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SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert is on a tear, and he knows it. While speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon about the best big men in the NBA, Gobert said, “To be honest, right now, I think it's me." The Jazz center added this caveat, "But it's a long season. I just try to take every game as a challenge. The hardest thing is to do it [for] the full season."
It’s a huge statement. Gobert, by claiming he’s the best center in the world’s strongest basketball league, is claiming he’s the greatest player on earth at his position. With only five positions in the league, the 24-year-old Frenchman is placing himself among the elite of elite athletes on earth.
Looking at his numbers, I’m not sure Gobert is wrong.
The fourth-year center is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and blocks per game, and he leads the league in both field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage. Essentially, when Gobert shoots, nobody on the planet is more likely to have success than he is.
Let’s get this straight, his 12.3 points per game aren’t anything to write home about. He ranks 99th in the league in that category. He ranks fourth on the Jazz behind Gordon Hayward, George HIll and Rodney Hood. When Derrick Favors returns to full strength, Gobert will drop to fifth. He ranks just 14th among the league’s centers.
But it’s how he scores that’s important.
Gobert’s .694 eFG percentage leads the league, and is nearly 4 percent points higher than the league’s second most efficient scorer, DeAndre Jordan. Though the Jazz don’t rely on Gobert heavily as a scorer, as he still lacks a traditional low post offensive repertoire, when he does get the ball in a scoring position, his effectiveness is unmatched. It’s a testament to his growth as a player, as last year he wasn’t in the league’s top 20 in eFG percentage.
Most notably, his growth has come at the free-throw line. Gobert has added more than one free-throw attempt per game from last season, and is shooting 11 percent points better from the line when he gets there. Often last season, opposing coaches would intentionally put Gobert at the line to exploit his 57 percent free-throw percentage, a near impossibility as he’s closed in on 70 percent at the charity stripe.
If Gobert’s season has been elite, his December has been other worldly. Through nine games this month, he’s shooting a staggering 81 percent. He’s missed a total of 11 shots this month. He has 17 more blocks over the nine-game period than he does missed shots. He’s got an offensive rating of 145 heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with Golden State, that’s 13 points better per 100 possessions than the league’s regular-season leader.
By the way, Gobert is the league’s regular-season leader in offensive rating, at 131.9 points per 100 possessions. His league-leading rating is 5.4 points better than the league’s second highest total, coming from Chris Paul at 126.5.
Though Gobert isn’t as prolific a scorer as other centers in the NBA, his offensive efficiency is not only unmatched, but unchallenged.
Gobert ranks among the top 20 in these offensive NBA rankings; free-throw attempts (16th), offensive rebounds (seventh), FG percentage (first), 2-point FG percentage (first), true shooting percentage (first), effective field goal percentage (first), offensive rebound percentage (13th), offensive rating (first), and offensive win shares (11th).
Simply put, he’s an offensive juggernaut.
I’ve failed to mention he might also be the best defensive player in the NBA.
The Jazz allow the league’s worst shooting percentage in the NBA, with opponents shooting just 47 percent from the floor. They also allow the fewest points per game.
Gobert allows opponents to shoot the third worst field goal percentage in the league near the rim at 41.7 percent.
He ranks second in the NBA in blocks per game at 2.7 per contest, eighth in defensive rebounding percentage, second in defensive rating, second in defensive win shares, and third in defensive box score plus/minus. ESPN has him ranked fourth overall in its real plus minus rankings, and the second ranked center behind Dallas’ Andrew Bogut.
He’s also dominated fellow centers recently. As noted in the ESPN article, against other elite centers (Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, Minnesota’s Karl Anthony-Towns and Atlanta’s Dwight Howard), Gobert is allowing opponents to shoot just over 30 percent from the floor while he averages 14 points, 13.2 rebounds and four blocks, shooting over 77 percent from the floor.
Over the past two seasons, Gobert has established himself as the league’s premier low post defender. With his recent offensive explosion, he’s found his place among the league’s best offensive threats. When the Jazz landed Gobert with the 27th pick (from the Denver Nuggets) in the 2013 NBA draft, finding a game changer at that point was hard to fathom. With Gobert’s recent growth on both sides of the floor, saying that he’s anything but the league’s best center might be impossible to argue.
Ben Anderson is the co-host of "Gunther and Ben in the Afternoon" with Kyle Gunther on 1320 KFAN from 3-7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Read Ben's Utah Jazz blog at 1320kfan.com, follow him on Twitter @BenKFAN.