Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis have numerous things in common; they’re tall, good at basketball, and have very interesting hair styles to name a few. While the two are known for many things, their innate ability to infuriate opposing offenses with their shot blocking presence garners the most attention. As I’m sure you can vividly recall, Noel had quite the defensive game against Ole Miss on Tuesday night, sending back a school record of 12 shot attempts. Because of his spectacular defensive effort, he surpassed Anthony Davis’ record for blocked shots through 20 games, a record in which many thought was out of reach just weeks before. Of course, now that Noel is ahead of Davis’ obscene block pace, many are debating which of the duo is superior at sending back opponent shots. Since I was one of the people wondering that same question, I did some research using advanced (and not so advanced) statistics to see if either player truly holds an advantage in rejections.
Some of the above terms may be new or confusing to some, but fret not, they’re actually pretty simple to understand. The first two columns, “total shots blocked” and “per game” are self explanatory, they contain the total number of blocks and the per game average. Blocks per-40 minutes is slightly more complicated, but it’s merely blocked shots divided by minutes played then multiplied by 40. This represents what a player “should” accomplish, provided they play the entirety of a game. Block Percentage is a more advanced way of examining rejections. This stat accounts for total blocks, minutes played, and opposing two point shot attempts. Though not perfect, this metric is great for a tempo-free style of analysis. The final column, block recovery percentage, is the percentage of rejections recovered by either that player or his teammates.
While Noel holds an ever so slight edge over Davis in total blocks and blocks per game, Davis leads Noel in all other categories, albeit very slightly. This is due to two simple reasons, minutes played and opponent shot attempts. Last season, Anthony Davis (through 20 games) played 76% of team minutes, or 30.5 per game. Currently, Noel is playing 80% of team minutes, or 32 per game. Since Noel has played a greater percentage of minutes, and both he and Davis blocked a similar number of shots, Davis finds himself ahead of Nerlens in the “per-40 minute” category. The other reason for Davis’ lead in the advanced categories is opponent two-point attempts. Through this point last season, Kentucky’s opponents took 836 two-point attempts. Compare that to this season’s number of 888, and you’ll see why Nerlens’ percentage of blocked shots is lower than his predecessor.
Even though both players are putting up similar numbers, I personally find it difficult to compare the two on defense for multiple reasons. First, Noel’s defensive play is nearly 100% interior focused while Davis was a more versatile defender. Second reason, Noel’s blocks come primarily as the main defender while a higher percentage of Davis’ blocks came as a help defender. Despite the eerily similar statistics, the two have very different styles of play, which makes comparison difficult. If this were solely an on paper comparison, it’d be near impossible to choose a winner between the two. Likewise, if you wanted to build a defense from scratch, it’d be difficult to choose from the pair given their unique individual abilities. While the two are near indistinguishable on paper and influence the game in different ways, there’s no denying their defensive impact is other worldly.