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Friday, May 9, 2014
Class of 2014's best shot-blockers

By Adam Finkelstein

College basketball’s incoming freshman class features some elite rim protectors. They are the guys who are able to patrol the paint on defense and turn away a wide variety of would-be scorers. Here are the best shot-blockers in the class and one name to know in 2015:

1. Myles Turner, Texas
He went on national television and announced he was going to “hook em.” Well, he might have also meant he was going to “block em.” Arguably the best shot-blocker in the rising freshman class, Turner will provide an immediate boost to Texas’ defense with his ability to turn away shots at the rim. What’s going to be interesting is to see how Rick Barnes elects to use Turner in combination with returning center Cameron Ridley, not to mention last season’s starting power forward Jonathan Holmes. The trio is likely to see plenty of time on the floor together next season, which could mean more of a 2-3 zone from the Longhorns. That allows both Turner to anchor himself to the front of the rim when he plays in the middle, as well as show his mobility in challenging shots on the perimeter from the wing position.

Goodluck Okonoboh
His athletic ability, along with his excellent timing, makes Goodluck Okonoboh an ideal shot-blocker.
2. Goodluck Okonoboh, UNLV
He had years of on-the-job training next to Nerlens Noel, but he has left little doubt over the past two years that he plays second fiddle to no one when it comes to turning shots away at the rim. First and foremost, Okonoboh is very athletic -- he’s both quick off his feet as well as a high leaper from a standstill position -- and he also has excellent timing. He loves to play a mental game of cat and mouse with opposing dribble drivers, essentially allowing them to think they have a lane to the basket and then sliding in at the last second to knock the ball out of the air. Most importantly, he embraces the fact that his shot-blocking is his biggest asset and so he comes out every game intent to impose his will in this particular area.

3. Paschal Chukwu, Providence
Chukwu is going to have the biggest adjustment of any player on this list when it comes to the level of competition, but his ability to block and changes shots at the rim will be his most immediate impact at Providence. He’s very aggressive patrolling the paint from the weak side, but he also utilizes his shot-blocking prowess to make up for his current lack of strength when defending the ball on the block. While he’s going to need to get stronger, he has an ability to utilize his size and length in order to recover with a block -- even when pushed farther under the rim than he would ideally like.

4. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
He may be the preeminent rebounder in the rising freshman class, but he’s still one heck of a shot-blocker. In fact, he’s such a good rebounder that people underestimate his shot-blocking talents. He’s capable of turning shots away both on and off the ball. He has a good combination of mobility and physical power so he’ll rotate to erase his teammates’ mistakes from the weak side of the floor, while also owning his matchup on the block. Unlike Chukwu, Alexander isn’t going to give up an inch on the post. His blocks in that area are going to come more by virtue of forcing the defender into a tough basket and then getting a piece of an unbalanced shot, taking advantage of both his powerful upper and lower body.

5. Trayvon Reed, Maryland
Reed is fairly similar to Chukwu in that he’s going to have to adjust for new levels of speed and physicality at Maryland, but his ability to block shots will allow him the chance to make an immediate impacts. He’s 7-foot-1 with long arms and good athleticism for a guy his size. He’s even fairly agile and runs the floor reasonably well. He can also change direction around the basket, which allows him to rotate to the ball at various angles. His physical presence alone makes him an immediate deterrent to opposing dribble drivers so he’ll effect, and potentially prevent, just as many shots as he’ll actually block.

Name to know in 2015: Cheick Diallo
He comes from the same high school program that produced current St. John’s rim protector Chris Obekpa, and Diallo is cut from a very similar cloth. He is ultra-mobile with an incredible motor and is all over the court and always around the ball. His second and third bounces are just as quick as his first, so he’s the type of guy who can get multiple blocks in a single possession and still be back at the rim to pull down a defensive rebound.