Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz center, won yet another Defensive Player of the Year Award, the N.B.A. announced Wednesday. It was Gobert’s third time winning the award in four years. He is the fourth player in league history to win the honor three times after the four-time winners Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace and the three-time winner Dwight Howard.
The award was announced, appropriately enough, a day after the Jazz won the opening game of their semifinal series against the Los Angeles Clippers, in part because of a game-saving block by Gobert at the end of regulation.
“I think it takes team effort,” Gobert said in an interview with TNT’s “Inside The N.B.A.,” moments after he was announced as the recipient. “It takes obviously toughness, mental toughness. It’s just hard work, dedication. It’s every single day, you’ve got to come in with that mind-set to try to make your team as good as it can be on that end.”
Gobert, 28, anchored the Jazz, who had third-best defense in the league and its best record. He received 84 first-place votes and 464 total points. Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, the runner-up, had 287 points and 15 first-place votes. A hundred members of the news media vote on the award, but The New York Times does not participate.
As a tall center who does not shoot or pass well, Gobert is a bit of an anomaly in today’s N.B.A. His game is centered around protecting the rim and dunking. Even so, Gobert, a two-time All-Star, is one of the most impactful players in the league. He was fourth in the N.B.A. in win shares per 48 minutes — essentially a stat estimating how many wins a player contributes to his team. His 13.5 rebounds per game was second in the league behind Atlanta’s Clint Capela. According to league tracking numbers, Gobert defended the most field goal attempts at the rim (549) and was among the N.B.A.’s best in effectively contesting those shots.
When Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz’s star guard, missed much of the second half of the season because of an injury, Gobert’s defense helped keep the Jazz afloat. Last year, there was friction between Mitchell and Gobert after Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, days after appearing to mock it. Gobert’s test set off the season’s postponement, followed by several other leagues doing the same.
Gobert’s ascent in the league is a surprising one. He was drafted with the 27th pick of the 2013 draft by the Denver Nuggets out of France, and then was immediately traded to the Jazz, where he has surpassed the expectations of those typically drafted at the end of the first round.