Is Rudy Gobert an All-NBA Center?
When it comes time to cast the votes for the three All-NBA teams this season, those responsible for picking the squads may have a conundrum on their hands. There are plenty of deserving members at the guard and forward spots (seriously, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul will likely be second-teamers this year), but the center spot is pretty wide open.
In recent years, the decline of the traditional NBA center has led to the league's changing the All-Star voting process to meld forwards and centers together in one pool known as "frontcourt" players. The All-NBA teams have yet to follow suit, however, so there will still be three centers rewarded with All-NBA honors this year, one way or another.
Marc Gasol should immediately come to mind as a candidate for the first or, at worst, second team slot. He is, after all, the scoring leader and defensive anchor of the 54-25 Memphis Grizzlies, the team with the third best record in the Association. After that, there's DeMarcus Cousins, who is the first player to average 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.7 blocks per contest as a baseline in more than a decade.
Beyond Marc and Boogie? Well, it gets a little muddy.
We could consider DeAndre Jordan a leading candidate for the third team (mostly because his coach, Doc Rivers, uses the media to brainwash us to feel such things every chance he gets). But, it's hard to go all-in on a guy that's such a liability on offense (for shooting 39.3% from the free throw line and not being able to buy a basket farther than three feet from the hoop).
Other than that? Andre Drummond? Similarly a liability on offense. Previous honorees Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, or Al Jefferson? Not as impactful this year as years prior. Nikola Vucevic? A viable candidate, but his defense leaves a little to be desired. Al Horford? Probably the most likely potential nominee, but while his impact on both offense and defense is great, in neither case does he completely improve the efficiency of his team when on the floor (according to his on/off splits).
So, here's an idea: why not Rudy Gobert?
Once you're done screaming at me about minutes played and the like, humor me for a second and read on.
First of all, Gobert may have played the first half of the season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz, but he hasn't missed a single game this season, and that should mean something. As a result of suiting up for every game -- regardless of the fact that he only began getting a starter's complement of minutes after the Jazz offloaded Enes Kanter at the trade deadline -- Gobert has actually played more total minutes (2066) than guys such as Noah (2018), Boogie (2013), and Big Al (1992).
Dismissing Gobert's All-NBA candidacy based on minutes played is penalizing him for the Utah Jazz trying everything they could to make Enes Kanter happen. That's not Gobert's fault, and it certainly doesn't soften the impact he's had when he's been on the court this season.
His full-season averages of 8.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 2.3 blocks, and 61.3% shooting from the field don't catch the eye as much as average from players who stuff the stat sheet with a double-double and goodies such as DJ, Drummond, or Vucevic, but they only tell part of the story in 26.2 minutes per game (because of the pre-break mark of 21.9 minutes per contest).
Post All-Star break, Gobert has averaged a much more seductive 11.1 points, 13.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 2.5 blocks per contest in a robust 34.8 minutes. If you want to look at the full season in terms of his per-36-minute equivalents, his numbers fit far more comfortably alongside the per-36 marks of guys such as Jordan and Drummond, just with more blocks and comparable (or better) overall shooting efficiency (when incorporating free throws, as per True Shooting Percentage (TS%) seen below).
But more than just adding and multiplying raw numbers, Gobert's ultimate value comes in his on-court impact, particularly on the defensive end.
Gobert is unequivocally the league's best rim protector this season. Per SportVU's player tracking data, the Stifle Tower allows opponents to shoot only 39.7% at the rim (an area where the league as a whole averages 54.9%). He does this while facing 8.3 shots per game in his 26.2 minutes played. Of the 145 players that face a minimum of 3.5 shots near the rim per game, Gobert easily has the lowest percentage allowed and is the only player to crack the sub-40% mark.
What kind of impact does that have on his team? Well, the Jazz have a Defensive Rating of 106.4 points allowed per 100 possessions when he's off the court and a stifling 98.4 when he's on it, for a difference of 8.0 points allowed per 100 possessions. That is flat out ridiculous.
For further proof of his impact, look at the difference between the pre- and post-trade deadline Jazz, before and after going with Gobert as their starting center.
|Record||Win %||Def Rtg||NBA Rank|
|Pre All-Star Break||19-34||.358||106.1||27th|
|Post All-Star Break||17-9||.654||93.8||1st|
That's not a small, negligible difference. That is far from a coincidence. That is official proof of a "Gobert Effect" if there ever was one.
And there are plenty of bonus statistics that make a strong case for Gobert's All-NBA worthiness as well.
|Average||NBA Rank||Center Rank|
|Player Efficiency Rating||21.7||16th||4th|
|Defensive Win Shares||4.1||10th||4th|
|Win Shares per 48 Minutes||.210||8th||2nd|
|Defensive Box Plus/Minus||5.0||2nd||2nd|
|Value Over Replacement Player||4.1||11th||2nd|
Placing in the top-four among centers in each and every one of those advanced statistical categories is no small feat (he's the only one to do it, for what it's worth). He's even a top-three center in everything on the list outside of PER and the cumulative categories of Win Shares and Defensive Win Shares (where the lower minute total becomes a disadvantage; although he still overcomes that and places incredibly high). He's also the only player, center or otherwise, to place in the top-six in the whole NBA in both Offensive and Defensive Rating. It's growing harder not to call him a top-three center now, isn't it?
Look, the three All-NBA centers this year will probably be some combination of All-Stars Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, and Al Horford (with DeAndre Jordan and Nikola Vucevic as dark-horse contenders). It's just important to realize that the only thing truly hampering Gobert's undoubted inclusion among the elite this season is the existence of Enes Kanter and the fact that he spent the first half of the season with the Jazz.
If Gobert doesn't manage to make one of the All-NBA teams this season, though, look out; if the strides he's made on both ends this season carry over into the next one and beyond and if his defensive impact continues to reach untouchable levels, then he's likely to become a fixture on these All-NBA squads for years to come.