Utah Jazz: Is DPOY still attainable for Rudy Gobert?

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has a chance to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year trophies this season, and become only the second player in NBA history to do so.

This was supposed to be a year of firsts for Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz. It was supposed to be their first time winning 55 games or more, their first time earning home court advantage in the playoffs, and their first trip as a group beyond the second round of the playoffs.

The Stifle Tower had high expectations for himself and his squad coming into this season. He wanted to not only earn his first All-Star selection (which he did), but find his way back onto the selections for All-NBA, All-Defensive team, and the Defensive Player of the Year award.

If I had to guess right now, Rudy will earn himself his third consecutive All-NBA selection and fourth consecutive selection to the All-Defensive team. But three-peating in the prestigious Defensive Player of the Year award will be a lot more hard to come by at this rate.

The Utah Jazz haven’t been that great on defense this year, as they currently sit at 11th in defensive efficiency. In the last 15 games their defense is the 21st best in the league, raising major red flags for this team’s playoff hopes.

Via Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report:

Defense? A problem? For the Utah Jazz?

If you’ve been following Utah for the last several seasons (but, for some reason, not this one), none of this makes any sense. Anchored by two-time DPOY Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have long been one of the most imposing shutdown operations in the league. They ranked third or better in each of the three seasons prior to this one…

The Jazz rank 18th in defensive efficiency since Dec. 1, 20th since Jan. 1 and 27th since Feb. 1.

Credit Utah for addressing the scoring woes that limited its playoff success in the past. It’s just that sometimes solving one problem creates another.

And as all hoops people know, a team’s performance can be a great deal of help (or hurt) to their star players winning individual awards. It’s no coincidence that we haven’t had an MVP winner come from a non-playoff team.

It’s a big reason why Bam Adebayo, Damantas Sabonis, and Jayson Tatum were selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves when Bradley Beal was left out in the cold.

And it’s a big reason why “Two Time” was able to rack up his hardware the past couple of years. The Utah Jazz had the top defensive rating in the league in 2017-18 and the second best defense in 2018-19 according to NBA.com.

Winning matters for racking up individual awards and building a Hall of Fame legacy, and for an award given to the best defensive player, that player must be leading one of the top defensive teams in the association.

Unfortunately for Rudy Gobert, that has not been the case this season as a whole. If you look at who the national media darlings are for the award this year, a lot of people think Giannis Antetokounmpo should win the DPOY award.

He’s led the Milwaukee Bucks to an impressive top-ranked defense this season, being able to protect the rim, smother opponents on the perimeter with his length, and get out in passing lanes.

As for Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers are the third-best defense in the league this season. He’s an excellent rim protector and defender himself, and has also been vying for the award since media day.

Marcus Smart will likely earn some votes but not come near to winning the award. Even his Celtics, who swapped out Al Horford for Enes Kanter last summer, are rolling out a top five defense.

However, there are a few things helping Rudy’s case to turn his nickname from “Two Time” to “Three Time”. He carries perhaps the largest defensive load and responsibility than any of his other competitors for the award.

The Bucks have Brook Lopez to fall back on for him protection, as well as excellent defenders in Eric Bledsoe and George Hill guarding the perimeter. The Lakers have JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard eating up the center minutes, allowing Davis to play power forward.

According to advanced metrics, the Lakers defense technically plays stingier when Davis is on the bench than when he is on the court, whereas Gobert gives the Jazz a massive on-off swing.

The Utah Jazz front office knew last summer when they shipped off Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder that they would be putting more pressure on Rudy Gobert for making sure the defense didn’t go off the deep end.

At the 8:51 mark of this interview, Lindsey says that Rudy was okay with taking on that extra pressure and responsibility. And the Utah Jazz were okay with taking that gamble in the case that Rudy Gobert gets hurt and there’s no Derrick Favors waiting to replace him.

via Dave Fox of KUTV:

“There’s a lot of ways that we could potentially play, and one thing that we wanted to do is that we wanted to put four, very skilled players around Rudy, and then, Rudy knew, I mean, when we had his exit interview, he and I talked about this. He knew that this type of team was going to put more pressure on him, and he wanted that pressure.”

What most fans outside of Utah don’t know about Rudy Gobert is how many times he bailed the Utah Jazz out with his clutch defense. Dan Clayton of Salt City Hoops did a fantastic job of detailing just how valuable Rudy is in the clutch for the Jazz this year.

You can read the full list of Gobert’s clutch achievements here, but here are some of the most memorable:

  • His block on Damian Lillard on December 27th
  • His game-saving block on Brandon Ingram on January 6th
  • His block on Delon Wright on January 25th that got David Locke hyped
  • His block/goaltend on Damian Lillard on February 7th

In order to lock up the award and become the only player other than Dwight Howard to three-peat with the DPOY trophy, the Jazz need to lock in the remainder of the season.

If they can finish the final 18 games holding as many opponents under 100 points as possible and get their defensive rating back in the top seven of the league, then Rudy will have a solid chance at winning the award again with a little love from the voters.

Next: Utah Jazz fans: Mike Conley can (maybe) still play

If the Jazz can’t figure out their defense over the next week, then it will likely be too little too late for Two Time. It may already be too late to make that push, and the Jazz’s luck may have run out by now.

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