No Utah Jazz player came into the 2015-16 NBA season surrounded by more hype than Rudy Gobert.
10 of 25 experts at ESPN picked Gobert to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury listed him as one of five candidates for the award. USA Today’s Nate Scott had Gobert as his dark horse for DPOY.
But so far this season, Gobert has been slightly less impactful than he was in 2014-15:
So, was Gobert overhyped? Is it still too early to tell? And what exactly has been the problem for him in October and November?
The short answer to this entire discussion is simply that it is indeed too early to make many judgments about Gobert. However, there are some indicators in his play that point to why he’s taken a little step back.
Most of them are on the offensive end.
First, Utah is trusting Gobert to make too many decisions on the offensive end. Rather than confining him to dunks on pick-and-rolls and offensive rebounds (like DeAndre Jordan or Tyson Chandler), the Jazz are allowing Gobert to post up from time to time and even create a bit from the elbow.
He simply doesn’t have the ball skills yet to be able to do that, as evidenced by the significant increase in his turnover percentage.
Gobert’s 14th in the NBA in offensive fouls committed, and he’s on pace to have 50 by the end of the season. He only had 19 in ’14-15. He’s also fourth in traveling violations per game this season. One of those two outcomes is always a very real possibility when Gobert catches the ball out of any offensive action.
The coaching staff’s desire to get him more involved on that end makes sense. Stan Van Gundy pushed Andre Drummond beyond his comfort zone in ’14-15, a strategy that started paying dividends a few months into the season. A similar offensive trajectory isn’t out of the question for 23-year-old Gobert, but continuing that pursuit may cost the Jazz some points in the short term.
On the other end of the floor, Gobert has been as good as advertised.
Opponents are taking nine shots per game at the rim when Gobert is in the vicinity. They’re making just 3.2. That works out to an opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim of 35.7, good for first among players who face at least five attempts a game and have appeared in five or more games. And it’s a fairly significant improvement over the 40.5 percent Gobert gave up last season, which also led the league.
He’s also fourth in block percentage (among players qualified for the blocks per game leaderboard), eighth in steal percentage (among seven-footers), third in defensive win shares and second in defensive box plus-minus. And this is all with Utah’s team defense yet to click to the level it found after the All-Star break last season (the Jazz are currently giving up 99.8 points per 100 possessions, compared to 94.8 post-ASB in ’14-15).
One concern on the defensive end is that Utah’s actually been slightly better with Gobert off the floor than with him on (97.7, compared to 101.2). But that could simply be a function of having to cover for minus-defenders for long stretches:
Jazz 2-man Drtgs:
Gobert-Neto: 93.0 (209 mins)
Gobert-Burke: 109.4 (162 mins)
— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) December 1, 2015
Another explanation is that this is simply a small sample aberration. It’s difficult to imagine that trend continuing throughout the season, especially considering how good the defense of the starting lineup is. When Raul Neto, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Gobert are all on the floor, Utah surrenders just 92.3 points per 1o0 possessions, good for second in the NBA among units with at least 150 minutes together.
As sample sizes grow and variance shrinks, expect to see Gobert at least maintain his defensive impact. If he stays at around where he currently ranks in the above statistical categories, and Utah finds a way to mitigate the defensive deficiencies of Trey Burke (and to a lesser extent, Alec Burks), Gobert will be right in the thick of the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
Right where we all expected him to be.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.