Shot blocking makes the highlights, but playing strong fundamental defense is as important to a team's success.
Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns, the projected No. 1 pick, ranks top three in both Keep-in-Front% and Contest+.
UNLV's Christian Wood ranks as the worst fundamental big with a Keep-in-Front% of 58.6.
Frank Kaminsky often gets knocked for his defense, but the Wisconsin senior ranks highest in both statistics.
FRANK THE FUNDAMENTAL TANK
Frank Kaminsky ranks as the highest on this chart in both KIF% and Contest+, highlighting his ability to be in the right spot to make a play on defense.
Here, Tyus Jones crosses over on the drive, but Kaminsky doesn’t fall for the fake and manages to force him into a difficult layup attempt. Kaminsky's relatively short 6’11” wingspan will certainly limit him in the NBA, but he has the mobility to keep ball handlers contained in the pick-and-roll. If he excels as a playmaking forward on the offensive end, then having solid fundamentals on defense is all a team can really ask for.
WCS IS A FREAK
Willie Cauley-Stein’s KIF% is rather amazing considering how often he was tasked with switching onto wings and guards (the NBA average KIF% for guards and wings is 44.2, compared to 70.9 for bigs). The majority of the prospects on this list wouldn’t stand much of a chance in isolation against smaller players, but Cauley-Stein is a unique player equipped with the lateral quickness to defend almost anyone.
Focus on the way Cauley-Stein stays on the balls of his feet moving laterally and keeps his hands active while switched onto Jerian Grant, a potential first-round pick. Cauley-Stein had the lateral quickness to contain both of Grant's drive attempts, forcing him into a step-back jumper, and the length to block the shot. This is the epitome of what it means to play fundamental defense and is one of the best plays, fundamentally and athletically, of the entire calendar year.
TOWNS VERSUS OKAFOR
It’s interesting to see how top picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor compare, with Towns having a slight edge in both statistics. It’s rather unsurprising that he does in Contest+, since Okafor barely leaves his feet when contesting shots. But still, Okafor does have a long 7’5” wingspan, so he’s still able to get his hand up, if he’s putting in the effort. This bodes well for his ability to play "ice" pick-and-roll defense, especially if his fundamentals improve.
DAKARI JOHNSON STANDS OUT
Potential late first-round pick Christian Wood has years to go when it comes to his fundamentals (and effort) on defense. He ranks as the worst in both KIF% and Contest+. In the clip below, he doesn't bother to even get a hand up to contest the shot on defense, which was a typical occurrence for him last season.
Cliff Alexander’s statistics are disappointing yet not surprising, since he plays perimeter defense on his heels, which shows in his subpar 65.5 KIF%. Alexander’s success in the NBA will likely depend on how he develops in this area. He can bring energy, but he needs to show that coaches can rely on him. On the other hand, Dakari Johnson ranks highly in both statistics, which supports the notion that he could carve out a long career as a rotational big.
Everyone loves a shot blocker, but it's vital that prospects can also play strong fundamental defense. In a league loaded with freakish athletes, sometimes being in the right spot is more important than making a highlight play.