Let's be real, while it's clear that Rudy Gobert 's confidence is nearing an All-Time high, I don't think that he is fundamentally different than he was last season. Last season his confidence was stolen by a Brian Shaw / Bryon Scott level dinosaur coach who played him barely more than Brandon Rush. That's pathetic, and easy to see why when Rudy was on the court he played like a shell of himself. Fast forward to a new season, where he dominated the Vegas Summer league for a new coach, helped France win big games in the World Cup, and is now an NBA starter . . . you see a lot more confidence out on the court from Rudy. He is playing better, but I still contend that he was this good LAST season. We just didn't see enough of it.
And that's the rub when you look at who is the Most Improved Player, and who isn't. On an intrinsic level the most improved will be gauged against who you were last season, no what you produced last season. But at the NBA level most awards are a product of the opportunities you have. And opportunities are minutes. The Rookie of the Year is usually the guy who gets the most minutes, and ends up putting up the best stats (specifically points per game). The Most Improved Player for the longest time isn't about improvement as a player, but about the largest role change from season to season. Before this award was for guys moving from scrubs to rotation players, like Kevin Duckworth, Scott Skiles, Dana Barros, and Isaac Austin. Today it's about giving the award to guys who have All-Star level talent, but just didn't produce enough as rookies: Jalen Rose, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Gilbert Arenas, Zach Randolph, Boris Diaw, Monta Ellis, Danny Granger, Kevin Love, Paul George . . . all of these guys are Top 4 players on good teams. Moreover, all of these guys were supposed to be very good to great NBA players coming into the Association.
The way the award is given has changed now. Which itself is funny because the award is about who has made the biggest individual changes in the league. If we believe the narrative that Rudy sucked last year and he is great now then he is a good candidate for the award just on that little piece of heartland fiction. If we believe the trend that the award winner is just a good player who gets a bigger role / more opportunity / more minutes then Rudy also fits the bill.
Gobert has gone from 9.6 mpg (in 45 total games in a 25 win season, mind you) to 22.7 mpg, and he has played in each game this season. His per game averages last season were 2.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.2 apg, 0.2 spg, and 0.9 bpg. This season his numbers have graduated to a more robust 7.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.7 spg, and 2.3 bpg. The calculated / extrapolated numbers (Per 36, ORTG/DRTG) are in his favor as well. He is just generally a beast -- and it's not just on defense anymore.
Offensive Gobert has gone from a .486 shooter to a .633 master of efficiency. His FT% has increased from .492 to .617 (though we feel it can easily continue to rise). He has an ORTG of 123 this season, which is way better than the 94 for 100 he had as a rookie. His passing and court vision are exception for his age and size. And for a guy with zero post moves, he scores so smoothly off he pick and roll, and is so big even when he is boxed out by two guys he still is able to get the tip-in bucket.
If you look at the Advanced stats it's clear that Rudy is the man. His PER went from 12.9 to 21.8 in one year. His Win Shares went up from 0.4 to 5.4 -- and there are six weeks of games left. His BLK% is a league leading 8.2, and is nearly at double digit levels, which is insane. Last year his Offensive Box +/- was -6.1, and this year it's +1.0. Ast year his Defensive Box +/- was +1.8, and this year it's +5.2. That's a net change of |10.5| which is insane in the membrane.
What about value over Replacement Player? He has gone from -0.3 to 2.7.
The Good people at Number Fire add a frame of reference for some of these advanced stats:
- Rudy Gobert (Net difference in VORP 2013-14 to 2015): +3.0
- Al Horford, Tyson Chandler, Rodney Stuckey: +1.6
- Gorgui Dieng, Russell Westbrook: +1.5
- Ed Davis: +1.4
- Khris Middleton, Pau Gasol: +1.3
- Jeff Teague: +1.2
With the data I have Rudy isn't in the Top 10 for Wins Above Replacement, but he should be closing in on that soon. One player who is on both lists is Khris Middleton, and they believe that his defensive analytics puts him solidly in the MIP discussion.
But let's be real, the majority of the voting group aren't going to base their opinion on analytics, and if they are even going to look at the numbers it's likely Gobert's overt numbers do put him in the conversation as well. What will, mind you, keep Rudy in the conversation is his performance in games and his general size and presence. No one is bigger than Rudy.
Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Courtney Lee, and even our Gordon Hayward have all stepped it up this season. But I will argue that by the traditional and trendy methods both for giving this award out, Rudy should be in the discussion.