Days before the calendar turned to 2022, Auburn center Walker Kessler, the 7-1 imposing import from North Carolina, posted the second triple-double in program history, as he scored 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and swatted a career-high 11 shots against LSU. It was the most blocks by a player in a DI men's basketball game this season (and only three players have reached 10 in a game).
Based on an analysis by NCAA.com, Walker, who as of Jan. 31 ranks second nationally with 4.05 blocks per game, prevented roughly 11.3 points for LSU with his 11 rejections.
In an effort to quantify just how much of a difference the country's elite shot-blockers make on the defensive end, I analyzed the top five shot-blockers in DI men's basketball, based on their per-game averages. Using the play-by-play data from each player's games this season, I gave an approximate expected point value for each blocked shot – theoretically, if it had gone in – by analyzing the shooter, the type of shot and the player's shooting percentage on those types of shots this season.
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The data in this story is current through Sunday, Jan. 30. Players' field-goal percentages at the rim, on two-point jumpers and on 3-poiners are courtesy of hoop-math.com. Hoop-math.com lists 60.9 percent as a previous national average for field goal percentage at the rim, so I used this number as a proxy for non-Division I players for whom advanced stats aren't available.
Of course, this is far from a perfect method. The shots were contested (which is why they were blocked) and that means a given player's field-goal percentage would be lower than if it was an uncontested attempt. There are other factors, such as home and road shooting splits, the differences in catch-and-shoot three-pointers versus off-the-dribble threes, the amount of time left on the shot clock, etc.
But using publicly available data, we can get a rough estimate of how many points some of the best rim protectors have saved this season. Here are some of the highlights from my analysis:
- Roughly 42 percent of the shots blocked by Western Kentucky's 7-5 center Jamarion Sharp, the nation's leading shot-blocker at 4.38 per game, have been two-point jumpers. By contrast, that category of shot represents between 17 and 19 percent of the blocks for each of Kessler, Morehead State's Johni Broome and Seton Hall's Ike Obiagu this season.
- There have been 16 opposing players who have had at least three shots blocked in the same game by one of the country's top five shot-blockers. Kessler blocked Murray State's KJ Williams six times in the same game, saving roughly an estimated 7.9 points. Williams made just four of his 18 attempts in the game.
- Rice's Carl Pierre is an elite finisher near the basket, as he's made 36 of his 44 shot attempts at the rim this season, or 81.8 percent. Two of his eight misses were dunks blocked on Jan. 15 by Marshall's Obinna Anochili-Killen, who's fourth in the country in blocks per game.
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Below are the five players I examined, including their school, height, blocks-per-game average and block rate. Block rate, courtesy of kenpom.com, measures the percent of opponents' two-point attempts that were attempted when the player was on the floor.
For example, Kessler, who leads the country with an 18.6-percent block rate, blocks roughly two out of every 11 two-point attempts that Auburn's opponents take when he's on the court.
|Player||School||Height||Blocks Per Game||Block Rate|
|Jamarion Sharp||Western Kentucky||7-5||4.38||16.9%|
|Johni Broome||Morehead State||6-10||3.73||13.2%|
|Ike Obiagu||Seton Hall||7-2||3.50||16.9%|
Estimated points saved through blocks
After analyzing the top five shot-blockers in the country, the types of shots they blocked, the players whose shots they blocked and what percentages those players shoot on those shots, I found that over a large sample size, there's often a one-to-one correlation between the number of blocks and the number of points "saved."
A shot taken inside the arc – where the vast majority of blocks happen, as the top five shot-blockers in the country have combined to block just 10 three-pointers in 2,647 minutes played this season – is worth two points if it goes in, obviously. This is a piece of fundamental understanding in basketball. But just because a two-point shot was blocked doesn't mean it would've gone in if it hadn't been blocked.
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So, by taking the offensive player's field goal percentage at the rim, on two-point jumpers and on three-pointers, we can calculate the expected value of a particular type of shot, creating the number of points saved. For example, if a player who shoots 50 percent on two-point jumpers has one of his jumpers blocked, the shot-blocker saved an estimated one point, given the expected value of the shot.
Below is the complete breakdown of the estimated number of points saved by each shot blocker this season, as well as their per-game averages.
|Player||School||Est. Points Saved||Est. Points Saved Per Game|
|Jamarion Sharp||Western Kentucky||91.22||4.34|
|Johni Broome||Morehead State||90.52||4.11|
|Ike Obiagu||Seton Hall||56.12||3.51|
Click or tap here to view the complete spreadsheet where I calculated each player's estimated points saved through blocks this season.
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More than 42 percent of national block leader Jamarion Sharp's swats have been two-point jumpers, so while the 7-5 Sharp lives up to the label of a "rim protector," he's really more than that. Sure, the Western Kentucky center has blocked 44 layups, four dunk attempts and even an attempted tip-in (!), but he has also swatted 39 two-point jumpers, plus four three-pointers. For the purposes of this story, a two-point jumper is any shot inside the arc that's not a layup, dunk or tip-in.
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While the breakdown of Sharp's blocks are nearly 50-50 between shots at the rim and shots from further reaches of the floor, three of the other four shot-blockers examined – Kessler, Broome and Obiagu – do much more of their swatting, between 75 and 80 percent, at the rim. The only block profile similar to Sharp is Anochili-Killen, who has blocked 22 two-point jumpers, which represents about 30 percent of his blocks this season.
Throwing a block party
Through Jan. 30, 2022, there have been four DI men's basketball players who have blocked at least 10 shots in a game this season and three of the four are among the players examined in this article – Kessler, with the 11 blocks mentioned in the lede of this story, and Sharp and Anochili-Killen, each of whom had a 10-block game.
I wondered: Among the five players examined, what individual shot-blocker-on-shooter matchups this season have been the most prolific?
In other words, which players have these shot-blockers swatted repeatedly in the same game?
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Here's what I found, based on players who had at least three shots in a game blocked by one of the country's top five shot-blockers. They're listed in descending order in terms of estimated points saved by the shot-blocker.
|Shot-blocker||Shooter||School||Blocks||est. points saved|
|Walker Kessler||KJ Williams||Murray State||6||7.89|
|Walker Kessler||Efton Reid||LSU||4||4.50|
|Walker Kessler||Tari Eason||LSU||3||3.83|
|Jamarion Sharp||Malcolm Dandridge||Memphis||3||3.68|
|Jamarion Sharp||Josh Mballa||Buffalo||4||3.66|
|Rob Littlejohn||Bluefield College||3||3.65|
|Walker Kessler||Jacob Hutson||Loyola Chicago||3||3.41|
|Chance Moore||Jackson State||5||3.27|
|Johni Broome||Chris Nix||UT Martin||3||3.25|
|Jamarion Sharp||KJ Simon||UT Martin||3||3.23|
|Jamarion Sharp||Oscar Tshiebwe||Kentucky||3||3.17|
|Jamarion Sharp||Jalen Johnson||Alabama A&M||4||3.12|
|Ike Obiagu||Dylan Addae-Wusu||St. John's||3||2.74|
|Walker Kessler||Jaemyn Brakefield||Ole Miss||3||2.70|
|Jamarion Sharp||EJ Williams||Alabama A&M||3||1.64|