Utah Jazz storybook entry: From NBA D-League to 3-time DPOY

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Utah Jazz and Rudy Gobert just continue to discover greatness together.

On the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz traded their second-round pick, Erick Green, to the Denver Nuggets — along with cash — for the No. 27 overall selection, a 21-year-old scrawny 7-footer from Saint-Quentin, France.

This fella’s name, of course, is Rudy Gobert, who in the eight years since has added some 40 pounds to a physique that then set records at the NBA Draft Combine with his 7-foot-9 wingspan and 9-foot-7 standing reach. Although he appeared in 45 games for Utah as a rookie, he averaged only 9.6 minutes and played eight outings in what was then known as the NBA D-League.

Fast forward to the present. Yes, seeing that Green’s brief NBA career flamed out in 2016, it’s now long since safe to say the Jazzmen got the better end of that 2013 trade — no matter the amount of cash involved.

To this same point, consider that Gobert’s most recent epic defensive display just so happened to seal No. 1 seed Utah’s 112-109 comeback victory at home over the No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Tuesday night:

With that in mind, it seems the timing of his teammates’ surprise celebration on Wednesday was as storybook as they come. Gobert, now a two-time All-Star as well, entered the locker room to see his third NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award (2018, 2019, 2021) sitting on his chair:

Utah Jazz giant inching toward the top of an all-time list

With this latest honor, the 29-year-old Rudy Gobert became only the fourth player in league history to hoist the trophy at least three times, joining Ben Wallace (four times), Dikembe Mutombo (four), and Dwight Howard (three).

And given his peak athletic age and consistent improvement from one year to the next, the Utah Jazz great certainly has a chance to surpass them all before it’s all said and done.

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Also worth pointing out, Gobert has now broken the tie with his former mentor and original DPOY inspiration — Mark Eaton, who died in a bicycle accident on May 28 — for the most such pieces of hardware among all-time Jazz defenders.

By leading the league this season in both total blocks (190) and defensive rebounds (720), it’s no surprise Gobert garnered 84 of 100 first-place votes, demolishing Philadelphia 76ers point forward Ben Simmons, who came in second, and the third-place finisher in Golden State Warriors lockdown forward Draymond Green.

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At 8 p.m. MT Thursday, Rudy Gobert is set to take the court for the first time with the “three-time DPOY” title by his name as the Utah Jazz will be attempting to secure a 2-0 series lead over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.