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NBA Player Rudy Gobert Can be Best Defensive Player in NBA History
Rudy Gobert, 22 year old Center from France, was basically an unheard of player going into last year and looked at as a guy who is still many years away from being an even average NBA player. He went into last year as the backup to Enes Kanter, now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 7' 2" Center was picked 27th overall in the 2013 draft by the Denver Nuggets, but was soon traded to the Utah Jazz. During his rookie year with Utah, he only average 9.6 minutes per game, while only making appearances in 45 games. It was not until halfway through the following year that he was able to make his mark, where he took off after the Kanter trade. Rudy Gobert was given playing time in the first place due to his unparalleled physical tools. At 240 pounds, he has a stunning 9' 7" standing reach and a 7' 8.5" wingspan. That wingspan and standing reach gives him unlimited ability to reject shots that may appear much further away from him than what they really are. He has an unbelievable body fat percentage of 4.4, giving him the ability to be quicker on his feet than the average Center. His quickness and coordination for his height are hard to come by, making it that much easier to jump and swat the ball no matter how far away it is from him. We have already seen incredible things from him in his 2nd season, and based on his performances during that time, he can get even better as a rim protector and as a player.
Gobert, appropriately given the nickname "The Stifle Tower" and "French Rejection", thrives most defensively when he is in the paint. He gets the majority of his blocks as a help defender, coming from the other side of the paint and swatting the ball away. Opposing guards and big men have tried again and again to attempt traditional shots like layups and even dunks on him, but Rudy makes sure those attempted buckets rarely go in. By the middle of March last season, opponents were only shooting 39% around the rim when going up against Gobert. By that same point last season he was blocking 7.7% of all shots opponents took last season while he was on the floor, leading the league over star shot blockers such as Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan.
Before the All-Star break last year, he was only averaging 21.9 minutes, mainly due to the fact that the Jazz had the more offensively skilled Enes Kanter starting until they traded him at the deadline. During those 21.9 minutes, Gobert averaged an outstanding 2.2 blocks per game. That's only .2 less per game than DeAndre Jordan at the All-Star break, even though Jordan averaged 33.8 minutes per game. After the All-Star break to the end of the season, Gobert had assumed the starting role as Center for Utah, averaging 34.4 minutes per game. He got up to 2.6 blocks during that time, and although it seems like he should have averaged more being given so many more minutes, he had to be the main rebounder for Utah and had to spend more energy contributing on the offensive end as well. Now that he knows he has a very important role on his team, taking time during the offseason and getting into better shape will help him maximize his efforts while playing up to 35 minutes per game. He finished the year being 3rd in blocks per game in the NBA, averaging just 26.3 minutes. The two people in front of him, Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis, started throughout the entire year. Ibaka averaged 33 minutes per game and Davis had 36. Imagine if Rudy had averaged that many minutes throughout the entire year. Going into his third year as a pro, he still has so much room to grow, given that he is still extremely thin and has basically no offense game outside of 5 feet from the rim. When we see him getting starters minutes throughout an entire season, he has the potential to average 3 blocks per game at some point in his career. Gobert is a shot blocking machine, and the Jazz plan to give him the starting role all season long so he can showcase his defensive skills.
Rudy's height and length makes it easy for him to snatch balls out of the air on both ends of the court. He finished last season with 9.5 rebounds, but again, those numbers do not accurately reflect how strong a rebounder he really is. Before the All-Star break, he averaged only 7.3 rebounds per game, but again, only on 21.9 minutes. By the time he became a full on starter, he averaged 13.4 rebounds from the All-Star break to the end of the season in April. He should get somewhere between 33-35 minutes next year as a starter, and given the fact that he had 34 minutes during that stretch last year, expect him to get somewhere between 12-14 rebounds per game next year. Only time will tell if he will be able to take the grind as a starter in an 82 game season, but nothing thus far has proven that he won't be able to handle it. He didn't miss a single game last year, as he made an appearance in all 82 games. If that's not durability, I don't know what is. In the month of March, the month when he started to take off as a pro, he averaged 14.9 rebounds. It's doubtful he would be able to put up those numbers throughout an entire season obviously, but that shows how he can dominate the glass for a long stretch of games. In one game he even managed to get a double-double in the first quarter. He is bound to be up there as a league leader in rebounds for years to come and definitely has a chance at being the best rebounder in the game at some point in his career, as he has the physical tools and the drive to be that type of player.
Will Rudy the French Rejection ever become an offensive star in the league? Probably not. At this point in his career his offensive game is limited to essentially just dunks, layups, and free throws, and there is a very good chance that may never change. But his shot blocking and rebounding is unlike anything that the league has seen. At a player his height, he has the ability to run up and down the floor like Hakeem Olajuwon, block a shot like Dikembe Mutombo, and rebound like Karl Malone. He put up great numbers last year for a player who came into that year as a project, and those numbers are just the beginning. His potential is limitless as he doesn't have any nagging injuries and is in a great situation in Utah, where Head Coach Quin Snyder plans on giving him plenty of playing time. He is a man who can dominant the paint every single night in terms of rim-protecting and rebounding. Expect him to be a favorite with DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, and Kawhi Leonard as favorites to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award this upcoming season. And for future seasons, be prepared to witness what might eventually be the defensive player who ever set foot on an NBA court.