With the NBA All-Star game right around the corner, most fan’s attention is on the All-Star game. While Utah Jazz fans are hoping to see not one, not two, but three Jazzmen get selected, the chances are slim to none. Not because a trio of Conley, Gobert, and Mitchell are not worthy of a selection, but the name that is on the front of their jerseys says “Utah.” With that sad bias out of the way, that does not mean we will not see multiple Jazz players be selected for end of the season awards. One in particular seems interesting to watch: All-Defensive Team. This honor could go to not one, not two, but three Jazz players: Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale, and Rudy Gobert.
Conley, O’Neale, and Gobert are no strangers to recognition for their work on the defensive end of the floor. Royce O’Neale may not have hardware but his reputation of a lockdown defender is league-wide knowledge. Mike Conley has been selected on the All-Defensive 2nd Team before back in 2012-2013. Rudy Gobert? He’s on his way to being this generation’s Ben Wallace. He has two Defensive Player of the Year awards to go along with his four All-Defensive 1st Team recognition.
These men are known for their hard nosed defense and this season the combination of those three is paying off. According to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR rating, Rudy Gobert has a RAPTOR rating of +6.7 (2nd best in the NBA) with Mike Conley right behind him in third with a rating of +6.4. Royce O’Neale who is routinely getting the hardest defensive assignment of the night is ranked 53rd at +2.3.
Rudy Gobert has a Defensive Rating of 100.3 when he’s on the floor. Good for best in the league. Gobert has the second most defensive win shares in the league at 1.6 win shares. Royce O’Neale is tied for 16th with 1.0 win shares. Mike Conley has 0.9. When those three share the court together the Jazz’s points allowed per 100 possessions drops to 101.2 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass.
This isn’t your bad boy Detroit Pistons that is just mucking the game up so they can stay in it. Not at all. They don’t foul. Teams only making 9.5 free throws per 100 possessions when they’re on the court together. This group is disciplined. Before Mike Conley anybody who was anybody could get into the paint to sight see at the Stifle Tower. Royce O’Neale tried his best, but he’s only one man. Now Royce O’Neale has a partner checking patrons at the door before they get to the paint.
One person who won’t be in the discussion for All-Defensive Team but his contributions on the defensive end have allowed Rudy Gobert to play at a high level all game long. That person is Derrick Favors. Despite only playing 349 minutes this season, he has a defensive Raptor Rating that is +3.0. He is ranked #36. The only other team to have two big men ranked in the top 50 in defensive rating is the Los Angeles Lakers with Montrezl Harrell.
The Utah Jazz as a whole are currently ranked as the second best defense in the entire league. Even today against the Indiana Pacers, they’re defense kept them in a game where their offense was horrendous. Their top tier defense has allowed Utah to win ugly or pretty. This season their defense has allowed them to stay ahead while playing ugly until their offense is able to get back in gear.
Now what are the chances of three players making the All-Defensive Team in the same year? They’re not high. But there’s some promising symmetry that could be at play this year. The last time there were three players named to the All-Defensive Team (1st or 2nd) in the same year was 2012-2013. That coincidentally was the year Mike Conley made the team with two of his teammates. Yes, that’s right. The last team to have three players selected to the All-Defensive Team was Mike Conley’s Memphis Grizzlies. That year Conley, Tony Allen, and Marc Gasol all were selected.
Before Mike Conley’s Grizzlies, the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 Detroit Pistons had three teammates selected with Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace making the team together. That team was anchored by a four time Defensive Player of the Year award winner Ben Wallace. Right now Rudy Gobert leads the pack for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
It would not be an upset if Utah saw three players selected for the All-Defensive NBA 1st and 2nd teams. Crazy enough, if Utah continues to play like they have for the first 24 games of the season, we should expect to see Mike Conley, Royce O’Neale, and Rudy Gobert on that team with Gobert needing someone to help carry his three DPOY trophies home after the awards show.