• Sat. Dec 9th, 2023

Situational NBA big man rankings


Aug 30, 2021

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We’re in the darkest part of the NBA calendar which, of course, means it’s ranking season — filling the void in the absence of any real news with arbitrary, qualitative lists. Our big collaborative ranking project, the 25-under-25, will be coming in a few weeks but I’m messing around with some positional rankings here in The Whiteboard.

I find a generalized ranking of players based on fluid and largely obtuse positional rankings to be pretty pointless, so I’ve gone more granular. Last Friday, I ranked point guards based on specific situations like isolating on a final possession, defending at the point of attack and spotting up for a crucial 3-pointer. Here I’m tackling big man based on some different big man jobs. Tuesday, we’ll have small wings (your James Hardens and Zach LaVines), Wednesday we’ll do big wings (Kevin Durants and Kawhi Leonards).

As always, make sure to let me know everything I got wrong.

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want commanding post touches?

Traditional post-ups make up a smaller and smaller portion of NBA offenses but it’s still a crucial offensive scenario. Ideally, a big man could punish smaller players, score efficiently against guys their own size and pass out of the double-team to make sure their teammates are getting open looks.

1. Nikola Jokic
2. Joel Embiid
3. Nikola Vucevic
4. Anthony Davis
5. Domantas Sabonis

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want spotting up for a catch-and-shoot 3?

What traditional big men have sacrificed in post-up opportunities they’ve made up in outside shots. Both accuracy and volume are important because you want your big man to be able to make shots and stretch the defense with the implied threat of their shooting.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns
2. Nikola Vucevic
3. Nikola Jokic
4. Marc Gasol
5. Bobby Portis

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want catching a lob?

The other way a big man can stretch the defense is with their quickness and leaping ability, both the practical and implied threat of a big man slipping behind a defender and rising for a dunk. The lob creates highlights and dunks but also makes things easier for a ball-handler who knows their pick-and-roll defenders have more to worry about.

1. Mitchell Robinson
2. Robert Williams
3. Deandre Ayton
4. Jaxson Hayes
5. JaVale McGee

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want commanding elbow touches?

An elbow touch is an opportunity for a big man to unfurl their triple-threat potential — dribble, pass or shoot.

1. Nikola Jokic
2. Anthony Davis
3. Joel Embiid
4. Bam Adebayo
5. Domantas Sabonis

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want walling off the paint?

Controlling the paint on defense isn’t just about being tall or jumping high. It’s about discipline and positioning, knowing when to challenge and when to just let the threat of your shot-blocking send the offense scrambling.

1. Rudy Gobert
2. Myles Turner
3. Bam Adebayo
4. Brook Lopez
5. Nelens Noel

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want screening in the pick-and-roll?

Screening in the pick-and-roll is a simple act that can lead to a variety of outcomes. The most impactful bigs set great screens but also know when to slip them, and can threaten the defense with their shooting, finishing and passing. It’s about decision-making and reading the defense in addition to just skill.

1. Nikola Jokic
2. Bam Adebayo
3. Deandre Ayton
4. Rudy Gobert
5. Clint Capela

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want switching onto a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll?

More and more, a big man’s defensive job is more than just staying anchored to the paint and trying to block or deter layups and floaters. Switching requires quick feet and length but also the awareness and discipline to avoid fouling and funnel ball-handlers to the best spots.

1. Bam Adebayo
2. Anthony Davis
3. Myles Turner
4. Rudy Gobert
5. Deandre Ayton

NBA big man rankings: Who do you want trying to grab-and-go in transition?

A big man who can grab a defensive rebound and then immediately turn and push without having to pause and find a guard is a huge asset. You need someone with the vision, athleticism and ball-handling ability to turn an opening into a scoring opportunity but it’s an underrated tool in the big man toolbox.

1. Nikola Jokic
2. Bam Adebayo
3. Karl-Anthony Towns
4. Anthony Davis
5. Domantas Sabonis


Who do you want to hire as your social media manager? Joel Embiid.

Who do you want to shop for comics with? Brook and Robin Lopez.

Who do you want helping you get something off a high shelf? Boban Marjanovic.


Damian Lillard and Ben Simmons need to be traded. While a straight-up swap would work, it’s more fun to get a third team involved.

More takeaways from Friday’s three-team trade that sent Lauri Markkanen to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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