E.J. Liddell's Shot Blocking | The Friday Screener
E.J. Liddell doesn't look like most shot blockers, but the Ohio State Buckeye is one of the most effective shot blockers in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Rim protection comes in many shapes and sizes, but nothing is quite as effective as a good old-fashioned block. Despite being listed at 6’7”, E.J. Liddell was a tremendous shot blocker this season for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Even though he may not have the size to be a primary rim protector, Liddell’s physical defense, quickness off the floor, and brilliant timing will bolster any rotation’s rim protection and make him one of the most sought-after frontcourt prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft.
This season, Liddell’s block percentage of 8.2% ranked 49th in the country, per Barttorvik.com. I know 49th isn’t a ranking that smacks you in the face and makes you scream: “God damn, that’s impressive.” However, when we filter that to players who are 6’7” or shorter, Liddell leaps to fifth in the country. Additionally, when we look at all players since 2008 from high major conferences who were 6’7” or shorter, Liddell’s block percentage of 8.2% ranked eighth. Essentially, despite lacking traditional size for a rim protector, Liddell was incredibly effective in this realm.
Liddell’s raw shot-blocking numbers are impressive as he led the Big Ten in total blocks and blocks per game, but what really stands out is the variety of blocks he executes. Liddell has the motor to chase down opponents in transition, the strength to battle in the post, and the awareness to make timely rotations.
Here, Liddell shows off his motor by chasing down an opponent he has no right to block. After the lazy entry pass gets stolen, Liddell is at least ten feet behind the outlet pass. Without hesitation, Liddell launches into a full sprint. Liddell’s teammate does a nice job of slowing down the fast break for a split second as Liddell comes out of nowhere for the block.
Yes, yes, yes, Michigan still ended up with the basket, but that was because no one else showed a sliver of the effort that Liddell did. Plays like these will endear Liddell to teammates in the NBA, earn him more minutes, and lead to winning basketball.
While Liddell won’t be a full-time center, there will be plenty of minutes where he is forced to battle in the post. Here, Liddell absorbs the back-down blows from Moussa Diabate without surrendering an inch. After dribbling to the middle of the floor, Diabate spins back towards the baseline and uses a shot fake. Liddell doesn’t come close to biting and immediately turns away Diabate’s shot.
It seems like a routine play against an inexperienced opponent who rushed his shot, and to some extent, it is; however, it also highlights Liddell’s combination of strength and patience. Many shot blockers cannot wait to turn away shots which often results in jumping at fakes and unnecessary fouls. Liddell is rarely a victim of this.
Here, Liddell is battling with potential top pick Paolo Banchero. Banchero is a physical freak who thrived in the post and mid-range this season, but Liddell is undeterred. Banchero tries to play bully ball while using a series of fakes, but Liddell remains grounded. After taking a hop step to the middle of the lane, Banchero uses a subtle shot fake that would get most defenders to leave their feet. Yet again, Liddell doesn’t bite and proceeds to meet Banchero at the apex of his jumper.
Liddell’s ability to battle in the post is important, but given his size and the spacing of the NBA, he will also spend a significant amount of time defending on the perimeter. Liddell doesn’t have the foot speed to regularly switch and contain guards, but he does an excellent job of using his footwork and angles to recover.
Here, Liddell shows good footwork on the crossover that allows him to stay balanced but not cut off the drive. Even though the ball-handler is able to attack the baseline, Liddell is ushering him to exactly where he wants him to go. Through good footwork and strength, Liddell forces the ball-handler to execute a desperate jump stop under the rim. From here, it’s easy work for Liddell to suffocate the shot.
This time, Liddell switches the dribble handoff on the much quicker guard. The ball-handler uses a jab step that moves Liddell a significant amount and opens a driving lane. Despite his jumpiness, Liddell never crosses his feet, which allows him to stay balanced, flip his hips, and recover. By quickly repositioning himself, Liddell is able to take a more direct route of recovery and meet the ball-handler in the middle of the lane. This route doesn’t allow the ball-handler to get all the way to the rim, and Liddell swats away the shot.
Liddell’s ability to defend and deter shots at multiple positions is brilliant. It will be an effective tool for him going forward, but he will likely make his biggest impact as a shot-blocker with his help defense. Liddell’s excellent timing when defending the ball combines nicely with his ability to play a center field-esque role.
Here, Iowa runs a stagger screen to either open up the shooter or create a mismatch on the weak side. As the ball swings, Liddell pivots to keep his eye on the ball while also staying attached to his assignment. Once the ball-handler attacks the closeout, Liddell begins his rotation but waits to fully commit until the dribble is picked up. Liddell times his jump perfectly and denies the dunk.
This time, Liddell is lurking on the weak side block as many elite shot blockers do. Liddell sees that his teammate gets blown past almost no resistance and begins to load up for the block. Liddell again times his jump perfectly as he comes from the weak side, navigates the rim, and blocks the layup.
Finally, Liddell is defending the screener in the pick-and-roll and is playing at the level. The ball-handler denies the screen, and Liddell turns to pursue, but he doesn’t fully commit until he’s convinced that the ball-handler is committed to taking a shot at the rim. Once the decision seems clear, Liddell fully commits and blocks the floater from behind.
E.J. Liddell isn’t a traditional shot-blocker as he has the height of most wings. However, his awareness, timing, and ability to absorb contact make him one of the most effective shot blockers in the 2022 NBA Draft. Liddell’s defensive versatility will be highly sought after. Teams with a stretch big or a more finesse frontcourt should be chomping at the bit to add him to the rotation.