Deseret News - To fully appreciate Rudy Gobert’s defensive prowess, you have to look beyond the numbers


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Sarah Todd

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Utah’s Rudy Gobert’ runs interference against San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan during game Monday, May 3, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Gobert finished with 24 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and three blocks. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

It was business as usual for Utah’s big man against the Spurs Monday night: 24 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and three blocks

On Monday night, 90 minutes before the Utah Jazz hit the court to take on the San Antonio Spurs, Jazz coach Quin Snyder was asked about Rudy Gobert’s evolution and growth on the defensive end.

“You see his impact in so many different ways, transition defense maybe being the biggest one,” Snyder said. “Him being able to get back on defense just solidifies our defense to a whole other level.”

Those words would prove prophetic in nature.

Less than five minutes into the Jazz’s 110-99 win over the Spurs, Gobert raced back in transition and completely shut down a San Antonio fast break.

Gobert’s size, strength and ability to protect the rim deterred three different Spurs players from even trying to score. First it was DeMar DeRozan, whose steal started the break. He dumped the ball off to rookie Devin Vassell rather than have his shot blocked.

Vassell didn’t want any part of Gobert either and pivoted to find someone else. Finally the ball ended up in Dejounte Murray’s hands and with one look at who was waiting for him in the paint, he changed his mind and dribbled the ball out of the paint.

Gobert saw Murray decide not to come his way and nodded as if to say, “That’s right, coming in here would be the wrong decision. You know what the deal is. It’s a good idea to run away.”

Your quick version of Rudy turning back 3 Spurs in the 1st quarter, then nodding to tell them "That's right!" pic.twitter.com/CZOPJczRdg

— Ken Clayton (@k_clayt) May 4, 2021

Humiliating the competition is something that energizes Gobert and when it happens early on, as it did Monday, there’s almost no way to keep him from dominating a game.

“When guys get the ball and they think they’re going to have an open layup and all of a sudden they just get blocked, or they see me and they think that it might be better if they don’t shoot, I think it’s a little demoralizing,” Gobert said. “And for us, it’s the opposite. We feed off that.”

It’s no secret that Gobert either leads the league or is near the top of the list of almost every defensive metric, and he remains the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year this season, which would make him a three-time DPOY. And while defensive rating, real defensive plus-minus, on-off numbers, and other even further advanced analytics do paint a pretty good picture of how impactful Gobert is, there’s not a stat that properly describes the ability to scare off opposing players.

Rookie Trent Forrest was asked how many players he’s seen that can impact a play just by being present and staring down players that consider coming toward him.

“Not many, not many at all actually,” Forrest said with a laugh. “It’s really crazy how good Rudy is defensively. I mean obviously coming in my first year I knew he was a good defensive player, but seeing it up close, it’s really crazy how much he can change the game.”

It’s not just that Gobert can intimidate players from entering the paint. He also guards in space, blocks shots before running the floor and leading a break to draw in the defense, is a roll threat and then defends the pick-and-roll with ease. Sometimes he puts a lot of those things together in the same play.

“It’s not often you see a center that’s able to make multiple plays,” Snyder said. “Rudy’s able to contest a shot, get back on the glass, contest a second shot. He’s able to close out and run across the court to block a shot. His ability to make multiple plays I think is unique, really for any player, but particularly for a center.”

Monday night, Gobert finished with 24 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and three blocks. That’s a pretty impressive stat line, but it doesn’t even begin to explain how much he changed the game.

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