Utah Jazz: Is Rudy Gobert the Next Dwight Howard?

Sep 26, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during Media Day at Zion Bank Basketball Center. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during Media Day at Zion Bank Basketball Center. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

Dwight Howard was once considered the best center in the league and an MVP candidate. Can Rudy Gobert do the same with the Jazz while leading them to the promised land?

Utah Jazz fans already know about this, but Rudy Gobert is really good. He’s in consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year, the second most prestigious individual award in the NBA.

This season Gobert allows opponents to shoot a stifling 43.3 percent at the rim, despite facing a league leading 10.2 attempts per game. Last season he allowed a league best 41 percent at the rim (of all players who played at least 500 regular season minutes), and in 2014-15 he allowed 40.6 percent at the rim, once again league leading.

When Gobert isn’t rejecting a league leading 2.6 shots a game, he’s altering shots, forcing the miss and completing the defensive stop for his team. Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune describes Gobert’s presence as one that “doesn’t just block attempts, he freaks out guys by being in the area”.

It’s no coincidence that when Snyder replaced Enes Kanter with Rudy Gobert as the starting center in February 2015, the Jazz transformed their defense from a bottom 10 unit to an elite defense that was seventh best in 2015-16 and third best so far this season. FanRag Sports’ Andy Bailey describes how Gobert transforms Utah’s defense:

"Utah’s entire defensive scheme is built around Gobert. Jazz perimeter players are constantly filtering drivers to him. And because that 7’2″ insurance policy is on the back line, they can pressure spot-up shooters without worrying about a blow-by on a closeout.What tends to happen when an opponent gets past the first level of Utah’s defense? Jazz fans have gotten used to seeing players get within a few feet of Gobert, realize what that means and promptly U-turn out of there."

So while it’s no secret that Gobert is a defensive force, Gobert has also made huge strides on the offensive side through his four year career. The most noticeable thing I have noticed is his hands and ability to catch passes from teammates. His turnover percentage has dropped from 19.2 to 15.9 percent.

His free throw shooting has gone from an embarrassing 56.9 percent last year to a respectable 65.3 percent, improving his efficiency while increasing his volume from 4.6 free throw attempts per game last year, to 5.9 this year.

Gobert ranks second in the league for screen assists (setting a screen which frees a teammate for a basket) with 6.2. He’s top 20 in the league for offensive win shares, player efficiency rating, second in offensive rebounds, and fourth in offensive rating. ESPN’s Tim McMahon says this:

"GOBERT IS NOW the NBA’s best defender by almost any measure, the frontrunner for defensive player of the year. He sits alone in first, by a wide margin, atop the defensive Real Plus-Minus standings. He’s on pace to have more win shares in a season than any pure center since Dwight Howard in 2010-11. He’s also averaging career highs in points (13.1), rebounds (12.6), blocks (a league-best 2.5), field goal percentage (.654) and free throw percentage (.664)."

An interesting point that McMahon brought up is comparing Gobert to the 2010-11 version of Dwight Howard. Dwight averaged 22.9 points (career high), 14.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks that year. That year he was named:

  • an All-Star
  • Defensive Player of the Year
  • Eastern Conference Player of the Week six different times
  • Eastern Conference Player of the Month twice
  • 1st team All-NBA Center
  • 1st Team All-Defensive
  • finished second in voting for Most Valuable Player
  • was top five in the league for rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage

Howard’s 2010-11 offensive, defensive and general win shares best Gobert’s, as do his Value Over Replacement Player. His strong rim protection and inside presence anchored the Magic to the NBA’s third best defensive rating in the league that year. Basically, Dwight Howard was really, really good. The best center in the NBA, second best player in the Eastern Conference good.

And Gobert is on the fast track to repeat what Dwight did. Rudy is generalized across the league as a one-sided player, who is a superstar on the defensive end and just an above average player on the offensive end.

However, Rudy has had fifteen games this season where he scored 18 points or more. In ten of those fifteen games, Rudy has crossed the 20-point threshold. Since Utah is 12-3 in those games when Gobert scores 18+ points, it isn’t unprecedented that Gobert could sustain around 18 points per game for a whole season if given the opportunity.

Although Rudy does not have the low post arsenal or power Dwight does, the Jazz have enough playmakers and floor spacers at every position to create looks for Gobert. Plug in a combination of Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, or Rodney Hood next to Gobert and that lineup will outscore the opponent.

I went to basketball-reference and sorted out four man lineups featuring Gobert, and either three perimeter players or two perimeter players and Boris Diaw. It turns out there are seven different four man combinations of that sort with a positive net rating.

Regular Season: 4-Man Combinations

1B. Diaw | R. Gobert | G. Hayward | R. HoodUTA270:29+.113+20.7
2R. Gobert | G. Hayward | G. Hill | J. InglesUTA418:14+.054+15.6
3R. Gobert | G. Hayward | J. Ingles | J. JohnsonUTA275:00+.075+15.1
4R. Gobert | G. Hill | J. Ingles | J. JohnsonUTA214:00+.048+13.7
5R. Gobert | G. Hayward | G. Hill | R. HoodUTA394:02+.050+12.7
6B. Diaw | R. Gobert | G. Hayward | G. HillUTA236:24+.010+10.2
8R. Gobert | G. Hayward | G. Hill | J. JohnsonUTA260:59+.030+8.8

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/29/2017.

This means the Jazz can succeed surrounding Gobert with floor spacers and playmakers, leaving him room to operate in the low post.

I cannot stress how special that would be for a guy whose shooting range is zero to five feet from the basket, to average 18+ points per game in today’s league. This would prove that Gobert is above defensive specialists like DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, and Steven Adams, and that Gobert should be in the conversation for best center in the NBA, with Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, and Nikola Jokic.

Feb 13, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) looks to the LA Clippers bench during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 13, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) looks to the LA Clippers bench during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

Gobert is closer to being a superstar than most people think, and his desire to get better will only propel him faster towards that status. General Manager Dennis Lindsey will fight fiercely for Gobert’s deserved recognition any day, and Coach Quin Snyder recognizes Gobert’s unique desire to improve.

"“He’s competitive,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He makes important plays and he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid of the moment, so he’s not going to shy away from it. His competitiveness and his gusto, his verve, whatever you want to call it, he’s got it.”"

With the Jazz being in a financial crunch this summer to keep Gordon Hayward, Joe Ingles and George Hill in free agency, they are bound to lose guys such as Shelvin Mack, Jeff Withey, Boris Diaw, Alec Burks and maybe even Derrick Favors if necessary to clear cap space. If that does happen, and the Jazz need Gobert to carry a larger offensive and vocal leadership role, he will be ready to be the next Dwight Howard.

More from The J-Notes

Howard once led the Magic to an NBA Finals appearance and was considered one of the top 10 players in the league. Rudy Gobert is ready to be the best center in the league and prove his doubters wrong, as he told ESPN’s Tim McMahon “I just love to win, and I love to shut people’s mouths”.

With better teammates and a more trusting management system than what Dwight had in Orlando, Gobert is gearing up to take the Jazz back to the deep playoff runs fans have missed since the Deron Williams era nearly ten years ago.