Full Court Digress: The NBA’s Enforcers are Ready for the Playoffs

Full Court Digress returns with a look at the NBA's best enforcers.
By    March 23, 2018



Art by Keith Allison

Mike Dupar wears Howard Dean Supremes.

As the slog to the playoffs continue, it’s important to take stock of role players and the subtle skills that help define winning teams. Last week we dug into the role injuries could play this post-season and today we’ll take stock of the thuggish-ruggish, never scared enforcers of the league. Play the damn song!

Some of the greatest teams in history owe much of their success to the pain that their enforcers inflicted upon their enemies. Jordan had Rodman after he’d established himself as Mr. Bout-it-Bout-it for his time. Pop had Bruce Bowen, a man who slithered his feet beneath those of his opponents with infamy and who once ninja-kicked Wally in his dumb face.  

Enforcers come in all shapes and sizes, whether it be the D-Bo-like Kendrick Perkins, or the silent assassins like John Stockton—who’s dirt is of legend but mostly unverified on film.

If you want to compete at the highest level in the NBA, you better have at least one enforcer who is never scared.

The Drakes

Somewhat fittingly, the Drakes don’t have much in the way of an enforcer these days. According to Vince Staples, Demar DeRozan is not to be trifled with but as he campaigns for the MVP (nope) and first team all NBA honors (nope) he is relatively unlikely to throw bows mid-game.

Serge Ibaka, on the other hand, has a pretty solid record of being a certified dick-slapper. Yet in his old age Serge has moved away from dirty plays, as far as why I can’t say but Serge has changed.

Which brings us to Jonas Valanciunas. Now, I’ve never been to a sex dungeon or any sort of S&M club, but I imagine that many of the men that visit such places either aspire to be Valanciunas or may actually be Valanciunas. There is just something about eastern European centers that evoke for me the mental image of them as leather daddies in weird sex dungeons.

Valanciunas is a sort of hybrid enforcer that employs sneaky, little man tactics like Stockton but within the frame of a more conventional enforcer. Valanciunas doesn’t have an extensive dirty highlight reel but he is consistently throwing elbows and shoving opposing centers in the back.

As of late, I’ve begun to sour on the Drakes as true contenders and largely because I don’t believe in Valanciunas’ willingness to escalate things to DEFCON level fuckery. At the end of the day, I think Val is in denial—the league is changing and his value isn’t only on the boards and in the post anymore, it’s in the trenches.

The Pacers

Who else but Lance Stephenson! Lance is a one-of-a-kind enforcer the likes of which the league hasn’t seen in full blossom before. Lance is a true student of the game; he beautifully fuses the psychological warfare of peak Garnett with the antics of Ace Ventura.

As the fairy godfather of NBA enforcers, Lance has flirted with the highest of highs an enforcer can experience, that being the implosion of a bonafide star. Most notable is Lance’s work vs. LeBron James, yet Lance’s antics are not enough to put him on at the top of this list, as ultimately, his hijinks hurt his teams just as frequently as they help.


The Wizards

Gortat looks like the Boss leather daddy you face after beating all other leather daddies (including Valanciunas). Sporting the worst tattoo and hair-do combo in the history of professional sports, Gortat is a creature who invests far too much time and energy into cultivating your average five-year old’s vision of toughness into his personal brand. That said, Gortat is master of brutal picks and his father was a successful boxer in Poland.

For me, Gortat is a bit too old to be the enforcer the Wizards really need to make a deep playoff run but if he can keep his Mohawk sufficiently lubed, Gortat just might be able to swing a series with a timely elbow.

The Heat

Anyone that watches the NBA somewhat regularly knows that James Johnson has a black belt in karate. Literally every color commentator has referenced this in his or her broadcast. But despite this overly known fact and Johnson’s undisputed ability as an enforcer, the real enforcer in Miami is Pat Riley. I mean look at this mofo play the bongos.

Since the dawn of time, Riley has instilled his teams with a whole lot of don’t give a fuck and a general ruthlessness foreign to much of basketball. Which is exactly why I’m high on the Heat going into the playoffs despite the absence of a true star on their team. The Heat have an entire team of enforcers who on any given night could pull an opponent’s tooth or roundhouse a defender in the dick.


The Rockets

Just as the West has a surplus of competitive teams in comparison to the lowly East, the West also holds claim to a murder’s row of enforcers.

For a team as talented as the Rockets and despite them having an all-time season, I’m concerned about the Rockets. For one ,they have two of the greatest playoff losers in league history (Paul and Harden) and they lack a high-level enforcer, unlike much of their conference competition.

As such, much of the Rocket’s success this post-season will be predicated on Gerald Green’s ability as an enforcer. Last week we saw a flash of Green’s ability when he shoved Dieng in the back in defense of Paul.

For one, having your star player’s back when you are a middling role player is always a great way to help ensure your place within the team when your contract comes up, but Green seems genuinely ready to kill for this team’s championship dreams.

This is why Green is my dark-horse enforcer for the playoffs and why I won’t be surprised if he uppercuts Draymond in the nuts in the Western Conference Finals.

Growing up I had a friend whose father only had 7 fingers. I was terrified of him not because he lacked three fingers but because of what the loss of those fingers represented to me in my mind.

Gerald Green has 9 fingers.

The Warriors

The Warriors have a Cerberus-like enforcer comprised of Draymond Green, David West, and Zaza. That trio is arguably one of the most ruthless teams of cutthroats in world history. Draymond’s dick-kicks are woven into the fabric of league history at this point and if the Warriors find themselves in a rock fight at some point this post-season I’d put all the money in the world on Draymond regressing into full dick-targeting-mode. You’ll know the moment has arrived when his mouth opens too wide and sends his eyes cross.

The problem with having your primary enforcer as one of the essential cogs of your offense and defense was hilariously demonstrated by the Warriors two years ago when the GOAT goaded Draymond into squandering a championship. The Warriors reacted by signing Zaza and West, two of the greatest never-scareds the league has ever seen.

With that type of depth it’s hard to like any team but the Warriors to hoist this years Larry O’Brien trophy. The true test will be whether or not any competitor can goad Zaza and West into ejections in a pivotal game and pave the way to Draymond. I really fucking hope so.

Baptism of the Week

Your Baptism of the Week comes courtesy of Myles Turner.

Last night this booming Baptism made me empathically punch the air and yell “B’YEAH.” It’s that good.

Remember when this was enough to dismantle a politicians career? Sigh.

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