While Rudy Gobert is most associated with nicknames such as “The Stifle Tower” and “The French Rejection,” some of his Utah Jazz teammates have simply taken to calling him “Two Time.”
As in, two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
They’re going to need to change that up now, although “Three Time” seems a fairly straightforward modification.
On Wednesday night, Gobert was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in four seasons, beating out 76ers wing Ben Simmons and Warriors forward Draymond Green for the award.
He earned 84 of 100 first-place votes, 14 seconds, and two thirds, finishing with 464 points in the media voting. He was the only player to be named on all 100 ballots. Simmons (15 firsts, 287 points) was second, while Green (zero firsts, 76 points) was third. Miami’s Bam Adebayo got the remaining first-place vote.
Gobert joins Dikembe Mutombo (4), Ben Wallace (4), and Dwight Howard (3) as the only players ever to win DPOY at least three times. He also breaks a tie with Jazz icon and late mentor Mark Eaton for most in franchise history.
“It’s hard to put into words the things that you can achieve when you just enjoy what you do, first of all, and when you have a group of people that believes in you and you put the work in every single day,” Gobert said in a subsequent media session. “I try to write my own story, try to enjoy my own journey, but just being one of only four guys that have won the award that many times, it’s just amazing.”
He averaged 14.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, and finished second in the league with 2.7 blocked shots per game this season.
Gobert led the NBA in defensive rating (100.6), defensive win shares (5.2), and defensive rebounds (10.1), while helping the Jazz to the NBA’s third-best defensive rating as a team (107.5). He led the league in defending 19.1 field-goal attempts per game, and held opponents to 41.9% shooting on those attempts.
He led the NBA in plus/minus (+728) and total rebounds (960), and, according to FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR metric, this season posted the highest such rating (+8.0) by a player since 1977.
He previously won the award in 2018 and ’19, before finishing third last season behind the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Lakers’ Anthony Davis.
Gobert reflected on how the center position has evolved over the years, even since he’s been drafted, and how it’s no longer enough to be tethered to the rim like Mutombo and Wallace were, but how he must now be mobile and agile, capable of extending to the perimeter and challenging 3-point shooters — as he did on the final play of Tuesday’s 112-109 playoff victory over the Clippers.
“The game has changed, and for me it’s really been about getting better every single year,” he said. “Teams have been trying to negate my impact one way or another, so I had to raise my level year after year and day after day to be able to try to keep dominating on that end.”
TNT’s “Inside the NBA” first announced the award, and showed Gobert being surprised with the trophy by his Jazz teammates in the locker room earlier Wednesday. Joe Ingles made the official presentation, suggesting it would not be Gobert’s last such award.
“I knew something was fishy, but seeing how happy my teammates were for me made me happy,” Gobert said.
He is also a two-time All-Star and a three-time All-NBA honoree.
Asked by the TNT crew who was most responsible for his success, he had a ready answer.
“My mom. She sacrificed a lot for me to be be able to do what I love. She believed in me as a kid. She allowed me to do what I love to do and do what I wanted to do,” he said. “When I grew up in a small town in France, I wasn’t supposed to be here. When I started basketball, if you would have asked me if I was gonna win a Defensive Player of the Year, I would probably not have believed it. Three of them is just amazing, and it’s on her. She gave me everything.”
Gobert joins teammate Jordan Clarkson as a 2020-21 NBA award winner, after the guard kicked off the awards season by being named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
He said that with Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal series coming Tuesday, there would be no elaborate celebration Wednesday night, though with his mom and others close to him in town, he did allow that he would try to “enjoy the moment.”
Still, the game takes precedence.
After all, he has an entirely different trophy in mind as the ultimate validation of his impact.
“I want to win a championship. When I got drafted by the Jazz 8 years ago, I told myself that I wanted to do anything I could to have this franchise get its first championship,” he said. “… A lot of people have been disrespecting me for awhile, but I try to keep a positive mindset, and at the end of the day, winning doesn’t lie.”