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Could Rudy Gobert be a legitimate MVP candidate?

As of right now, it doesn’t seem too crazy

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Utah Jazz v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Rudy Gobert has received MVP votes before. Well, he’s received a total of six 5th place votes and one 4th place vote for MVP over his career. So, while he’s been at the proverbial MVP table (shoutout to No Dunks Inc), he was sitting all the way down at the far end, maybe having a drink at the bar. He barely snuck past the bouncer. Could this be the year that he moves up to the head of the table and orders a full, three-course meal?

Gobert has begun the 2021-22 season dominantly, putting up 16.3 points, 17.2 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 72% from both the field and the free-throw line. In that time, he’s led the Jazz to a 5-1 record, the top spot in the NBA’s power rankings, and won himself an NBA Western Conference Player of the Week award.

Basketball Reference’s MVP tracker tool currently has Gobert in second place, with a 13% chance of winning it. Now, it is very early in the season, and weird results are typical with such a small sample size, but this shows that Gobert can play MVP-level basketball. He just needs the right circumstances to fall into place.

Basketball Reference’s MVP Tracker as of 11/1/2021

1 Jimmy Butler MIA 5 1 0.833 6 6 34.3 9 17 0.529 0.5 1.3 0.375 8.5 15.7 0.543 0.544 6.8 7.7 0.891 2.2 4.8 7 5.5 2.8 0.3 2.3 2.5 25.3 57.70%
2 Rudy Gobert UTA 5 1 0.833 6 6 31 5.2 7.2 0.721 0 0 5.2 7.2 0.721 0.721 6 8.3 0.72 4.2 13 17.2 1 0.7 1.7 2.2 2.7 16.3 13.00%
3 Nikola Jokic DEN 4 2 0.667 6 6 30 9.8 16.2 0.608 1.8 4.3 0.423 8 11.8 0.676 0.665 2.5 3.3 0.75 3 11.8 14.8 5.5 1.7 0.7 4 2.8 24 9.70%
4 Stephen Curry GSW 5 1 0.833 6 6 34.8 9 21.3 0.422 5.2 13 0.397 3.8 8.3 0.46 0.543 5.5 5.7 0.971 0.7 6.8 7.5 6.5 1.5 0.3 4 1.3 28.7 5.70%
5 Montrezl Harrell WAS 5 1 0.833 6 2 31.5 7.2 11.7 0.614 0.2 0.8 0.2 7 10.8 0.646 0.621 4.8 6.2 0.784 3.2 7 10.2 1.8 0.5 1.2 0.8 2.5 19.3 4.60%
6 Bam Adebayo MIA 5 1 0.833 5 5 31.4 7.4 14 0.529 0 0 7.4 14 0.529 0.529 5.8 6.8 0.853 2.8 11.2 14 1.6 1 0.4 3 2.6 20.6 3.60%
7 Zach LaVine CHI 5 1 0.833 6 6 34.2 8.5 17.7 0.481 2.5 6.2 0.405 6 11.5 0.522 0.552 6 6.3 0.947 0.7 4.5 5.2 4.5 0.3 0.5 2.5 1.7 25.5 1.90%
8 Kevin Durant BRK 4 3 0.571 7 7 34.3 10.6 18.1 0.583 1.6 4.1 0.379 9 14 0.643 0.626 5 6.3 0.795 0.6 8.3 8.9 5.3 0.9 0.9 3.1 1.4 27.7 1.70%
9 Julius Randle NYK 5 1 0.833 6 6 37.3 7.2 17.5 0.41 1.8 5.5 0.333 5.3 12 0.444 0.462 4.7 5.7 0.824 2.2 9 11.2 6.5 0.8 1.2 3.3 2.5 20.8 1.40%
10 Spencer Dinwiddie WAS 5 1 0.833 5 5 31.2 6.8 16.2 0.42 2.2 5.4 0.407 4.6 10.8 0.426 0.488 4 4.2 0.952 0.8 4.6 5.4 5.6 0.4 0.2 1.4 2 19.8 0.80%

The Recipe for a Gobert MVP

All right, let me preface this segment by saying it is improbable that Gobert will win the MVP award. Even if he was the most deserving player in the league, which is already a longshot based on the competition he’s up against, he has a lot working against him. Again, it’s not likely. But it’s also not impossible.

Rudy Gobert will almost certainly score fewer than 20 points per game this season. The only players in NBA history to win MVP while scoring under 20 per game are Bill Russell (5x), Steve Nash (2x), Bill Walton, and Wes Unseld. So while it’s not impossible to win the MVP without being a premier scorer, it’s very close to it. To his credit, Gobert has stepped up his scoring game so far this year. Gobert was already the most efficient 15+ point per game scorer in the league, but he’s even found a way to improve his scoring efficiency. The significant change: free throws. During his prime, Gobert has usually shot about 5.5-6.5 free throw attempts per game and converted them at around a 63% rate. This season, he’s shooting 8.3 free throws per game and making 72% of them. That improvement has led him to a career-high average of 16.3 points per game with an absurd true shooting percentage of 75.4%.

While that’s certainly impressive, he’s up against players like Stephen Curry, who just completed a season of scoring 32 points per game on 65.5% true shooting. Gobert can’t compete with scoring numbers like that. Like it or not, scoring is the most visible and noticeable contribution to a basketball game. Volume scorers will always garner more attention than players who contribute in other ways. Gobert will have to be excellent in the scoring category, but he will build his case for Most Valuable Player on a different foundation. That foundation: defense.

Rudy Gobert is already the greatest defender of this generation and is steadily climbing the ranks of the greatest defenders of all time. Gobert has routinely elevated his team of sub-par defenders to one of the top defenses in the league. He’ll need to do that again this year.

The obvious comparison for Rudy is Bill Russell. Russell won 5 MVP awards while never averaging over 20 points per game. Now, that was a very different league back then. Things have changed in so many ways, but the principles of Russell’s award wins remain intact. Take, for instance, the 1964-65 NBA season. Wilt Chamberlain led the NBA in scoring with 34.7 points per game. Jerry West and Oscar Robertson also scored more than 30 per outing. Bill Russell scored only 14.1. Why did he win the MVP? Because Russell was the backbone and the leader of the best team in the league. He was the greatest defensive player in the game. Bill Russell owned the glass. He dominated the paint. He led his team to victory after victory. Without scoring obscene amounts of points, Russell was able to impact games just as much, if not more, than players like Chamberlain or West.

Gobert has naturally drawn comparisons to Russell over his career. The NBA even had Gobert pose as Russell for a photoshoot in which they paid tribute to past NBA legends with current NBA stars emulating them.

So how can Rudy Gobert follow in the footsteps of the great Bill Russell to be considered for MVP?

The first and most crucial ingredient is winning. The Utah Jazz need to win a ton of games. They were the top seed in the NBA last season, and, not coincidentally, Gobert received his most MVP votes that season. Can Utah build on last season’s success and win even more? If the Jazz are the runaway number 1 seed, Gobert and co-star Donovan Mitchell will undoubtedly be brought up as MVP candidates.

The next ingredient Gobert will need to stir into this recipe is his actual on-court production. This will simultaneously be the easiest and the most challenging ingredient to add. I say it’s the easiest because Gobert has been playing at an MVP level for a few years. He’s been one of the most influential and valuable players in the game of basketball year in and year out. Gobert ranked among the top 5 players last year in the following advanced metrics: RPM, EPM, RAPTOR, LEBRON, Win Shares, and more. So why will this be the most challenging ingredient to add? Because many people around the NBA don’t understand or accept that Gobert’s production is MVP-worthy. Some are happy to use advanced statistics and metrics, while others prefer box scores or the almighty eye test. So Gobert will need to work all of these angles. He’ll need to continue to excel in advanced metrics, and trust me, he has dominated them. He’ll need to improve his box score stats, which he has been doing so far. He’ll need to show visible improvement in his game.

The last ingredient that this recipe must be seasoned with is a narrative. Awards are given based on a few things: individual merit, team success, and a good story. NBA media needs that story to push a player fully into the conversation. Rudy Gobert has never been a media darling, and he probably never will be. Maybe that can be his narrative. He’s the underdog. The different MVP. The guy who does it on defense. He’s trying to prove wrong everything that NBA media has been trying to push on him over his whole career. If he can get into the discussion, that’s his invitation to the MVP table. From there, he just has to prove that he belongs.

Undoubtedly, many will see the title of this article and laugh. Rudy Gobert will never be in contention for an MVP. He’s overrated. He gets exposed in the playoffs. He’s a choker. He has no skill.

These are all things Gobert has heard over and over again. He knows how to handle criticism. He’s been getting it his whole career.

From the beginning of his career, Gobert has been doubted. He’s been questioned by coaches, teammates, opposing players, fans, and media. He loves proving them wrong. Rudy Gobert has built himself up from a nearly unknown prospect who looked awkward on the court to an international superstar. The ‘Stifle Tower’ is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA, five-time All-Defensive First Team player. He is an Olympic silver medalist. He very nearly led his team to a gold medal over the heavily favored Americans.

Will Rudy Gobert win an MVP award? Probably not.

But he could. And I’ve learned to stop doubting what he can achieve.

Stats via,,