Jazz big man Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for third time in career

Rudy Gobert has been named the 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year, the NBA announced Wednesday. This is Gobert’s third Defensive Player of the Year award. He previously won in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons before losing the award to Giannis Antetokounmpo last season. By winning the award for the third time, Gobert has now tied Dwight Howard for the third most Defensive Player of the Year wins ever, trailing Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo, who each have four.

Gobert finished with 84 first-place votes, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons, who collected 15.

Gobert’s Jazz had the best record in the NBA this season at 52-20, and he was one of the biggest reasons why. The Jazz finished third in defense despite lacking All-Defense-caliber teammates for their star center. That is because Gobert’s rim- protection is so overwhelmingly powerful that Utah can afford to use the rest of its defenders to protect against 3-point shots. Unsurprisingly, the Jazz allowed the third-fewest of them in the NBA.

Virtually every metric painted Gobert as the NBA’s best defensive player. He led the NBA in total blocks with 190 and finished second in blocks per game behind Myles Turner. He led the NBA in defensive rebounds as well. Opponents shot 7.7 percent worse against him than they did against an average defender, and he finished third in defensive rating at 100.9, trailing only teammates Mike Conley and Georges Niang, who benefitted from his presence. Among advanced metrics, Gobert led the NBA in defensive win shares, all forms of FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR metrics.

The true test for Gobert will come in the postseason. Drop-coverage big men tend to struggle against teams with enough shooting to pull them away from the basket, and now that Gobert has proven everything he can possibly prove in the regular season, his merits as an all-time defender will be judged by what happens in the playoffs. He is playing the best basketball of his career this season, and this award is a worthy launching point into his most important postseason run yet.