The NBA’s top pinch post players

Dirk doin’ the Dirk.

[Note: This post is the second in a series of season preview posts here at HoopSpeak. Check out our post on the best pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop partnerships. -- Ed.]

How it works

Vaguely described as the area surrounding each elbow, the pinch post is basketball’s great enigma. To the coaches and players unable to figure out it’s nuances, it becomes a space where players launch inefficient shots over a muddled mass of bodies clogging the lane. But for those who unlock its secrets, the pinch post can be one of the most difficult spaces on the court to defend.

To efficiently navigate this spot on the floor, a player has mold his approach to the awkward floor balance that comes with it. As Dirk Nowitzki has proven over the years, an absolutely necessity for a player’s arsenal in the pinch post is the ability to reliably knock down jumpers from 15-18 feet — particularly off a jab step or shot fake. But mid-range shooting isn’t the only thing that makes a player successful here.

With space at such a premium, being a crafty and willing distributor is equally important. As defenses shrink the floor even more on any pinch post catch, a top-notch passer can force help defenders to cling to their marks and evacuate driving lanes.

What really separates efficient players at this spot from the rest of the pack is the ability to take advantage of those slivers of daylight and either get to the rim or draw a foul. It’s no coincidence that four members of our list can do exactly that.

Top pinch post players

1. Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki’s unblockable turnaround and his one-footed fader get the focus, but Dirk’s an underrated driver from this spot and a savvy passer to boot. He has a tendency to play standing straight up and down, but his remarkable core strength and balance — not to mention a 7-footers long first step — allows him to slip past quicker defenders (and draw fouls) when he isn’t just shooting right over them.

2. LeBron James

James has long been a spectacular passer from this angle, but the book on him in the pinch post was that he relied too much on his one dribble step back jumper. However during the 2011-12 season and especially during the final two series of his championship run, James became expert at using his strength and spin moves to chisel a path to the rim from this somewhat awkward distance. Essentially, he was able to convert pinch-post catches into low post catches, almost at will. In concert with his vision and ability to deliver a 40 foot cross court bullet to open shooters, James’ newfound comfort with is back to the rim makes defending him from this spot nigh impossible.

3. Paul Pierce

Pierce especially loves to work from this space when he can engineer a switch from the defense by first setting a screen on Rajon Rondo. His broad shoulders and clever footwork create space for his fadeaway (and that pump-fake counter move) and help him find angles to the rim. However he’s lost some quickness, and elite defenders who can resist biting on his pump fake can give him fits even from his pet spot on the floor.

4. Kevin Love

Love is, without a doubt, the quintessential high post player. He possesses a smooth, compact stroke and sublime passing skills that very few big men can match. That superior court vision opens up the entire floor for the Timberwolves as opposing defenses have no choice but to react to every subtle movement by Love’s teammates. But what really makes Love unique from this spot is his uncanny knack to feel the defense’s reaction to players cutting off him on a high post handoff. If Love’s defender pays too much attention to a cutting teammate, he will quickly pivot the opposite way and calmly sink a wide open jumper.

5. Carmelo Anthony

As Zach Lowe revealed with the help of Sport Vu technology, Carmelo Anthony can be a pretty dynamite scorer from this area. This is the case especially when he’s got an advantage in speed and is great at attacking the rim off the dribble. Problems typically arise when he’s covered by a smaller defender and chooses to shoot over rather than drive past him. That seemingly interminable routine of jab steps before finally just shooting only sporadically results in a made bucket.

Emerging players for 2012-13

1. Kevin Durant

Durant has all the skills to be very successful from this spot on the floor. The only thing holding him back is the fact that the Thunder never use him here. Outside of attacking a switch on their patented pin-down play, Durant’s primary spot to iso is at the top of the key. If he gets a few more touches here, he’ll have a chance to be one of the more devastating pinch post players in the league.

2. Paul Millsap

Give Paul Millsap the ball! The Utah big man’s face up game is sort of what all those power forwards who seem to want to “play like a guard” wish their games looked like. The low sweep through, reliable jumper and solid-but-not-flashy ball handling make him a brutal cover from this location. One major draw back: he doesn’t draw fouls at a high rate.

3. Blake Griffin

Today, Griffin’s game works better from the block-extended because it provides clearer driving angles. But if he can knock down the elbow jumper like he did over the second half of last season, his underrated passing ability will be even better served by attacking this area on the court. He’s worked on that jumper all offseason, we can’t wait to see if it paid off.

4. DeMarcus Cousins

Like the rest of his game, the only thing holding Cousins back from being a force at this spot is discipline. Despite his abundant skill and mobility, too often Cousins chooses the path of least resistance from the pinch post and tees up a fadeaway. If Cousins is able to get his head on straight sometime soon, he has the potential to use his passing, power and pace to dominate this area of the court.

5. Rudy Gay

Gay, like Durant, has the speed, handles and shooting ability to be a scoring force from the pinch post. But also like Durant, his head coach, Lionel Hollins, prefers to instead put him in isolations 21-feet out on the wing. Gay also has consistently demonstrated he’s past the days of settling for a variety of contested, step-back jumpers — see his work to get closer to the rim for jumpers against the Clippers in last year’s playoffs. While the floor-spacing combos are far from ideal in Memphis, Gay must mix in rim attacks to compliment his steady diet of jumpshots if he’s to climb this list.

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