One of the great things about basketball is that the best players possess more than one major skill. Sure, most of the greatest players in the history of the game are big-time scorers, but there are so many layers to the game beyond putting the ball in the basket. There are the pure three-point shooters, great passers, strong rebounders, and elite defenders. Among them, there are the rim protectors. We looked back through NBA history and came up with the greatest shot blockers of all time.
25. Dwight Howard
One of a few active players on our list is new Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard. Originally drafted by the Orlando Magic, No. 1 overall back in 2004, Howard made a name for himself as a big, physical defender and rim protector. He’s averaged two blocks per game in his 13-year NBA career, although that number is trending downward.
During his best years, Howard blocked 2.9 shots per game. But his numbers have steadily declined over the last four seasons, down to 1.2 blocks in 2016–17. This indicates that he could eventually fall off this list. Elvin Hayes, for example, is right behind Howard.
24. Ben Wallace
Another more recent center on our list is Detroit Pistons big man Ben Wallace. Believe it or not, Wallace went completely undrafted thanks to a complete lack of offensive game. The Washington Bullets picked him up as a rookie, and he bounced around before they dealt him to the Pistons in the Grant Hill sign-and-trade. Wallace became a four-time All-Star in Detroit, blocking 2.3 shots per game and leading the NBA with 3.5 blocked shots per game in 2001–02. He retired in 2012 with a career average of two blocks per game.
23. Nate Thurmond
Nate Thurmond is a major throwback. Unfortunately his place on the list can’t be accurately portrayed by just the numbers. Thurmond played from 1964–77, and only during the final four years of his NBA career did blocks become an actual stat. His average, 2.1 blocks per game, is based on just the seasons he played from ages 32–35. For a better example, Thurmond averaged 2.9 blocks for the Golden State Warriors in 1973–74. It’s safe to say that his career average should be closer to that number.
22. Bill Walton
Like Thurmond, center Bill Walton is one of the best shot blockers the game has ever seen. Foot injuries took a major toll on the Hall of Famer’s career, costing him all but 14 games over a four-season stretch. But Walton recovered, eventually finishing his career as a backup with the Boston Celtics. Walton’s best season came in 1976–77, when he led the NBA with 3.2 blocks per game. Overall his average in 10 NBA seasons is 2.2 blocks. One can only imagine how much better Walton might’ve been had he not experienced all the injuries.
21. Tree Rollins
Former Atlanta Hawks center Tree Rollins was a defense-first center known for doing one thing extremely well: protecting the rim. In his first seven NBA seasons, Rollins averaged 3.2 blocks per game and led the league in that category with 4.3 per game in 1982–83. He was never much of an offensive player, or even a big-time rebounder for that fact. Rollins finished his career with 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on average. After the 1994–95 season, Rollins retired from the NBA with an average of 2.2 blocks per game.
20. Larry Nance
Power forward Larry Nance spent his career with the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers. He was one of the more consistent shot blockers of his time. The 6-foot-10 athlete had a 13-year NBA career, making three All-Star teams and finishing with averages of 17.1 points, eight rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. Even as late as 1991–92, just two seasons before he would retire, Nance was blocking three shots per game. He never led the league in that category, but he was one of the best.
19. Rudy Gobert
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is another active player on this list, only unlike Howard before him there’s a decent chance he continues to rise. Currently, after his fourth NBA season, Gobert has an average of 2.2 blocks per game. However, as his playing time and skills have advanced, so have his numbers. He led the NBA with 2.6 blocks per game in 2016–17, making the All-Defensive First Team and putting up a major case for Defensive Player of the Year. At 24 years old, Gobert is only going to get better.
18. Tim Duncan
The recently-retired Tim Duncan isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet, but he will be once he’s eligible. The former San Antonio Spurs forward, a 15-time All-Star, two-time MVP, and five-time NBA champion, was one of the best defensive players of his era.
Duncan averaged 2.2 blocks per game for his career, and he was consistently around that number just about every season. He never led the league in the category, but averaged at least two blocks in 12 of his 19 NBA seasons. Duncan’s most memorable game came in the 2003 NBA Finals, when he blocked eight shots to go along with 21 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists.
17. Shaquille O’Neal
Early in his Hall of Fame career, Shaquille O’Neal was a shot-blocking machine. His highest average in that category came as a rookie with the Orlando Magic in 1992–93, blocking 3.5 shots per game. He never got close to that number again, but he did remain relatively consistent in finishing with 2.3 blocks per game over the course of 19 seasons. O’Neal was an absolute force during his career, making 15 All-Star teams and three All-Defensive teams, winning one MVP award and four NBA championships.
16. Theo Ratliff
Center Theo Ratliff is one of the more underrated defensive players in the history of the game, which likely has to do with the fact that he played in just one All-Star Game and bounced around a ton throughout his career. Ratliff played for nine different NBA teams during his 16-year career. But during that career, he managed to average 2.4 blocks per game. Ratliff led the league in that category three times in a period of four seasons, establishing himself as one of the best rim protectors in the NBA.
15. Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka is another active player who may begin to fall on this list as his career goes on. Early in his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ibaka was one of the elite shot-blockers in the game. He averaged a career-high 3.7 blocks in 2011–12, leading the NBA that season.
For his career, Ibaka holds an average of 2.4 blocks per game, but the 27-year-old has been declining over the last few seasons. Since the start of the 2015–16 season, Ibaka has averaged just 1.7 blocks per game. Considering that he could realistically play another 10 seasons, he could eventually find his way out of the top 25.
14. Patrick Ewing
One player who definitely won’t fall off the list is former New York Knicks great Patrick Ewing. The Hall of Famer played 17 NBA seasons, averaging 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. The 11-time All-Star never led the NBA in blocks per game during his career, but he did set a career-high with four blocks during the the 1989–90 season.
Ewing led the Knicks to the NBA Finals twice during his great career, losing to the Houston Rockets in 1994 and San Antonio Spurs in 1999. He was unable to play during the ’99 series.
13. Anthony Davis
Another young rising star to make it onto the list of greatest shot blockers is New Orleans Pelicans stud Anthony Davis. He is still only 23 years old, having played five seasons in the NBA, and already he’s led the league in blocks per game twice. For his young career, Davis holds an average of 2.4 blocks per game. With the acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins, which has allowed Davis to move to the perimeter more frequently, it’s possible we could see the block numbers start to come down slightly. But we wouldn’t count on it with this athletic freak.
12. Marcus Camby
Former NBA center Marcus Camby was like the Anthony Davis of the early 2000s, minus all the offensive skills. Camby was a big-time rebounder, shot blocker, and overall great defender during his days in the NBA.
Over 17 seasons, Camby averaged 9.5 points and 9.8 rebounds to go along with 2.4 blocks per game. He led the league in blocks four different times and finished with at least three blocks per game in a season five times. He made the All-Defensive team four times in his career and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2006–07.
11. George Johnson
Another player from the 1970s and ’80s who blocked a lot of shots was center George Johnson. Playing for the Golden State Warriors early in his career — and winning an NBA championship with them in 1974–75 — Johnson became well-known as one of the best rim protectors in the league. Johnson’s greatest performance came over a five-year stretch with the New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs, when he led the NBA in blocks per game three times and averaged 3.3 blocks overall. Johnson finished his career with an average of 2.5 blocks per game.
10. Shawn Bradley
A 7-foot-6 center who the Philadelphia 76ers drafted No. 2 overall in 1993, Shawn Bradley never turned into the kind of star player who many hoped he would. But with his size and long arms, there was always one thing he did particularly well: block shots. Through the first six seasons of his career, playing for the 76ers, New Jersey Nets, and Dallas Mavericks, Bradley averaged 3.4 blocks per game to go along with 11 points and 7.9 rebounds. His performance trailed off a bit as he aged, and Bradley finished out his 12-year career with an average of 2.5 blocks.
9. Hassan Whiteside
It has been a short career for 27-year-old Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, but there is no doubt that he’s one of the best defensive players in the league. With his crazy athleticism and long arms, Whiteside has averaged 14.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game over three seasons with the Heat. Overall in his career, Whiteside owns an average of 2.6 blocks per game. In 2015–16 he made his first ever appearance on an All-Defensive team, but there’s a strong chance it won’t be his last.
8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is mostly remembered as a scoring champion and one of the fiercest competitors in the history of the game. But fans also remember him as an excellent defender and shot blocker. Playing 20 NBA seasons between the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. His best season, in terms of shot blocking, came in 1978–79 when he swatted four shot attempts per game. The six-time NBA champion led the league in that category four times in his career.
7. Dikembe Mutombo
If there is one player who is specifically remembered for his shot-blocking abilities, it’s former Atlanta Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo. The Hall of Famer won four Defensive Player of the Year awards during his 18-year career, making eight All-Star teams and leading the league in blocks three times.
At the time of his retirement, Mutombo had averages of 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. But he spent a decent part of the latter portion of his career as a backup, which helped bring his averages down a bit. From age 25–34, Mutombo averaged 12.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game.
6. Alonzo Mourning
The first part of Alonzo Mourning’s career is very different from the second part, mostly because a kidney disease limited him on the court shortly after he turned 30 years old.
But Mourning was a major star, first with the Charlotte Hornets and later with the Miami Heat. He averaged 20.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, and three blocks per game in his first 10 NBA seasons, just before his kidney problems began costing him time. He finished his career with an average of 2.8 blocks per game, and hung around long enough to win a championship as Shaquille O’Neal’s backup center in 2005–06.
5. Elmore Smith
Fans likely best remember former NBA center Elmore Smith as one of the key pieces the Los Angeles Lakers traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While Smith was never anywhere close to the player Abdul-Jabbar was, he certainly could block shots with the best of them.
Smith led the NBA with 4.9 blocks per game in 1973–74, the first season the NBA instituted the stat. He finished his abbreviated eight-year career with an average of 2.9 blocks per game. Smith was a fine defensive player, but injuries forced him into retirement at the age of 29.
4. David Robinson
A Hall of Famer and former Defensive Player of the Year winner, San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson is truly one of the best to ever play the game. Robinson finished his career with averages of 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, and three blocks per game, and he was even better than that prior to his fateful, injury-filled 1996–97 season, which happened to be the year the Spurs won the lottery and drafted Tim Duncan.
“The Admiral” averaged 25.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks per game during his first seven NBA seasons. After the arrival of Duncan, he played a role in two NBA championship teams.
3. Hakeem Olajuwon
One of the greatest players to ever put on a uniform — and quite possibly the best player to make it on this list — is Hall of Fame center and two-time NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon.
Playing the vast majority of his career with the Houston Rockets, Olajuwon was an absolute beast on the defensive end. He led the NBA in blocks per game three times in his career, and he averaged more than 3.5 per game in eight different seasons. Olajuwon’s best overall season came in 1989–90, when he led the league in blocks (4.6) and rebounds (14) while scoring 24.8 points per game. He finished his 18-year career with 3.1 blocks per game.
2. Manute Bol
Center Manute Bol only played 10 years in the NBA, thanks to a frame that wasn’t conducive to professional basketball as well as limited skills beyond being a legitimate giant. But while the 7-foot-7 athlete did play, he was quite exceptional at blocking shots.
During his rookie season, Bol led the league with five blocks per game. He went on to lead the league in that category once more, and then finish up with 3.3 blocks per game on average despite playing only 18.7 minutes per game. Indeed, had Bol averaged 36 minutes per game throughout his career, he would’ve projected for an absurd 6.4 blocks per game.
1. Mark Eaton
Former Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton is easily overlooked because of his relatively short career and less-than-stellar offensive capabilities, but he was one of the best defensive players of his time. Eaton, a 7-foot-4 mammoth of a human being, led the NBA in blocks per game four times in his 11 seasons. He made one All-Star team, five All-Defensive teams, and won two Defensive Player of the Year awards. At 36 years old, Eaton retired with averages of six points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game in 28.8 minutes of play.