Noel Davis 2

Protecting the rim: Nerlens Noel vs Anthony Davis

After his 12-block night vs Ole Miss, Nerlens Noel is now on pace to break Anthony Davis's shot block record at Kentucky. Noel has 94 through 20 games, while Davis had 186 in 40 games. Of course, the odds of Noel playing 40 games is really small, but still – being on pace is impressive enough.

Who was the better shot blocker? While the raw numbers are slightly in favor of Noel, the advanced numbers are slightly in favor of Davis. Last year Anthony Davis blocked 13.8% of opponent shots when he was on the floor. This year Noel is at a slightly less impressive 13.2%.

Should we call it a draw?

In the past I've pointed out that the value of a blocked shot depends on what happens after the block. Fans love to see volleyball style blocks that rocket some poor soul's shot into the 9th row. But all that means to a coach is that the opposition now gets to run a set baseline out-of-bounds play, which are some of the most efficient sets in basketball. A truly valuable blocked shot steals a possession from the opponent. So it's about maintaining possession following the block, not how hard you can swat it.

With that in mind, how do Noel and Davis compare?

Noel has blocked 94 shots and Kentucky gained possession on 54.3% of them. Anthony Davis had 184* blocks and Kentucky gained possession on 58.7%. It's a small difference, but over the course of the season Kentucky would eliminate 8 more possessions with Davis than with Noel.

The other key factor is how often players foul while going for the block. In that case, Davis was clearly superior. He committed just 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes, while Noel commits 3.4/40.

Are these numbers elite? For comparison's sake I've been tracking four players all season, and those four players now are ranked No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 in total blocks this season. Here's how that chart currently looks:

Player Games Total Controlled Uncontrolled % FC/40
Withey 20 86 63 23 73.3 1.9
Obekpa 20 91 57 34 62.6 3.9
Bachynski 20 86 53 33 61.6 2.8
Noel 20 94 51 43 54.3 3.4
Davis 40 184 108 76 58.7 2.4

Compared to the other elite shot blockers, Davis and Noel both trail all three of them in terms of how often their teams maintain control. Jeff Withey is currently 19% ahead of Noel, which is essentially an extra possession every game where Kentucky has to defend which Kansas does not.

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* ESPN and Statsheet both list Davis as having three blocks vs Indiana in their first matchup last year, but the play by play data only shows one. The Davis analysis is based on 184 blocks, rather than 186.

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