Rudy Gobert’s fate is already sealed. The votes are already in for defensive player of the year, and it will be a long wait until June to find out if he finally won it this season.
Coach Quin Snyder plainly stated last month that it was “an empirical fact” that Gobert, the 7-foot-1 shot-swatting center had made his case as the best defender in the league. And a number of prominent voters seem to be on board with that idea.
In the last few days as nationally relevant writers have released their ballots, there seems to be a push for Gobert to win the award after finishing behind Golden State’s Draymond Green last season. Gobert stands to become the only player to win defensive Player of the year while playing fewer than 64 games in a non-lockout year.
Here they are, in their own words, making Gobert’s case:
Zach Lowe, ESPN • “It doesn’t feel great punishing any player, even a little, for having great teammates. But you can only choose one. Remove every confounding factor and ask me — and most coaches and executives — to name the best individual defender in the league this season, and I’d go with Gobert. Utah’s defense with Gobert on the floor yielded two fewer points per possession than the Sixers with [Joel] Embiid.”
Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today • ”The Jazz were the most stunning story line in the NBA, and Gobert (10.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per game) was the man behind their mission as they battled for home-court advantage in the West. Since he returned from a 15-game absence on Jan. 15, the Jazz have gone 29-7 while having the league’s best defense by a large margin (97.9 points allowed per 100 possessions; Philadelphia was second at 101.5).”
Marc Stein, The New York Times • “When I crossed paths with Utah center Rudy Gobert last month, I mentioned that this season is increasingly looking like his turn to win the D.P.O.Y. trophy he so badly craves. Without hesitation he shot back: “It was my turn last year.” That’s typical Gobert, who remains convinced that he should have edged past Draymond Green for the award in 2017 and naturally rejects the notion that the 26 games he has missed through injury could cost him this time.”
Andrew Sharp, Sports Illustrated • “Rudy Gobert will haunt your dreams. ... He’s so much bigger, longer, and faster than any defensive player should be allowed to be. He’s so unfair, he makes defense almost as entertaining as offense. After two Gobert weeks-long injuries led to premature eulogies for this Utah season, he came back to life so dominant that the Jazz are on pace to win 49 games. He’s the best defender in the league, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the playoffs.”
Tim Bontemps, The Washington Post • ”Gobert has been the NBA’s best defensive player this season. The only debate is whether he’s played enough games to edge out the league’s second best defender, Embiid. But that was before Embiid’s recent orbital bone fracture, which knocked him out for the final few games of the regular season. The difference thus became negligible, paving the way for Gobert to win.”
Sean Deveney, The Sporting News • “Most important, Utah has gone 30-7 with Gobert back, second only to Houston. Gobert missed a lot of time, but the impact he has had since coming back has carried the Jazz into the top half of the West playoffs. That’s because they’ve corrected their defense, and that mostly can be traced back to Gobert.”
Doug Smith, The Toronto Star • ”Gobert, frankly, is a freak. His ability to protect the rim, get back in transition and dissuade even the most hearty opponent from entering the paint is unbelievable.”
Kyle Neubeck, Philly Voice • “But in a lot of the major stat categories, Gobert emerged on top, besting Embiid in Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus-Minus, Defensive Real Plus-Minus — where he’s the leader by almost a full point per 100 possessions — and simpler measures like blocked shots. The Jazz ended the year with a better defense than the Sixers, and it is largely because of the efforts of Gobert, despite Embiid having Robert Covington and Ben Simmons helping him turn the Sixers into an elite unit.”