The value of rim protection has increased over the past four seasons. As the NBA devalues the mid-range game, the value of a good three-point shooter and finisher at the rim has increased. Because of that, the value of players who can stop them has also increased.
For example, this summer, the Dallas Mavericks re-acquired an aging Tyson Chandler. While the Mavericks gave up a useful player in Jose Calderon and two second round picks, they were able to bring in one of the league’s better rim protectors when healthy. While some players – *cough* Jeff Withey *cough*- have slipped the crack, the large majority of guys who can fit the role of “rim protector” have been valued and paid. Just look at the price of some of the best rim protectors in the league:
- Roy Hibbert (41.4% allowed – $14.8 million)
- Robin Lopez (42.4% allowed-$6.1 million)
- Serge Ibaka (43.9% allowed- $12.3 million)
- Andrew Bogut (45.0% allowed- $12.2 million)
- Taj Gibson (45.7% allowed- $8.0 million)
- Joakim Noah (46.8% allowed- $12.7 million)
And we didn’t even get to DeAndre Jordan, and Tim Duncan- three value rim protectors making upwards of $10 million per season, and Dwight Howard who’s scheduled to make over $21 million this season. The lowest paid player on the list, Robin Lopez, is a free agent at the end of the upcoming season, and he’s going to be properly compensated if he gives Portland another strong defensive season.
The point is: It’s really hard to find someone who can alter shots for cheap. It’s one of the reasons why I loved Joel Embiid and Noah Vonleh coming out of the draft. Even if the injuries derail them, and their offensive games don’t take a step further, both offered the ability to protect the rim, and it’s a reason why I believed Orlando should’ve drafted Vonleh over Gordon.
Speaking of the Orlando Magic… The Magic finished 19th in the league in opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim, allowing 53.1% at the rim last season, via NBA.com’s stats tool. Nikola Vucevic, the Magic’s main man in the middle, didn’t fare well on defense. On 7.3 opponents attempts at the rim, Vucevic allowed a blistering 56.4%; the highest total for anyone who saw more than 6.0 shot attempts at the rim last season. Orlando was just 0.6 points better defensively with Vucevic on the floor, than with him off, per 82games.com. He’s not a terrible post defender, but he’s not great either. He’s not as bad as his 56% allowed, but he’s not an elite rim defender either. That places Vucevic into a dangerous position. His other skills, such as spacing the floor and rebounding, are valuable, but not being able to protect the rim hinders his value just a bit.
Enter third-year big man Kyle O’Quinn.
After a rookie season that came with its own ups and downs, O’Quinn was one of the few Magic players that took a step forward last season. He saw an increase in minutes (17.2), which led to an increase in points (6.2) and rebounds (5.3). His on/off numbers were respectable for a reserve big man as well.
When O’Quinn was off the floor, the Magic were almost four points worse on defense — 3.7 to be exact — and the effective field goal percentage allowed went up from 47.9% to 51.4% when O’Quinn took a seat, via 82games.com. To put a cap on it, O’Quinn allowed just 46.2% at the rim on 3.3 attempts last season. The offensive improvement came, but the defensive leap turned O’Quinn from just a second rounder, to a valuable rotation player.
While O’Quinn’s value is measured, how he fits into the new look Magic is still up in the air. The addition of Channing Frye will no doubt have an effect on his minutes, and the Magic have a couple of combo forwards, in Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon who could also steal at part of the pie that O’Quinn deserves.
What O’Quinn has going for him is the ability to play and thrive at the center position. Last season, Orlando sported a 96.1 defensive efficiency with O’Quinn at center, and he held opposing centers to an effective field goal percentage of just 43.4%. With this, he becomes a much easier play to fit into lineups. Sliding him the backup center minutes allows Orlando to play guys like Harris and Gordon in small-ball lineups, while maintaing some level of rim protection.
Whatever lineups are assembled this season, the Magic should resist playing O’Quinn and Vucevic together. Last season, the duo played a combined 253 minutes together and the defense suffered, allowing a defensive efficiency of 108.5. While I point out the defensive struggles with this duo, the offensive issues also linger. Both O’Quinn and Vucevic patrol similar areas of the court, which negates their ability to give the team some extra spacing. Neither have a corner three in their arsenal, and both use the mid-range and restricted area to score. While the mid-range percentages differ — O’Quinn shot 47% of his shots at the mid-range, Vucevic shot just 36% — the numbers at the restricted area are a close — O’Quinn at 38%, while Vucevic was at 42%. While O’Quinn can guard power forwards at times, he’s much more suited to defend centers, which could cause some positional issues on the defensive end.
While a starting role on this team could be argued, the sixth or seventh man role seems like an ideal one for O’Quinn. Assuming the starting lineup on opening day is Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Maurice Harkless, Frye, and Vucevic, the Magic would have Harris and O’Quinn as the first two off the bench. At center, O’Quinn can use his length and size to alter shots and bother defenders, while his power forward counterpart can offer offense. Therefore, a frontcourt duo of Frye and O’Quinn and even Harris and O’Quinn sounds ideal for long stretches, offering the combination of rim protection and floor spacing, while maintaing some level of scoring. A five-man lineup of Oladipo, Fournier, Harkless, Harris, and O’Quinn is just one of the many lineups that can work.
The Magic have plenty of frontcourt options, but only one can truly protect the rim, and help that level of the defense. Even with the addition of Frye in the offseason, the Magic have to make a portion of those minutes available to O’Quinn. His value to the team is just too high at this moment in time.