by Griffin Gamble
Rudy Gobert, the starting center for the Utah Jazz, reclaimed his title as the league’s best defender again on Wednesday. Gobert joins elite company. He is the fourth player in NBA history to win this prestigious award three times.
Gobert earned 84 of 100 first-place votes and finished with 464 total points. Beating out guys like Ben Simmons and Draymond Green is very impressive, especially with how vocal those two have been regarding their stance on who should win. Gobert once again led the league in blocks which is a big part of why he has won this award so many times. But, in the beginning of this series, Gobert has shown just how versatile of a defender he can be.
In game one, Rudy Gobert did not have his best performance offensively or defensively. However, Gobert came through once again when it mattered most. He made the game-saving block with his team up by three points to seal the win. It was a game where the Jazz really shouldn’t have won otherwise.
Follow that up in game two with a Rudy Gobert performance Jazz fans have become accustomed to. The 20 rebounds (19 being defensive rebounds) is great but how about the two steals and three blocks with his mother cheering him on in the crowd? The Clippers have thrown everything they have at Gobert.
Whether it be small ball and stretching the floor with Morris and Batum or bringing that physicality with Cousins and Zubac, Gobert has stepped up to the challenge. He has shown why he is the best defensive player in the NBA. A prime example was at the 10:08 mark in the fourth quarter of last night’s game. Reggie Jackson was advancing the ball and saw a streaking Kawhi Leonard who looked almost wide open underneath the hoop. Jackson tried to lob the pass to him for an easy two when Gobert came out of nowhere to intercept that pass.
With 3:51 left in the fourth quarter and the Jazz holding on to a seven point lead, Patrick Beverley looked like he had a pretty clear lane to drive the ball to the hoop. Gobert had other intentions. He stepped in to make a play and Beverley looked scared to challenge Gobert. He hesitated, then shot a little seven-foot floater that had no chance of going in over Gobert.
If the eye test isn’t enough for people, let’s look at a few numbers to show how Gobert also analytically had one of the best defensive seasons we’ve seen in the modern NBA. This season, the Jazz are 11.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Gobert plays compared to when he sits. That is tops in the NBA by a fairly large amount for players with at least 1,000 minutes played. Gobert’s defensive on-off split is one of the largest of any high-volume player over the past 15 years, tying Draymond Green’s number from the 2015-2016 season.
ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus, which they have been doing since 1996, has this year from Gobert as the highest recorded ever at +8.00 which is better than Dikembe Mutombo’s 97-98 Defensive Player of the Year season.
Gobert is a dominant shot-blocker and paint presence that can impact a game defensively more than this league has ever seen. He has shown his versatility in this second round matchup vs the Clippers so far. It’s a long way to go for both teams, but it remains to be seen how Gobert would do versus that small-ball Brooklyn Nets offense. Only time will tell whether this potential treat of an NBA Finals comes to fruition.
Featured image courtesy Alex Goodlett/Getty Images