best rim protectors based on opponent FG% allowed at the rim in the leauge: Brook, his twin brother Robin Lopez, and their teammate/reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Best Rim Protectors, 2019-20*— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) January 8, 2020
FG% Allowed At Rim
1. Giannis, MIL .............. 39.4%
2. Robin Lopez, MIL ..... 45.3
3. Brook Lopez, MIL ..... 47.0
4. Jakob Poeltl, SAS ..... 48.9
5. Jarrett Allen, BKN ..... 49.2
*Min. 100 shots defendedhttps://t.co/hAk7zl5dqQ pic.twitter.com/6WNUuRTu1G
However, there’s another name in the 4th spot that pops out: the Spurs’ own Jakob Poeltl, or as J.R. Wilco pointed out: “The best non-Bucks rim protector in the league...!”
That’s certainly not something the Spurs have been able to say at least since Tim Duncan retired, and it’s something their otherwise leaky defense benefits from. Blocks don’t tell the whole story when it comes to deterring shots at the rim (although he’s averaging a career high 1.4 per game), it’s still worth pointing out that Poeltl has had nine games this season with 3 or more blocks — 8 of which came in the last 17 games — despite mostly coming off the bench.
In a way this suggests that maybe he should be starting more, or at least playing more that the 17.8 mpg he’s currently averaging this season, but even so the Spurs defense overall has been improving lately. If nothing else, they certainly have a potential defensive anchor of the future if he hasn’t played his way out of their price range once he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. (Hmm, low minutes, restricted free agent — maybe there is a method to the madness after all.)