For the first time since the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, France’s National Basketball Team took the podium and donned silver medals. They were in a dog fight with the United States National Team until the end.
The future is bright for France with promising talent coming up like Victor Wembanyama, veteran voices like Nicholas Batum and Nando De Colo still in the program, and players in their prime like Evan Fournier. Oh, and Rudy Gobert.
Gobert was France’s best player in the Olympics, and after coming off yet another stellar season in the NBA, we got to thinking: does Rudy have a shot at going down as the best French national to ever play the game?
While a fair amount of Frenchmen have passed through the game, two players really stand out: Rudy Gobert and Tony Parker, the consensus French GOAT up to this point.
To fully evaluate Gobert’s pace and odds of overtaking Parker, we thought to compare each’s resume and performance through age 28. While many challenges await us in such a comparison, it’s a question worth asking and even more fun to try and answer.
Our journey of comparing and contrasting Gobert and Parker starts where every basketball aficionado will begin: the stat line. There is a fundamental problem with this beginning.
Traditional stats recount a very surface level story. Box score figures don’t account for context such as role, impact, or schematic contributions. While they are certainly the foundation upon which more advanced measures are built, they are murky.
Both Rudy and Tony played in differing eras, at different positions, and were relied on for contrasting roles. Furthermore, Parker suited up for nearly 9,000 more minutes than Gobert thanks to two additional seasons and a larger role at the beginning of their careers.
In an effort to avoid drawing conclusions from a very apples to oranges comparison, we’ll scale their stat lines to per 75 possession averages through their age 28 season (as previously mentioned).
At first glance, our suspicions about their stat lines being closer to inconclusive than definite is obvious. Parker conducted the offense and was a primary scoring threat. Gobert, on the other hand, played a complimentary offensive role while anchoring the defensive end.
Historically speaking, offense is valued higher than defense in the NBA. By traditional measures, Parker gets the edge at this juncture. However, a wealth of context is missing.
The opposing styles and roles of these two confirms we need different measures to properly evaluate who will go down as the greatest Frenchman of all time.
Context is the component advanced metrics look to incorporate over traditional measures.
For example, over a large sample, a positive plus-minus (team points scored minus opponent points scored during a player’s court time) indicates they positively impact their team.
Advanced stats look to resolve contextual issues of teammates, replacement level, shooting luck, schedule, etc., to close the gap on apples to apples impact comparisons. These metrics don’t evaluate talent, rather the impact made on the team.
There are several “catch-all” or “impact metrics” around the industry from PIPM to EPM and RPM to BPM. FiveThirtyEight’s version, RAPTOR, has published data going back decades which facilitates a great comparison for Rudy and Tony.
Through age 28, Gobert posted a +6.6 while Tony came in at +1.4. We can read these figures as Gobert’s team being an adjusted 6.6 points per 100 possessions better with him ON the court versus OFF while Parker’s team being just 1.4 points better.
FiveThirtyEight also converts these adjusted ON/OFF impact metrics to a WAR figures (Wins Above Replacement). Through age 28, Gobert produced a 12.2 WAR while Parker posted a 6.4.
A similar gap exists when consulting the other advanced metrics.
More so than the exact figures, the sizeable gap is what’s pertinent here. When considering impact and reducing the noise of the competing variables described above, Gobert comes out ahead by a good margin.
Now, even advanced stats aren’t the “end all, be all” of our Gobert vs Parker discussion. Though to this point, the pendulum has swung in favor of the 7-footer.
Awards are a funny measuring stick.
On one hand, they’re a statement of accomplishment validated by direct play (a medal or championship) or a committee's evaluation of play (a team selection or personal award).
On the other hand, awards go out to a select few and surely cannot mean that those who “just missed out” are head and shoulders below those who “just made it”.
Regardless, both Rudy Gobert and Tony Parker have accumulated a display case full of awards themselves (see below).
Generally speaking, Gobert wins out on the individual awards. With 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 4 All-NBA selections, 5 All-Defense selections, and 2 All-Star appearances, Tony has a tough time competing there despite a Finals MVP to his name.
However, Parker’s brilliance shines in team play at the NBA and international level. With 3 NBA Championships and 2 international medals for the French National Team, Parker’s resume sparkles with serious accolades.
From an awards standpoint, the deciding factor is likely how you measure value at the team level vs individually. Neither is devoid of either, but it’s clear Rudy’s had more success from an awards standpoint as an individual while Tony as a member of a team.
Personal preference has a lot to do with the value attached to award type and the honor itself. Going with the general public’s definition of pinnacle success, Tony Parker gets the edge in the awards category.
While the advanced metrics aided our statistical comparison by adjusting for various contextual issues, the awards discussion has an inherent fault by also not weighing context.
For example, Tony Parker played along side Hall of Famer Tim Duncan in his prime through age 28, and was flanked by brilliant sixth man Manu Ginobili and Hall of Fame head coach Gregg Popovich.
Talk about a winning formula. Hard to ignore such a stacked arsenal when considering the team success that awarded Parker handsomely in the NBA Title department.
Similarly, Rudy Gobert has entered his prime during the peak years of the French National team. Having just won a silver medal in the 2020 Tokoyo Olympics and several bronze FIBA metals and the like, France is poised for big success internationally.
While Tony Parker was most renowned for his offensive prowess and game management, he was a far cry from being an elite offensive player overall and enjoyed just a couple seasons of being in contention for best PG in the league.
Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert has cemented himself as a top 3 player at his position for nearly a half decade while also being one of the best players on the defensive side of the ball. Gobert has truly specialized and ascended to incredible heights.
From the standpoint of additional context, Rudy Gobert takes the edge from Parker.
It’s become quite evident that few comparisons would have been more difficult than the one chosen for this piece. Every angle presents new contextual challenges that simply make a comprehensive and scientifically sound evaluation impossible.
Nevertheless, we identified the following:
Traditional Stats: edge Parker
Advanced Stats: edge Gobert
Awards: edge Parker
Context: edge Gobert
Comprehensively, Rudy Gobert is my choice for the best Frenchman through age 28. The combination of traditional and advanced stats; individual and team awards; and contextualizing his team and place among the league’s elite gives him the overall edge.
Who’s most likely to go down as the greatest Frenchman of all time?
The answer is still Tony Parker and the why is simple: we know the run he had post age 28. 3 additional All-Star appearances, 3 more All-NBA selections, an additional NBA Title, and a couple international medals to boot. Not to mention some of his most productive years and accumulation of traditional stats.
The future is still a bit murky for Gobert, though bright as it is. Does he become the greatest defensive player in NBA history with additional DPOY’s? Does he make a Finals appearance and receive a title or two? How long does he stay at the upper echelon of the league’s center position vying for All-Star and All-NBA selections?
Though Gobert has the better candidacy through age 28, Parker’s entire body of work gives him a greater likelihood of remaining France’s best basketball player of all-time.
While seemingly a “hedge your bets” answer, it seemed the most appropriate one. Ultimately, the title belongs to Parker, but rest assured, Gobert is coming and the outcome is very much in the air.