2020-21 NBA Awards: Utah Jazz’ Rudy Gobert Wins Defensive Player Of The Year Award

2020-21 NBA Awards: Utah Jazz’ Rudy Gobert Wins Defensive Player Of The Year Award


Gobert wins third DPOY plum

When you think of the best defensive players that the league has even seen in its entire history, please do put Rudy Gobert’s name at the top of that list. The NBA has recently announced that the Utah Jazz starting center has won the 2020-21 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, making it the third time that the French big man has won the said trophy.

To nab the coveted individual plum, Gobert managed to edge out great defensive players like Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, and Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat. In winning the said award, Gobert now joins legendary defensive players like Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace, and Dwight Howard as the only NBA players to win the DPOY award at least three times.

As per an official article released by the league, it was mentioned that the Jazz star big man has already won the award twice, first in 2018 then second in 2019.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has been named the 2020-21 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the NBA announced today. This marks the third NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award for Gobert, who also earned the honor in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. The 7-1 French native is the fourth player to win the award at least three times, joining Dikembe Mutombo (four), Ben Wallace (four) and Dwight Howard (three). Gobert received 84 first-place votes and earned 464 points from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons finished in second place with 287 points (15 first-place votes). Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, the 2016-  17 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, finished in third place with 76 points. Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. In his eighth NBA     season, Gobert led the league in defensive rebounds per game (10.1), total defensive rebounds (720) and total blocked shots (190) and ranked second in blocked shots per game (2.70). He recorded six games with least 15 defensive rebounds and eight games with five or more blocks. Gobert grabbed a season- high 20 defensive rebounds against the Warriors on March 14 and blocked a career-high nine shots against the Chicago Bulls on March 22.

Now in his 8th year in the league, Gobert has played for the Jazz franchise throughout his very productive career. He was selected as the 27th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, a draft class that included the likes of Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kelly Olynyk, Cody Zeller and Otto Porter Jr.

During his rookie year, Gobert only played sparingly. He only logged in 9.6 minutes per contest, and only came up with a measly stat line of 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. But Gobert was able to show what he is made of in his sophomore year when he got a significant increase in playing time, and normed a stat line of 8.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.3 blocks per contest.

The Jazz center would continue improving his skill set year after year, and it resulted into a well-deserved increase in his playing time. It was during the 2016-17 season that Gobert normed his first double-double stat line, and he followed it up by winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in the next two years.

From a rookie who almost had no playing time, Gobert is now a two-time All-Star and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. After now winning his third award, Gobert reiterated that it still feels kind of unbelievable for him. As per an article written by Tim Bontemps of the ESPN, Gobert emphasized that he also put in the needed amount of work for him to improve and be better year in and year out. Still, the Jazz starting big man pointed out that the feat of winning the Defensive Player of the Year award three times is still something that he could not believe in.

"It's unbelievable," Gobert said of being a three-time winner of the award. "When I started basketball as I kid, if somebody would have told me that I was going to be defensive player of the year, I would have never believed them, let alone three times. It's hard to put into words the things that you can achieve when you just enjoy what you do, first of all, and when you have a group of people that believes in you and you put the work in every single day. I try to write my own story, try to enjoy my own journey, but just being one of only four guys that have won the award that many times, it's just amazing.
For me it's really been about getting better every single year and teams have been trying to negate my impact one way or another every single year," Gobert said. "So I had to raise my level year after year and day after day to be able to try to keep dominating on that end."

Gobert, who is now turning 29 years of age later this month, also led the league in blocks per game during the 2016-17 NBA season. While it is true that his excellent rebounding and stellar blocking prowess are his trump cards, Gobert has also grown a lot in terms of keeping up with quicker perimeter players on multiple switches on the defensive end of the floor, something that almost all towering 7-foot-1 centers cannot do throughout their entire career.

Gobert has been in the league for a long time, but it is also true that he is still in the peak of his abilities. On the defensive end of the floor, it seems like he has already reached full peak. On the offensive end of the floor, Gobert still has tons of weaknesses. Even though he is efficient when he shoots the ball, he has never averaged double digits in terms of his field goal attempts per game. The highest output he produced was when he shot 8.8 field goal attempts per contest during the 2018-19 NBA season.

But of course, his masterful performance on defense more than makes up for his liabilities on the offensive end of the floor. Despite the fact that he still cannot create his own shots, it is also true that he is the anchor of the Jazz’ defense. In fact, his title as the best defensive player in the league has put his name in consideration for a possible MVP plum this season.

Of course, that would not happen given that the league would be more inclined to give the MVP plum to a player who leads his team on the offensive end of the floor. But as per Tony Jones and Seth Partnow of The Athletic, Gobert’s very high metrics and stats on defense have placed his name in the MVP ballots, and that could be a consistent sight to be seen for the years to come. Even though an MVP award is very improbable for the Jazz star big man for now, the fact that his name is being considered means that he is doing a lot on the defensive end of the floor.

His inclusion into league MVP talks would need to weigh heavily on impact because the raw statistics probably wouldn’t get him there. In short, he’s not a scorer like Embiid, or Jokic, the two centers who are at the top of the MVP conversation. In comparison to those two, it takes a deeper understanding of  who the Jazz are with Gobert in the middle and an understanding of what to   look for with Gobert every night. Once you do, his impact on both ends of the  floor becomes obvious — and insane. At the same time, you have to look deep.     And the question is, should you actually have to look deep for an MVP candidate? Or should his strengths be so apparent that you can’t ignore them?  At least offensively, with Gobert, you have to look deep. And you don’t have to do so with Jokic or Embiid, who have the skillset and shotmaking ability to grace SportsCenter on a nightly basis.
Defensively, Goberet is the best player in basketball, and, this season, it hasn’t  been close. Yes, there is a rather large groundswell for Ben Simmons. But a  vote for anyone other than Gobert for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award would basically mean ignoring almost every single tangible defensive   metric in doing so. Because they all point to Gobert. Overall, Gobert is playing the best basketball of his career, and that also hasn’t been particularly close.  And it shows up in the impact. With Gobert on the floor, the Jazz are almost 16 points per 100 possessions better than the collective opposition. Without him on the floor, they are two points worse than the opposition. Defensively, he’s turned in signature performances that have been astounding.

As for the Jazz’ hopes of making a successful title run this season, it is without a doubt that they have the tools to make it happen. To complement Gobert’s brilliance on the defensive end of the floor, the Jazz also have the arsenal to be a lethal weapon on the offensive end of the floor. The Jazz, who finished with the best record in the regular season by sporting 52 wins against 20 defeats, is also ranked 4thin the league in total points per game (116.4), 1st in the league in made three-pointers per game (16.7), and 4th in the league in three-point shooting percentage (38%).

With Donovan Mitchell’s stat line of 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.0 steals per contest leading the way for the team, the Jazz has also found other consistent contributors on the offensive end of the floor. Jordan Clarkson, who bagged this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award, is averaging 18.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 0.9 steals per game.

Joe Ingles, who was also a frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year plum, is still the excellent facilitator that he is, evidenced by his all-around stat line of 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. On top of the excellent contributions from Ingles, Clarkson and Mitchell, veteran starting point guard Mike Conley has also adjusted well to the team’s system on both ends of the floor. After a disappointing first year in Utah, the lefty playmaker is now putting up a stat line of 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals per contest.

There is no doubt that this Jazz team has become an even more complete squad, and they have a real chance of bagging at least the Western Conference championship this season. As per Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer, it is still a fact that everything that the Jazz does is built around Gobert’s presence on both ends of the floor, especially on defense. Gobert has become an elite all-around player on defense, and that has paved the way for the Jazz to employ the likes of a spitfire gunner in Clarkson, who also has his own weaknesses on the defensive end of the floor.

Everything in Utah is built around Rudy Gobert. He’s the best in the NBA at playing drop defense on pick-and-rolls, the standard coverage for centers on those plays. Instead of extending out on the perimeter, where a lack of  footspeed can be attacked, centers hang back in the paint and play a complicated game of cat and mouse with the ball handler. The goal is to lure the ball handler into taking a midrange jumper by cutting off drives to the rim and passes to the roll man. Gobert could write a textbook on it. There’s no one as big (7-foot-1 and 258 pounds, with a 7-foot-9 wingspan) and smart in the league.
His ability to seal off the lane by himself allows Utah to keep their other defenders on their men. They don’t have to send help and concede open 3-pointers. But that style of defense doesn’t work against the Jazz. No team is better equipped to attack drop coverages. Once again, it starts with Gobert. He’s    one of the best screen-setters and roll men in the league. And the Jazz have the personnel to spread the defense and create open lanes to the rim for him. Utah has three guards (Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Joe Ingles) who can shoot  3s off the dribble and pass out of the pick-and-roll, and 3-point shooting at every other position. For as complicated as coach Quin Snyder’s offense can appear, it’s ultimately based on fairly simple principles. If the defense puts two men on the ball, or sends a third man as help, the Jazz will create an open 3.

Gobert and the Jazz are currently in the thick of their semifinals playoff match-up against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Jazz have now won the first two games, helping them inch closer to an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Game 3 will be held at Staples Center, the Clippers’ home arena. It will be a tough battle, but it is without a doubt that the Jazz have the momentum moving forward.

A sports aficionado ever since he first held a basketball, Paul was a student athlete in school and college. Today, he teaches English in university by day and a freelance sportswriter by night.

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