Monson: Rudy Gobert has earned NBA’s defensive player of the year award

First Published      Last Updated Mar 28 2017 04:15 pm

You don't need to read this — because you've seen enough to already know.

The people who do need to read this are those who haven't necessarily seen enough — the voters for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award. There are two handfuls of regular-season games left for them to observe, think and re-think who they'll put at the top of their ballots.

They shouldn't miss what would smack them in the forehead like a swinging two-by-four if enough attention were paid: Rudy Gobert is the NBA's best defensive player.

There are some great defenders in the league, guys like Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard, winner of the award the past two seasons, who deserve consideration. But that's all they deserve this time. There's nobody who adversely affects games, who affects shooters and scorers and — most significantly — teams like Gobert does.

He blankets opposing centers, especially the better ones, impressively enough, but he covers everybody else's man, too. Study any Jazz game and one of the first things to notice is Gobert's somewhere-everywhere awareness at that end. It seems sometimes as though other Jazz defenders get a bit loose in their individual responsibilities because they know they have the 7-foot man with the 7-9 wingspan standing — roaming — behind them.

A concession: Gobert is not perfect in this regard, and the reason for that imperfection is rooted in something positive. There are times, particularly when Gobert faces one of the league's top centers, when he hangs by his man for too long. He's so motivated to prove his standing in the league that he wants to absolutely shut down his specific matchup. But coach Quin Snyder said the 24-year-old is learning to cover more immediately for his teammates.

"Sometimes, he's reluctant to fire over," Snyder said. "He's a competitor, he wants to win his matchup. That's a challenge for him. Sometimes, he goes rogue. It happens more when he has that kind of matchup."

That's pretty much the only time.

Typically, every opposing player must be aware of Gobert's whereabouts on every trip down the floor. Some of the other great defenders around the league cause concerns like that, but not quite so comprehensively. Unless an opponent is shooting a deep ball far from the basket, he has to rotate his head left, right, forward, behind to locate the Jazz big and make the necessary adjustments to fire cleanly.

Opponents have resorted to fighting Gobert's game at both ends with physicality — and that hasn't worked all that well on account of the fact that he has been diligent in adding muscle to his frame to gain strength in traffic.

"Even though he's long and lean," Snyder said, "he's strong."

Some observers have wondered how Gobert, even with his natural size and gifts, has improved as much as he has. Snyder's explanation is that Gobert studies film with assistant coach Alex Jensen after every Jazz game. He then applies whatever he learns.

"Rudy's glued to it," Snyder said. " … The neat thing about Rudy, it clicks and he gets it, and he works on it like crazy. He's such a hungry player."

Hungry enough to devour attacks coming at him.

Gobert ranks first in the NBA in blocks, first in blocks per game, first in block percentage, first in defensive win shares, second in defensive rating and fifth in rebounding.

Here's the extraordinary thing about him, though. Despite the rankings, despite his marked improvement, he hasn't reached his personal apex.

"I'm not satisfied yet," Snyder said. "And I don't think Rudy is, either."

Said Gobert: "Of course, I want to be the best."

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