It’s September 24th, 2018. The season is just a few weeks away. The Jazz are coming off one of the most unforgettable seasons in franchise history, rallying back from a 19-28 record to make a playoff run and advance to the second round against the star-studded OKC Thunder. Rudy Gobert just three months prior, had been awarded his much-coveted Defensive Player of the Year award, and gave an inspiring acceptance speech in his custom-made, bright pink suit. It’s Utah Jazz media day, and Rudy is now addressing reporters and other media answering questions with his expectations for the coming season. One particular quote from that afternoon stood out. When asked about how he personally expected his performance to go during the 2018-19 season, Rudy said “I feel like this year is going to be my best year so far”.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert says his main goal this season is to stay healthy and keep getting better. "I feel like this year is going to be my best year so far,” Gobert said. pic.twitter.com/Wj5QCltudU— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) September 24, 2018
We all know that Rudy doesn’t lie (see “we will be fine” tweet, Jan 2018), but some may have taken this to be hyperbole. But, just as Gobert envisioned on that fall afternoon, this has been the best basketball year of his life.
Fast-forward now to the current day. If you didn’t believe him when he said it earlier, Rudy Gobert is playing on a level he has never been to as an NBA player. Gobert once again is anchoring the soul of his team and willing them to win basketball games.
Despite a slow start and a tough opening schedule, he’s led the Jazz to a 28-22 record, good for sixth place in a bloodbath of a Western Conference. He’s averaging a career-high in points and rebounds per game, with 15 and 13 per game respectively. He leads the league in shooting percentage at 64-percent. He is number one in the NBA in total win shares, as well as defensive win shares and defensive box plus-minus. Rudy is currently averaging .262 win shares per 48 minutes. When you compare that to the greatest players this franchise has seen, Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton, you might surprise yourself. Malone’s reached .268 win shares/48 in the 1996-97 season as his all-time high, barely beating Rudy’s current average. Stockton’s high was .238 in the 1989-1990 season, which Gobert towers over. Malone’s .268/48 is actually the Jazz record for a season for qualifying players. If the Jazz continue to win and Gobert keeps his play up, he should pass Malone for this franchise record.
Gobert trails Myles Turner for most blocks in the league by 9. He’s in the top five in the league in rebounds, offensive/defensive ratings, and the ultimate basketball nerd stat, VORP. Statistically, Rudy Gobert has been no doubt a top ten player in the NBA this season, and should get voted in by coaches as an All-Star reserve.
The coaches as All-Star voters should have Gobert’s dominance fresh in their minds, as he has done his most destruction in the month of January. He’s averaging a 15/15/3/2 blk/1 stl stat line shooting 60 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free-throw line during the month of January. He’s posted big game numbers like a 15/16/8 game against the Bulls, a 18 point/25 rebound game against Detroit, a 23-point/22-rebound/4-block game against the Clippers, and a 19/15/5/2/2 stat sheet-stuffer against the Cavs, all in one month.
Rudy Gobert should be an All-Star this season. Even in a conference that features some of the best bigs in the entire world, Rudy deserves every bit of that All-Star recognition this season. He’s gotten a lot of respect from some national media members, but it’s not them that will get Rudy in as a reserve to the All-Star game. Gobert will depend on the NBA coaches to vote him in as an All-Star, where we would cash in on a $1 Million bonus. The coaches, more than anyone, should know how good Rudy has been this season.
The game gets a different feel when Rudy is on the court vs. when he is off. Players have grown accustomed to the Gobzilla’s presence in the paint, and now know better not to challenge him at the rim. You can see it in opposing players eyes when Gobert steps back onto the court after a break that they hate their lives. “Ah crap, Rudy’s back in,” is probably something heard on a nightly basis.
The Jazz are a completely different team when Gobert is on the court. If you have watched the Jazz closely this season, you’ve probably yelled (either out loud or internally) at the TV begging Quin Snyder to put Rudy back in the game. Last night, the Jazz had a 20+ point lead in the second half against a very depleted Timberwolves squad. Rudy was dealing with some hamstring tightness prior to the game, so it would have been nice had he been able to sit the remainder of the game. But they just couldn’t do it without him. The Wolves stormed back, cutting the lead to single digits and making everyone in the arena and watching at home nervous. As soon as Rudy got back off the bench and checked in at the scorer’s table, we all knew everything was going to be okay. Gobert came in and put the clamps back down and got two key blocks, including the game-sealer on a potential game-tying three. That’s the perfect example of what Gobert has meant to the Jazz this season.
This Gobert presence is just hypothetical thinking, it’s backed by data. Offensively, the Jazz are 8.3 points better (per 100 possessions) when Gobert is on the court vs. when is off. Defensively, they are 5.7 points better when Gobert is on vs. when he is off. That is a net rating swing of 14 points per 100 possessions when Rudy plays vs. when Rudy sits. 14 points! That nearly doubles that of the next best Jazz players Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell. How does that compare to other NBA stars, even MVP candidates? James Harden, who has been absolutely torching the NBA this season, has an on/off net rating of 4.0. Giannis Antetokounmpo? 7.3. Kawhi Leonard, 3.3. Rudy Gobert makes the case that he is “more valuable” to his team than these MVP front-runners, at least based on how much his team needs him on the court. The Jazz would be lost without Rudy Gobert, and it’s so completely obvious.
There’s nobody in the basketball world like Rudy Gobert. His leadership, his length, his skill set, his hairstyle, his suit selection, his accent, his blocks, his dunks. There’s just not. He told us before this season he was going to have his best year ever, and the man did not lie. If Rudy Gobert ever says something, you best believe him. And if you don’t, well, he’s pretty good at proving you wrong.
Follow Taylor on twitter at @griffdunk.