Utah Jazz

Rudy Gobert: History is within reach for Utah Jazz center after third Defensive Player of the Year award win

The Defensive Player of the Year Award for the 2020-21 NBA season went to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

While his teammates surprised him in the locker room with the trophy, it's safe to say that Gobert and the Jazz were pretty sure the recognition was coming.

The 7-foot-1 Frenchman was the anchor to the team's 107.5 defensive rating - good for third-best in the NBA - and a large reason that the franchise finished with sole ownership of the league's best record (52-20) for the first time ever.

To provide context, here are more numbers per the official release:

"Gobert led the league in defensive rebounds per game (10.1), total defensive rebounds (720), total rebounds (960), total blocked shots (190) and field goal efficiency (67.5 percent), and ranked second in rebounds per game (13.5) and blocked shots per game (2.70).

"He ranked second in the NBA in defensive win shares, which measures a player's defensive impact on winning. He defended the most field goal attempts at the rim in the NBA (549) and held opponents to 50.1 percent shooting on those shots, the third-lowest mark among the 27 players who defended at least 300 shots at the rim this season. "

Gobert joins elite company

With the honour, Gobert separates himself to join a short list of elite defenders in NBA history.

In earning his third Defensive Player of the Year award, Gobert becomes only the fourth player ever to have won the award three times or more. He is now tied with Dwight Howard, who won three straight from 2009 to 2011, for the second-most DPOYs ever with three.

The award also makes him the first player in franchise history to win the award three times, breaking a tie with the late legend Mark Eaton, who won the award in 1985 and 1989.

Gobert is one of only six international players to have won DPOY, becoming the second Frenchman ever after Joakim Noah (2014). Of the four Europeans to be named Defensive Player of the Year, (Noah, Marc Gasol, Giannis Antetokounmpo), Gobert is the only one to have won multiple times.

Not far from history

The magic number is two.

That's the number of additional Defensive Player of the Year awards Gobert needs to make him the winningest player in this category. With one, he will tie Hall of Famers Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo. Two more DPOYs will also take the Utah Jazz (5) past the Detroit Pistons (6) for the NBA franchise with most recognitions in this category.

At 28, Gobert has a legitimate threat at breaking the all-time record of four DPOY honours given his standing as a franchise cornerstone in Utah as well as a history of durability.

Age and injury history

Since becoming a full-time starter in the 2015-16 season, Gobert has played in 418 of a possible 472 regular-season games. Gobert has missed four games or fewer in four of the last six seasons, including three seasons in which he missed just one game (2016-17, 2018-19, 2020-21).

Set to turn to 29 during the 2021 NBA Playoffs, Gobert certainly has at least a few more years of performing at a DPOY-like level.

Aside from two separate left knee injuries sustained in 2015 (21 missed games) and in 2017 (26 missed games), Gobert has been quite durable, as the game logs would suggest.

Value to the Jazz

If there was any doubt about his age or injury history not allowing him a shot at the all-time record of five DPOY's, there must be no doubt in this category.

Since becoming the full-time starter, the Jazz have built their team around Gobert's defensive prowess in the middle and have ranked in the league's top 10 for defensive rating in five of the last six years.

Utah Jazz Defensive rating since 2015-16
Season Defensive rating League rank
2015-16 103.2 7th
2016-17 104.7 3rd
2017-18 103.0 1st
2018-19 105.3 2nd
2019-20 109.3 tied-12th
2020-21 106.8 3rd

Alongside All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, Gobert is one of the franchise's two cornerstones.

This partnership, which withstood their reported spat during the COVID-19 suspension in March of 2020, is bound to be something the franchise sticks by and continues to build around.

Therefore, barring serious injury, Utah's center is sure to receive the playing time and has the supporting cast around him to continue to live up to his nickname of the "Stifle Tower."

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