Rudy Gobert Is Winning Games Not Matchups
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The two front runners for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year currently are Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons.
The argument to be made for Simmons is that at 6’9, with elite athleticism and length, the former number one overall pick can guard all five positions on the floor. There are examples throughout the season of Simmons matchup up with a tough frontcourt player one night, only to defend the opposing point guard the next night.
With the modern NBA’s trend of moving away from traditional positions, having a player as versatile as Simmons plays a key role in the league. Between Simmons, Draymond Green, Royce O’Neale, Patrick Williams, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, Mikal Brides, etc. the league is full of players who have earned their keep by defending the opposing team’s best player on any given night or possession.
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The argument to be made that Gobert is the defensive player of the year is every other defensive metric that exists. Gobert is miles ahead of the rest of the league in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus and FiveThirtyEight’s Defensive RAPTOR. He’s the NBA’s second-leading shot-blocker and rebounder, and he leads the NBA in total plus-minus largely due to his ability to stifle entire offenses on the defensive end of the floor.
But part of Gobert’s growth into a tw0-time Defensive Player of the Year with a shot at winning his third is his willingness to bypass winning his individual matchup for the betterment of the team overall.
“When we say winning the matchup, it’s that points, rebounds, that kind of stat line,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think Rudy’s matchup is usually more complex than that.”
Gobert is the ultimate help defender in the league, tasked with shutting down shots in the paint for the Jazz while occasionally switching onto smaller defenders in specific scenarios.
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But that hasn’t always been the case. Early in Gobert’s career, the center tried to win individual matchups against other marquee centers. When Gobert was drawing comparisons to Hassan Whiteside early in his career, the matchups seemed personal. Matchups against Steven Adams and Alex Len who were drafted ahead of Gobert seemed to be circled on the French center’s calendar as opportunities to prove himself.
Now, with two All-Star appearances under his belt, two DPOY’s, three All-NBA appearances, and four All-Defense team honors, matchups with Denver superstar Nikola Jokic or 76ers candidate Joel Embiid, usually considered alongside Gobert as the top center’s in the league, the matchups don’t seem so personal.
Earlier this year Embiid scored 40 points and 19 rebounds in his matchup with Gobert, a sign for some fans of the Jazz center being overhyped. Though the head-to-head stats would tell you much of Embiid’s production came against other Jazz players, Gobert doesn’t seem as inclined to point that out as he may have earlier in his career.
Similarly, Jokic scored 47 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out five assists against the Jazz this season. Again, Jokic got his start early in the game as the Jazz tried playing Gobert off the MVP front runner which allowed the big man to find his rhythm.
Before the Jazz faced the Nuggets last season in the playoffs, Gobert made a point to avoid drawing attention to the one-on-one battle with Jokic.
“For us, it’s all about going out there, competing, playing as a team, and doing it every single possession ever night,” Gobert said. “If we do that, we’ll see what happens.”
The Jazz lost the series, but not because of a discrepancy in the play between Gobert and Jokic.
Now, Snyder sees the growth in Gobert as a positive sign for the team.
“The maturation of any player is understanding the nuances of the game and what it takes to win as opposed to what it takes for you to have individual success on the stat line.”
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