The Utah Jazz were as stranded as getting a flat tire between St. George and Las Vegas. A road loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks put the Jazz 9 games under 0.500 with a very outside shot to make the playoffs. It would take a season turnaround of historic measures to fulfill the goals this team had coming into the season.
Rudy Gobert didn’t look quite right to start off the year, and injuries kept him out for a good chunk of the season. From games 13-44 of the season, the eventual Defensive Player of the Year really only played in 5 games. Utah’s record certainly indicated those struggles.
And then the impossible became reality.
Rudy became that defensive monster we’ve come to know and love. Donovan Mitchells’s rookie rise was bigger than anyone could have imagined. Ricky Rubio’s season-long improvement culminated in a playoff triple double over Mr. Triple Double and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. Joe Ingles got his shooting stroke going. Derrick Favors quietly but confidently put in another fantastic year. And Quin Snyder didn’t give up on this group, coaching his best year yet and earning runner-up for Coach of the Year.
It was one of the funnest seasons in Jazz franchise history. Rudy’s return to health was probably the biggest determinant, and he went on to win Defensive Player of the Year with the lowest games played in NBA history. His impact on the game is so blatant yet somehow underrated. He’s one of the most important and impactful players in the league, but where does he rank amongst his peers?
Is Rudy Gobert a top 10 player in the NBA?
Earning the DPOY honors, especially given the circumstances of last season, is no small feat. Being the best defender in the league has carried some weight in years past, often pushing a player into the top 10. Could Rudy be the next to join them?
Ranking is according to ESPN’s yearly Player Rankings
Historical trends point towards Rudy moving up in the player rankings. He was slated at #14 just last season, so it wouldn’t take a huge jump to enter that top 10 overall. Statistics also support that this type of recognition for the Stifle Tower would be well deserved.
Rudy had a league-leading Defensive Real Plus-Minus at 5.06. In fact, the difference between Rudy and 2nd place was as big as the difference between 2nd and 8th. He was absolutely dominant. Look at how transformative his return was for the Utah Jazz.
During the timeframe that Rudy missed significant time, came back, then was injured again Utah’s defensive rating was 107.3. That was 21st in the league, down near the Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Caveliers to put that into perspective. Then Gobzilla came back, and so did the terrorizing defense. For the remainder of the season the Jazz had a defensive rating of 97.5. Second place in that span was the 76ers at 101.1. The gap between the Jazz and 76ers was bigger than the gap between the 76ers and the 10th best Trail Blazers. That wasn’t just good defense, that was elite, championship level defense.
He was tied for 2nd with 7.7 shots per game defended within 6 feet of the basket. Despite that volume, he held his opponents to a crazy low 51.9% on those shots. That kind of anti-gravity forces players away from the paint, which allows Utah’s perimeter defenders to be more aggressive. That’s a big reason why OKC’s big 3 had a poor playoff series against the Jazz other than one big game from PG and one from Westbrook.
Rudy will go down as one of the best defensive players in the history of the NBA as long as he stays healthy. We are spoiled to have him dominanting in a Jazz uniform.
Rudy is also incredibly efficient on offense, despite not using many possesions. His true shooting percentage of .657 was 3rd best in the entire league last year. All he does is dunk you say? (First I would argue, if you could get a dunk every time down the court, why wouldn’t you?) Then how do you explain his league-leading 6.2 screen assists per game? That doesn’t show up in the traditional box score, but if you watch his game you’ll see how effective and valuable his screens are. He dominates this portion so well, that the difference between Rudy and 2nd place is as big as the difference between 2nd and 17th!
He’s also one of the premier roll men in the pick and roll.
Gobert trailed only Dwight Powell and Clint Capela in roll man PPP among guys with 150+ possessions last year. He draws more FTs than anyone else in the top-5 (and hits them at a way better rate than anyone else even close to him). It's very hard to argue against that value.— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) July 23, 2018
Rudy shoots 70% at the rim and is near 70% from the line as well. He’s also vastly improved his catching ability over the years. Add this all up and he has so much gravity over an opposing defense because he shoots 70% from the rim. They have to respect his game as the roll man, which allows guys like Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles to find open lanes and shots.
We know Rudy is the best defensive player in the league, and we know he is valuable and very underrated on O. Last year he ranked in the mid teens according to most of the player rankings (14th per ESPN, 18 Won Washington Post, 15 on SI, 17 per Bleacher Report). Here was ESPN’s top 20 heading into last season:
- LeBron James
- Kevin Durrant
- Kawhi Leonard
- Stephen Curry
- Russell Westbrook
- Anthony Davis
- Chris Paul
- James Harden
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Draymond Green
- Jimmy Butler
- Karl Anthony Towns
- Paul George
- Rudy Gobert
- John Wall
- Nikola Jokic
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Damian Lillard
- Klay Thompson
- Gordon Hayward
Personally I think there a few players above Rudy that are very likely to move down, just how far we’ll have to see. Those players include Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green, and Karl Anthony Towns.
Rudy’s almost guaranteed to move up in the rankings. Will he move far enough? Who might he supplant in the top 10? Stay tuned and we’ll find out in the Fall. Either way, I’m just glad he’s on our side.