Rudy Gobert Is Presenting an Early Case for Defensive Player of the Year

The Defensive Player of the Year debate has been centered around Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green for the last two seasons, but Rudy Gobert might deserve a seat at the table.

Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs has been named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year for two years running, while Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors has come in second in both instances.

The debate over which of the two is the league's best defender is already underway yet again this season, with Draymond recently voicing his displeasure with the fact that some pundits were calling for the Warriors to take a step back on defense with the addition of Kevin Durant and subtraction of Andrew Bogut this year -- as if to say that Draymond is not the anchor of what the Dubs do on D, as Green sees it.

While the award is likely to come down to those two guys again this year, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is making quite the case for the award to find its way back to a big man, like it had for 17 of the 18 years preceding the first of Kawhi's back-to-back trophies in 2014-15.

If you want to look at just the raw, box score defensive numbers, all three clearly belong in the same class:

Player Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Steals Blocks
Rudy Gobert 8.0 11.1 0.6 2.5
Kawhi Leonard 4.8 6.0 2.1 0.5
Draymond Green 7.0 8.6 2.1 1.8

What Gobert lacks in steals, he makes up in defensive rebounds (an undeniably important and often overlooked part of the defensive end) and blocked shots. Of course, these raw statistics are hard to take at face value, since all three play a different position and excel in different facets of the game.

If you compare the three in most advanced defensive metrics, however, it's no trouble to see why Gobert belongs in the conversation:

Category (NBA Rank) Rudy Gobert NBA Rank Kawhi Leonard NBA Rank Draymond Green NBA Rank
Defensive Rating 96.1 4th 103.0 54th 98.6 10th
Defensive Win Shares 1.3 3rd 0.9 16th 1.1 9th
Defensive Box Plus/Minus 4.8 3rd 0.5 80th 4.9 2nd
Defensive Real Plus-Minus 3.33 4th 0.93 81st 3.95 1st

Kawhi will almost certainly shoot up these rankings as the season progresses, but the fact that Gobert is in the top-four in all four of them through roughly a quarter of the season is certainly worth underlining. In fact, he's the only player in the league that ranks at least fourth in all four measures to this point.

And if you want to look at the defensive rating of each team these three guys anchor, Gobert has the edge there too:

Team Defensive Rating NBA Rank
Utah Jazz 102.6 4th
Golden State Warriors 104.4 9th
San Antonio Spurs 105.4 14th

Finally, one of the main ways to measure defensive effectiveness nowadays is by way of SportVU's rim protection statistics (defined as the defender being within five feet of the basket and within five feet of the offensive player attempting the shot).

This stat obviously skews in Gobert's favor as the natural center of the three players we're discussing, seeing as how the main purpose on defense at his position is to protect the rim (as opposed to Draymond and especially Kawhi, who spend more time guarding the perimeter).

However, Gobert's stifling efficiency in this area of the game is impossible to just leave out of any Defensive Player of the Year discussions going forward. At the moment, Gobert's 39.7% allowed at the rim is the lowest percentage in the Association among players who face at least six such attempts there per game.

Player Defensive FGM Defensive FGA Defensive FG%
Rudy Gobert 4.1 10.2 39.7%
Kawhi Leonard 0.9 2.2 41.0%
Draymond Green 2.9 7.0 42.0%

Defensive ability goes beyond raw numbers and is even hard to definitively interpret using advanced analytics. A lot of what goes into measuring defensive effectiveness still comes down to the old-fashioned "eye test" and anecdotal evidence from players regarding who are the most feared defenders in the league.

While Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have already developed a name for themselves as guys who strike fear into the hearts of their opponents from the defensive side of the ball, Gobert -- who is still without a single All-Defensive Team honor -- is currently surpassing them in most recognized defensive statistics.

The award still might come down to Kawhi and Draymond when all is said and done, but Rudy "The Stifle Tower" Gobert has swatted his way into the upper echelon of the league's best defenders and will deserve consideration when the votes are cast at the end of the season if he keeps up his current pace of defensive domination.