This week, Vivint released a commercial featuring Rudy Gobert for its line of home security systems. While Jae Crowder tried to sell him on the benefits of such a system, Gobert already had his own defense established: multiple works of art on his wall, all face-swapped to feature Gobert as subject.
Gobert’s rationale: "There is no better defense than many Rudys.”
Maybe that’s true in the realm of home security. In the NBA, only one Rudy is necessary to lead the league’s best defense.
That’s where the Jazz rank once you eliminate garbage time, though if you want to include those lopsided non-Gobert minutes too, Utah ranks fourth. Gobert is second in the league in blocks, teams average far fewer rim attempts on the Jazz when he’s in the game, and his presence changes everything about what opposing offenses do.
"He wants the paint. He is demanding, ‘Don’t worry about this, take care of the threes, take care of the jump shots, this area is mine,’” teammate Kyle Korver said about Gobert. “I have never been around a big that has really said it so bluntly and meant it. He’s just playing at a really high level.”
That’s new to Korver, but not really new to the Jazz: Gobert was last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, after all.
But you can make the case that Gobert is even better this season, adding new aspects to his game and refining his already-great characteristics, graduating him from “just” an All-Defense candidate to All-Star level. The All-Star reserves, voted on by the league’s head coaches, will be announced Thursday evening. If Gobert were to be selected, he’d earn a cool $1 million bonus from the Jazz as well, a provision of his contract.
Gobert wants the nod. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of,” he said. “I want to be part of the best group of players in the world.”
Besides just protecting the rim this season, he’s defending the perimeter as well, jumping out to prevent the likes of Steph Curry from shooting threes while still getting back to defend the paint.
He’s also running the floor on the defensive end: when he’s in the game, the Jazz allow 20 points fewer per 100 possessions on transition plays, according to CleaningTheGlass. Gobert’s starting to take a larger responsibility in all aspects of defense, not just the rim-protection aspect.
But it might be his offense that has taken bigger leaps. Gobert has 180 dunks, leading the league and on pace for the most league history since the NBA started tracking the statistic — Dwight Howard had 269 in 2007-08. Gobert’s rolls down the rim bend defenses because he’s the league’s leader in field-goal percentage: no shot that the opposing defenses can give up is worse than a Gobert dunk. So Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver and others all get open looks because defenses collapse on Gobert: only Milwaukee and Atlanta have a larger percentage of threes that are wide open.
He still leads the league in screen assists, with 6.1 per contest. Those screens lead to 14.1 points per game, and that only counts the points where Gobert’s screen leads immediately to a bucket by a teammate.
“Rudy takes so much pride in setting great screens. It’s unique, it’s rare to find a big man who is like, ‘I’m going to set screens all night long, and then I’m to going roll all night long,’” Korver said. “It’s hard work. You have to be in great shape to screen and roll, to screen and roll, to protect the rim and to run the court.”
Gobert’s actual assists are up, too, and his rebounding is at a career-best 13.1 per game, good for fifth in the NBA. The Jazz are the second-best defensive rebounding team in the league this season.
The end result is a player that doesn’t stand out in points per game — though Gobert is having his best season there, averaging 15 points per game — but does everywhere else. Advanced stats love Gobert: he ranks first in the league in Basketball-Reference’s Win Shares system, 5th in Value over Replacement Player, 8th in Box Plus-Minus, and 10th in the NBA in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat.
"If you gave him a point every time he created a defensive stop, he would average 40 a night,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But no one does that, and so he doesn’t get credit. Rudy could have a game where he scores five points, gets 15 rebounds and people will be like ‘well, what did he do?’ Well, he created 40 points by getting stops and going the other way.”
It’s that kind of elite status — and those kind of glowing words from the people who vote — that has put Gobert as a pretty safe bet to make the All-Star team in an incredibly tough Western Conference, according to most NBA observers.
"Utah fans seem worried Gobert won’t get in. That would be nuts,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe said. "He’s a one-man defense, but not a one-way player.” For those who disagree, like TNT’s Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, Gobert has a request: "Hopefully when they talk about something, they check the numbers and make sure they know what they’re talking about.”
Said Jazz coach Quin Snyder: “So much of what Rudy does, I won’t say is thankless, but you have to look for it. You realize, ‘You know what, I have to thank him again.’ He’s giving himself to the team. Screening assists, his rolls, his defense, his defense on the perimeter, his rim protection. There are so many things he does.”
The many faces of Gobert aren’t just starring in commercials, they’re also carrying the Jazz to success.
JAZZ VS. TIMBERWOLVES
At Target Center, Minneapolis
Tipoff • Sunday, 5:00 p.m.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 28-22; Timberwolves 24-25
Last meeting • Jazz, 106-102 (Jan 25)
About the Jazz • Thabo Sefolosha (right hamstring), Dante Exum (left ankle sprain), Raul Neto (groin) and Tony Bradley (knee surgery) all are expected to be out for Sunday’s game... Ricky Rubio played 23 minutes on a minute restriction on Friday as he works his way back from a hamstring strain... Donovan Mitchell has scored 24 points in 11 straight games
About the Timberwolves • Tyus Jones (ankle), Jeff Teague (left foot), Derrick Rose (ankle), and Robert Covington (ankle) did not play vs. the Jazz on Friday, while Gorgui Dieng left the game due to a hip contusion... Timberwolves are 5-4 under new 32-year-old head coach Ryan Saunders... Timberwolves average the second-fewest turnovers in the league... Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 26.1 points per game in the month of January