The Utah Jazz are, without a doubt, one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. And no I’m not just referring to Raul Neto. The Jazz have strung together 7 wins over their last 10 games in the month of December.
At the root of this success for the Jazz is a man who, on a team that struggled early on with injuries, has started every single game this season so far, is averaging a career high in points (12.3), rebounds (11.8), and blocks (2.7). That man is, of course, Rudy Gobert.
A man who started the season quietly in contention for DPOY, but mostly seen as a cog or niche role player; a superstar in Utah, maybe, but a trivial part of the greater NBA.
But this season Rudy Gobert has shown that he isn’t just a clandestine vaudeville act on a .500 basketball team. He is the anchor of one of the league's best defenses. Those DPOY whispers of years past, are now being brought to the forefront in the tune of 19 thousand fans in the Vivint Smart Home Arena (ew), roaring night after night at the show that Rudy has put on thus far.
Gobert has been such a monster this season that I am conflicted on where to start.
First and foremost, we’ll start with his defensive presence. The Jazz currently lead the league in opponent points allowed per game at 94.9 as well as a 4th best defensive rating of 104.1. Gobert personally accounts for 8.7 of the Jazz’s average 34.4 defensive rebounds per game.
To put this in perspective, Gobert is averaging 25% of his team’s defensive rebounds. Do I need to tell you how insane that is?
On the blocking side of things, Gobert currently leads the league with 78 blocks. He also is second behind Myles Turner for block percentage at 6.5. Basically, if you put a basketball anywhere near Gobert, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t have done that.
As I type this, Gobert just blocked Boogie Cousins. Not saying “I told you so,” but...
Additionally, Gobert is 3rd in the league for defensive rating (97.3) and first in defensive win shares (2.1).
For the past two years, Kawhi Leonard has deservedly secured DPOY, but with voter fatigue setting in, not to mention the statistical drop in Kawhi’s defense (which, by the way, is being blown way out of proportion) it’s fair to say the voters are going to be looking at someone else to crown DPOY. Rudy Gobert is making the perfect case with these numbers.
Offensively is really where he’s begun to stand out for me. Before the season, I wrote a piece on what is setting Gobert back from being a more prominent player in the league. A main point in that article was Gobert’s offense and lack of scoring away from the basket.
In 2015-16 Gobert averaged just 9.1 points on just .559 shooting and attempted 5.8 shots a game. Shooting .559 on less than 6 shots a game when you’re 7’1” and 245 lbs isn’t really a blueprint for offensive efficiency.
However, this season, Gobert is currently sitting at 12.3 points per game while attempting just 6.1 shots per game. Notching in 3 more points on seemingly the same number of attempts? That’s efficiency. And those 3 points make a big difference.
Take the recent game against Dallas as an example. Where Hayward struggled at 4-11 and the offense as a whole, seemed sluggish, Gobert poured in 16 points on 4-7 shooting. Those kind of stats are key to Utah getting small victories that will build them into a strong playoff team.
Speaking of Gobert’s efficiency on offense, he holds the league's best offensive rating at 131.4, well above the pack as Denver’s Nikola Jokic is second with 126.9. Lastly, Gobert is also leading the league in true shooting percentage with .717.
I’d like to think Gobert saw my article from August and I’m responsible for pointing out his offensive shortcomings to him, but it’s more likely he probably realized “I’m a beast, I’m going to play like one,”.
One thing I want to take the time to point out is why Gobert doesn’t rank as high on offensive rebounds and, relatively, total rebounds. That’s simply because Utah is dead last in the league in pace but also, pretty much everyone on the team hits their shots. Currently the lowest fg% on the Jazz is Trey Lyles with .400. There’s not enough attempts and not enough misses for Gobert to make a bigger presence on the offensive glass.
Finally, let’s quantify Gobert’s presence on the court for the Jazz beyond the $102 million extension he signed.
With Gobert on the floor, Utah’s offensive rating is at 113.5, compared to 104.6 with him on the bench. Total rebound percentage, as well as assist percentage goes up as well and their turnover percentage drops from 15.3 to 14.1 with him on the floor.
Utah’s opponents see an average percentage of 106.8 with Gobert sitting and that drops to 102.7 with him on the floor. His mere existence on a basketball court is one of the most game-changing aspects of this entire NBA season. He doesn’t just alter shots. He doesn’t just force the extra pass. He doesn’t just clog the lane. Rudy Gobert is altering the entire style of opposing offenses.
As mentioned before, Gobert and the Jazz agreed to a 4 year $102 million extension back in October. Looking at the numbers this season for the mere 24-year old Gobert, and the effect he brings to this team this contract is already looking like a bargain.
In past seasons, Gobert has struggled to stay healthy. He missed a quarter of the season last year which obviously hurt the playoff chances for the Jazz and hurt him in terms of becoming a respected and recognized player. It is time to give Rudy Gobert his due.