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Rudy Gobert wins 3rd Defensive Player of the Year award

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) blocks the shot of Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) blocks the shot of Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — There's been a lot of words dedicated to Rudy Gobert's defensive prowess. But Georges Niang may have best described Gobert's immense impact.

"Rudy allows us to pressure up into the ball and force guys to the rim," Niang said. "As long as you can stay on your guy's hip or semi in front, it's almost like, good luck."

The Jazz have built a roster around Gobert comprised of a lot of offensive talent — Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, to name a few — and, yet, still were among the elite defenses in the league. In fact, when factoring out garbage, the Jazz had the top defense.

So it was no surprise then that Gobert was named the Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday. It's Gobert's third such award in the past four seasons, establishing himself as the surefire best defensive player in the game.

Gobert won the award with 464 points and garnered 84 of the 100 first-place votes. Ben Simmons finished in second with 287 points and 15 first-place votes, and Draymond Green finished third with 76 points.

For a player that wants to leave a lasting legacy, Gobert is building a resume that stacks up against the top defenders of all time. Gobert becomes just the fourth player to win three or more Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Dikembe Mutumbo and Ben Wallace both finished their careers with four and Dwight Howard has won three.

And Gobert may just end up passing them all, but he's not too worried about that right now.

"When I got drafted by the Jazz eight years ago, I told myself that I wanted to try to do anything I could to have this franchise get its first championship," Gobert said Wednesday after accepting the award.

This season, Gobert has put Utah in its best position to contend for a championship since the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone. The Jazz are the No. 1 seed in the West for the first time since the 1997-98 season, partially due to Gobert just completing his best season ever.

That was seen with the eye test as he blocked shots and regularly kept offenses from even attacking the rim. And the advanced numbers love him. Virtually every metric puts him at the top of the NBA by a wide margin — with most making a claim that he may have just completed the greatest defensive season in history.

ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranked Gobert's 2020-21 season the best since 1996 (the first year the stat was tracked). FiveThirtyEight′s Defensive RAPTOR metric has Gobert's year No. 1, and the same goes for Cleaning the Glass's defensive-rating swing.

On the more traditional side of things, Gobert averaged 2.7 blocks per game and 10.1 defensive rebounds per game, which led the league.

"He's able to close out, run across the court, block a shot," coach Quin Snyder said earlier this year. "His ability to make multiple plays, I think, is unique — for any player, but particularly for a center."

So where does Gobert thinks he stacks up against the defensive greats of the past?

"When it's time to look at the resume, we look at the resume, but I'm going to try to just enjoy the moment and keep getting better," Gobert said.

It's a question for another day. For now, he's more worried about how his defense can lead the Jazz deeper into the playoffs.

That was seen on Tuesday during the final moments of Utah's Game 1 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. It was Gobert who made the game-clinching block. In the game's final seconds, Gobert closed out hard and forced Marcus Morris Sr. to step to the side to try and get some air space. Gobert, though, was still able to recover and block the shot.

"He's our backbone defensively, man, and as you saw on nights like tonight, he came out there blocking shots, running the floor, doing his thing," Mitchell said of Gobert's performance in Game 1.

Then in a case of foreshadowing — or just saying what everyone already knew — Mitchell said: "When you get the isos like that you have the ultimate faith because he's a two-time, about to be three-time, Defensive player of the Year."

There's no "about to be" needed anymore.

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