By Max Feldman
The big man spot has seen a ton of evolution over the years from big bruiser in the paint to floor spacers to freak athletes. What does the future look like? Rim runners.
Whether it is vertically or out to the three point line, floor spacing big men who can block shots and finish with efficiency around the rim are set to fit this league for years to come as long as the P&R and spacing prominency remain. On either end of spectrum, we have seen that big man that struggle who struggle on one end do not promote winning organizations.
Some examples of premier rim runners with varying size who should provide archetypes for the future are Bam Adebayo (6-9), Rudy Gobert (7-1) and Brandon Clarke (6-8). Players like Anthony Davis, Jaren Jackson Jr and Pascal Siakam have rim running tendencies but are the high end of option of what happens when their game is opened up to the perimeter.
The analytical factors involved in the breakdown of rim runners was block percentage and 2 point field goal percentage.
Block Percentage is the percentage of offensive 2-point field goal attempts a defensive player blocks while he is on the court.
2 point field goal percentage is the percentage of two point shots a player makes on the offensive end.
The combination of the two advanced analytics builds a map of the rim runners who can blend efficient finishing around the paint with block production on the defensive end.
Onyeka Okongwu falls right where I expected him to. He is the cream of the crop in terms of rim runners in this class. As just a Freshman, Okongwu’s efficiency in the paint and prowess as an intimidator around the rim should debunk both concerns of his touch and size.
James Wiseman is a notable omission here. He only played three games at Memphis, but if things were different, he would have likely fallen somewhere between Onyeka and Paul Reed.
Jalen Smith‘s surprised me with how well he placed here. I have preached how attractive Smith’s perimeter touch in combination with his rim defending is, and I stand with that still, but effectiveness in the paint sheds an even better light. Known as ‘Stix’ for his wiry frame, Jalen has bulked up and that is being shown with how efficient he was around the bucket.
Obi Toppin is one extremely odd case. I have never laid my eyes on such a spectacular vertical athlete with pogo stick bounce who has such stiff hips with slow footwork and poor lateral quickness. He does not defend the rim and is not spectacular rebounding the ball. He requires a fit with another big by his side.
Precious Achiuwa projects by many as a rim running five man, but this does not provide the optimistic picture for that idea. I, for one, do like Achiuwa as a late teens or early 20’s type of guy. You’re taking a leap on a guy with a lack of credibility with it, but he does have the tools to protect the rim effectively. Touch on the offensive end is a concern and when evaluating him, I do picture a Cheick Diallo type of scenario.
Xavier Tillman slots in around the middle here which seems about right. He flaunts less upside than other options listed, but whoever lands Tillman should feel good about his finishing ability and ability to contest shots. He is not the athlete Bam is, but his hints of playmaking ability do bring some extra versatility off of short rolls.
Tyler Bey seems to be even more of a tweener than previously. The Brandon Clarke comparison is thrown around because of their measurements and motor, but Clarke’s 11.3% block percentage versus Bey’s 4.3% throws that one in the garbage. Bey only shot 31 three pointers this season but still remains a bit more of a high powered forward/wing than a small ball big man.
Daniel Oturu is gaining some steam as of late and his build as a rim runner might be a big factor of that. He is a powerful athlete with advanced footwork and improved touch around paint. He is more of a functional athlete than some other high flyers here, but his mature frame, wide shoulders specifically, make him a likely contributor in the paint on both ends.
Zeke Nnaji played 30 minutes and blocked less than one shot per game. Nnaji rated well defending the paint, allowing less than 0.85 points per possession around the basket and in post ups. For a 7 footer, the block numbers are a concern yet there are plenty high level post defenders in the NBA who don’t provide block output. Ivica Zubac could be a really nice and realistic comparison here.