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Rudy Gobert: The Best Center in the League No One Remembers

How does a top 10 player get forgotten as much as Rudy Gobert?

Bart Young - Getty Images

Rudy Gobert is now the face of the Utah Jazz franchise. Gordon Hayward thought it was greener on the other side, and passed abandoned the torch of Jazz leadership. It is possible Rudy may have usurped Hayward as the “best player on the Jazz” title away from Hayward last year anyways.

The landscape of the NBA has changed as the 3 point shot has become more of a focus. Gone are the days when “tweener” was an insult for a player, and in are the days where “versatility” means everything. The center position has become de-emphasized, with teams opting to play more small ball. Some have argued that centers don’t matter as much anymore, and that having a more traditional big man may even be detrimental.

Is that actually the case, or has the 5 spot simply been less talented? Could Rudy Gobert change the narrative that a center can’t be your best player? Is The Stifle Tower an elite, top-10 player waiting to break free?

Rudy Gobert had 2016-2017 season for the ages

Rudy Gobert became only the 12th player in NBA history to score 1,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds, and send back 200 shots in a single season. The last time this happened was 7 years ago when Dwight Howard pulled it off. (More on Dwight later) With that, Rudy towered his way up the all-time NBA big-men list.

Next is a table showing single-season Win Share totals by a center since the 1995-1996 season. The reason I chose the 1995-1996 season as a cutoff, is to have enough history to show just how good Rudy was, while trying to choose a season when 3 point attempts started jumping.

Again, the last time a true center had as successful a season as Gobert was MVP-candidate Dwight Howard. Otherwise we are going back to Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson.

Rudy’s other advanced stats were also incredible in 2016-2017. Keep in mind these are league-wide, not just Utah Jazz stats:

  • Defensive Rating 99 - 1st in league
  • Offensive Rating 129 - 1st
  • Blocks 214 - 1st
  • True Shooting % .681 - 1st
  • Screen Assists 6.2 - 1st
  • Free Throw Rate .762 - 1st
  • Defensive FG% 43.8 - 1st
  • Total Win Shares 14.2 - 2nd
  • Effective FG% .661 - 2nd
  • VORP 5.4 - 8th
  • BPM 5.8 - 13th
  • PER 22.3 - 19th

Gobert’s defensive impact is well-known. He’s the best rim protector, and he’s surprisingly good when switching. He can effectively kill an opponent’s pick and roll, no matter how they attack him (seen here). He terrorizes offenses with his length, athleticism, intelligence, and timing.

His offensive prowess is less obvious. He’s one of the best pick and roll big men in the league. His presence opens up passing and shooting lanes because he's such a threat. He’s a good finisher, and sets some of the best screens in the league. He gets to the line extremely well, which will be terrifying for teams if he can get his FT% up to 75 or better.

That’s the making of an elite player if you ask me. Still need more proof? Fine. Here’s some good year-end tweets by NBA Math:

Several different models and various types of statistics have shown that Rudy Gobert was one of the most influential players in the game last year. And he’s only just begun.

Having just turned 25, he’s still got room to develop. Having played in an offense built completely around a different player, he’s still got potential left untapped. Having just missed out on DPOY and All-NBA 1st team, he’s still got something to prove. Having never played with a pass-first point guard like Ricky Rubio, he’s got better help for easy buckets than ever. And here’s the kicker: Having been one of the most efficient players in the NBA, his usage was only 16.7, which puts him at 174th in the league. 174th! What will happen when that jumps to where it needs to be?

I’m telling you right now that Rudy Gobert was the man to build around the entire time. He’s got the personality, the attitude, and the game. Now he’ll be given his shot.

Take a look at Dwight Howard’s MVP-runner up season in 2010-2011 vs. Rudy last year right here. Now imagine Rudy getting the roster built around him and receiving the same opportunity Dwight did. He’ll be bringing the Dunk to SLC, and the Swat to Lake City. As he’s said several times, the Jazz are going to surprise people next season and he will be a big reason why.

The NBA has moved away from centers, because the NBA hasn’t seen a center like Rudy Gobert for a long time. Gobzilla is in for a monster season, and I fear for anyone who tries to get in his way.

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