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Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert stands by his defensive bona fides after Ben Simmons’ criticism: ‘To me, it’s about impact.’

Sixers’s wing says he can guard all five players on the floor, but metrics favor Gobert

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) gets past Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and looks to the basket during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Chris Nicoll)

Ben Simmons and Rudy Gobert are the clear two top players in running for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and on Saturday, Simmons made his case to be given the award.

“No disrespect to Rudy at all, he is a great shot blocker, defender, but he’s not guarding one through five, he is guarding fives and probably big fours,” Simmons said, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s a great defender, but I don’t think he’s guarding one through fives, you can’t tell him to go guard Kawhi [Leonard] or Paul [George] or guard a point guard. He’s not doing that on a daily basis.”

Simmons has been a multi-positional force for the Eastern Conference-leading Sixers, but Gobert said that his rim protection offers a different type of defensive influence on the game.

“To me, it’s about impact. It’s about how much impact you can have on the court and how much impact we can have on your teammates. And at the end of the day, how much impact you can have on your team and on the other team,” Gobert said after Sunday’s Jazz practice.

“It’s not about being cute. It’s not about looking good. It’s not about narratives. It’s not about having a big name,” he continued. It’s about coming out every single night, trying to grind defensively and have that impact on the game.”

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It’s true that the two men have very different styles of impact on the floor. Simmons is a more versatile defender, who nearly always takes the opponent’s best player as his matchup. Meanwhile, Gobert’s impact comes less through his man-on-man defense against centers, but in his team defense in guarding pick and rolls, and the rim in general.

As Gobert points out, “Now we have a lot of advanced statistics. We have a lot of ways to measure somebody’s impact,” which can compare the two styles of defense.

Those metrics have generally favored Gobert. Gobert is first in the league in defensive rating, defensive win shares, and ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus, while Simmons ranks 11th, 11th, and 226th in those statistics. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR statistic uses the NBA’s tracking data to count a player’s contested shots; it rates Gobert third and Simmons 55th.

However, Simmons is moving up the more eye-test oriented lists. NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner ranked Simmons No. 1 and Gobert No. 2 in his Defensive Player Ladder column last week.

Oddsmakers generally still consider Gobert the favorite, though. According to an average of odds from sportsbooks compiled by SportsBettingDime.com, Gobert is a -250 favorite to win the award — meaning that bettors would have to bet $250 to win $100 back if Gobert is DPOY. Meanwhile, Simmons stands at +225: bettors betting $100 would win $225 if Simmons wins.

For what it’s worth, Gobert said that he didn’t want to be seen as campaigning for the award, which he has won twice, in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

“When people are going to campaign for themselves, I think it’s great, you know. But for me, it’s just being worried about my team, how can I help my team every single night and how can we keep getting better as a team?”

With about 30 games left in the season, both will have the chance to make their case to the 100 media voters from around the league who decide the award. Gobert, generally, has shown faith in that process.

“When the season ends, the best defender is going to win it,” he said.

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