clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Rudy Gobert as good as prime Dwight Howard?

New, comments

Twitter sure doesn’t think so, which is probably a pretty good indication that he is.

NBA: Award Show Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

So, recently, Twitter was ablaze with a “Rudy Gobert or prime Dwight Howard” debate. And granted, the proposition may seem a little outlandish at first glance, but I promise there’s merit to this.

It’s just not as easy to explain on Twitter as it is here. And it’s easier to avoid meaningless arguments outside a forum that’s often a cyber cesspool. But while I may be crawling out from under the bridge, I’m not giving up trolling entirely.

In fact, we’re going to run through this whole debate as a troll might, looking at some of my favorite responses from the chaos over on Twitter and trying to respond to them as rationally as possible.

Let’s start with Miles Khoury, whose sunny disposition is rivaled only by his Twitter location of Napa, California. Miles, what say you?

We’ll pass on any grammatical critiques in today’s exercise, and focus instead on nothing but content, assuming there is any.

The year Howard finished second in MVP voting (2011), he racked up 14.4 Win Shares. Gobert had 14.3 in almost 200 fewer minutes in 2016-17. Let’s look at a few more numbers from those two campaigns, shall we?

So, is Miles’ last contention true? Or, is there a chance the league is better now? Maybe Gobert’s undervalued? Maybe a little bit of both? I mean, how dare we try to approach any more nuance than “couldn’t hold his jockstrap”?

Alright, that’s enough with Miles. Let’s look at a more rational response from Jeremy Dawson in Los Angeles.

We’ll assume again that this is Dwight’s 2010-11 campaign. It’s the one that comes closest the “22 and 14” referenced in the tweet.

Let’s start with the 22. This seems to be the biggest reason for a lot of the Miles-esque hostility. It’s “Points per Game Twitter” at it’s finest. The essence of every argument comes down to “who averages more points?” and not much else.

But maybe there’s some value to Gobert sticking to rolling and finishing offensive rebounds. The tracking of points per post-up over the last three seasons shows us that it’s one of the game’s least efficient forms of offense.

And even while Howard was good at it in comparison to other post players (as pointed out by Jackson Frank, who accused me of malpractice), a Howard post-up still wasn’t the most valuable way to use a possession:

Those post-ups from Dwight that season are almost certainly part of why his field goal percentage and True Shooting Percentage were both about seven points below Gobert’s in 2016-17. It might contribute to Gobert having comfortable leads in both Offensive Box Plus-Minus and Offensive Win Shares per 48 Minutes.

Or, put more succinctly...

Now, let’s move on to the 14. This one’s a little easier to explain.

Howard averaged 14.8 rebounds per 75 possessions that season (close to per 36 minutes, but this way we can account for pace). In 2016-17, Gobert averaged 14.9 rebounds per 75 possessions. If we want to take it beyond just those seasons, Howard’s Rebounding Percentage through five seasons is identical to Gobert’s through five (which is all he’s played).

And now, I’ll add blocks, just for the heck of it. Howard’s best season for blocks per possession barely beats Gobert’s career blocks per possession. Gobert’s career Block Percentage is 6.4, easily better than the 4.2 Howard posted through his first five seasons.

Let’s move now Matthew Castello. I have no quips about location, since he has none on the ol’ Twitter bio. He’s a Golden State Warriors and Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so take that for whatever you want. And to his credit, his response didn’t seem too angry either.

Let’s start with the notion Howard’s Finals appearance is some kind of trump card in this argument (as an aside, plenty appeared convinced that no Finals appearance for Gobert means he’s trash).

Let’s start with the fact that the Eastern Conference has been worse than the West for decades now. Literally decades. Plural. And the West has been as good as ever over the last few years.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into Howard’s 2009 run to the Finals. Orlando beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1, a team that had a whopping 18 fewer wins than the Magic in the regular season. Then, the Magic squeaked by the Boston Celtics, who were without Kevin Garnett, in seven games. Boston’s Net Rating was 10.7 points better with Garnett on the floor that regular season. And finally, Orlando then beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, before LeBron James had been humbled by Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 (a career-altering series for LeBron, in my opinion). Cleveland’s leading scorers in that series after LeBron? Mo Williams, Delonte West, 33-year-old Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao. To no one’s surprise, Orlando then suffered the gentlemen’s sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.

I could stop there, but let’s compare that to what the Utah Jazz have had to face the last two seasons. Simple Rating System takes a team’s strength of schedule and adds it to point differential. The 2009 Magic had a 6.48 SRS. In 2017, Utah was eliminated by the Warriors, a team that had an 11.35 SRS (fourth all time). The next year, the Jazz were eliminated by a Houston Rockets squad that had an 8.21 SRS (27th all time).

Moving on to the “defensive accolades” portion of the argument. Yes, following his fifth season, Gobert won his first Defensive Player of the Year. Putting aside Gobert running away with Defensive Real Plus-Minus in each of the last two seasons, Dwight’s first DPOY also came in Year 5.

OK, enough of these kiddie gloves tweets. Let’s go now to J-mac, a fan with Twitter’s ultimate harbinger of rationality and levelheadedness: a Kobe avi.

Look, I’m a fan of the Jazz. I’ve never tried to hide that on Twitter. But I don’t throw opinions out there without having some objective evidence to back them up.

J-mac, on the other hand...

“Primed Dwight is better than gobert in every category & it is not even close.”

Hmmm...

To the numbers!

Here’s Gobert in Years 2 through 5: 14.2 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1.7 assists and 0.9 steals per 75 possessions, .644 True Shooting Percentage, 5 Box Plus-Minus, .211 Win Shares per 48 Minutes.

Since Gobert has a clear advantage if we look at Howard’s second through fifth years, we’ll use Dwight’s four-year statistical peak instead: 22.3 points, 15 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals per 75 possessions, .606 True Shooting Percentage, 4.7 Box Plus-Minus, .221 Win Shares per 48 Minutes.

So, yeah. When we compare Howard’s four-year peak to the start of Gobert’s career, Howard has a big edge in points (already addressed) and slight advantages in rebounds, steals and Win Shares per 48 Minutes. Gobert still has the edge in blocks, True Shooting Percentage and Box Plus-Minus. But...

“Primed Dwight is better than gobert in every category & it is not even close.”

Now to Magic B.I.G3 szn ⬆️! A Dolphins, Magic, Sooners, Braves and Wings fan from Oklahoma.

No, Gobert isn’t considered a top-five player. And that’s fine. The league is absolutely stacked with individual talent now.

I wholeheartedly believe he’s undervalued, though. Among players with at least 4,000 minutes over the last four years, Rudy ranks 11th in Box Plus-Minus and ninth in Win Shares per 48 Minutes. Because he doesn’t play the way the typical NBA fan wants him to (or is used to), he’s almost never put in top-10 or top-15 conversations. But that’s exactly the kind of impact he has. Make a direct swap of 2017 Gobert and 2011 Dwight and there’s a good chance the former would’ve been in the conversation Magic B.I.G3 szn ⬆️ needs him to be in to consider this rational comparison.

Next, we have Tyler Honaker, whose bio contains nothing but a basketball emoji, an unassailable credential, to be sure.

Thanks, Tyler. I look forward to your 1,500-word response to this article.

And finally, here’s Moel Bambiid, who at least knows his “team is trash.”

I’ll give this to Moel, I’m definitely out to troll “Eye Test Twitter” and “Points per Game Twitter” with plenty of my tweets. But I assure you, this one is serious. And as you can see, there’s plenty of evidence to back it up.

But, as always, Twitter is not the place for reasonableness and objectivity.

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or ESPN.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for SLC Dunk and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewDBailey) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Dan Favale.
Note: A previous version of this article contained the following: “Unfortunately, we don’t have data on Dwight’s post-ups back in 2011...” We do. Thanks to Jackson Frank for the correction.