A case of voter fatigue? Or was it a reflection of his team’s slipping team defense?
Regardless the reason, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert did not win his fourth Defensive Player of the Year trophy. The award instead went to Boston’s Marcus Smart. Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges finished second, with Gobert finishing third.
Maybe that’s OK, though. Gobert said that he cares less about the Defensive Player of the Year voting this time around than he did as a younger player, back when he was winning his first in his fifth season.
“When you’re younger, you really put a lot of thought into those things, those little recognitions. You think that’s how you get validation. And it is, in a way, because Defensive Player of the Year is a huge award,” Gobert said. “For me right now, it’s really — it would be amazing, it’s always great to win it — but I see the bigger picture. And I understand that my legacy will be much more than how many of those I get, my legacy won’t be defined by that. It’ll be defined by who I am off the court and what I win for my team on the court.”
Quin Snyder, Gobert’s head coach for all but one of his NBA seasons, was disappointed in the selection, but congratulated Smart on the victory.
“Rudy has won it before, and I think every year, he’ll continue to be in contention,” Snyder said. “Congratulations to Marcus and everything that he’s done, but maybe Rudy will be Defensive Player of the Playoffs.”
Gobert’s resume was itself pretty sterling: the Jazz were once again much better defensively with him on the court than with him off. That was true even with Hassan Whiteside, a capable defender himself, backing Gobert up. Advanced stats that track individual shots defended, like FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR, generally favored Gobert among the defensive candidates.
But ultimately, the voters decided against Gobert and towards Smart and Bridges, who were perhaps the best defensive players on the league’s 1st and 3rd best defenses, respectively. Meanwhile, Utah’s defense slipped to 9th in the league this season overall. Both Smart and Bridges more regularly defend the opponent’s best perimeter player, though Gobert and others believed that the award should reflect overall impact rather than one-on-one success.
Smart becomes the first guard to win the award since Seattle’s Gary Payton in 1996.
Meanwhile, when fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell was asked about Gobert being named a finalist at the team’s shootaround on Monday, before the league’s official announcement, he had glowing words for his teammate — albeit along with an incorrect prediction.
“Are you surprised? I’m not. This is something he’s been doing since I got here. He’s a guy that protects the rim, great defensively. I believe he’s going to win it. I think we all believe that, I think he believes that, and I think the biggest thing is he’s showing it,” Mitchell said.
“Like last game, I think that was the epitome of who he is. What did he have, one shot, two shots last game? And he was one of the most impactful players in the game defensively,” he continued. “And I think that just shows who he is as a player. And he’s grown each year. I hope it’s not a result of voter fatigue, where he doesn’t get the award because he’s been doing it for so long.”
Perhaps that’s what happened here. But Gobert noted that he had the opportunity to win other DPOY trophies too. Moving forward, the 29-year-old plans on having an expanding trophy collection.
“I got a little room. I got plenty of room, for a few more actually. But once again, the championship is really where my mind is. If people decide that I deserve to — that the French guy can win a few more DPOY — I get it, but I’m going to keep being the best Rudy that I can be, and see where it takes me, and where it takes us.”