SALT LAKE CITY — The confidence of Rudy Gobert is sky high. Why wouldn’t it be?
The Utah Jazz have won nine straight, including 21 of the last 23, and the 7-foot-1 Frenchman has fueled the team to a league-best 94.5 defensive rating during that stretch, despite missing 26 games with two knee injuries.
“The team had to go through this kind of slump, and when I came back the second time, I felt I was better,” Gobert said. “I felt like it made everyone better. Everyone got better by going through this moment.”
During the current nine-game win streak, Gobert averages 19.3 points on 68.5 percent shooting with 13.7 boards, 2.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game.
He refused to name a better defender than himself and said there’s no doubt in his mind that he should be the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
He finished runner-up to Golden State’s Draymond Green in 2016-17.
“To me, there’s no question right now,” Gobert said. “Like I said, my goal is to make my teammates better defensively and to make my team better, but yeah, there’s no question.”
To strengthen his claim, Gobert says he’s improved defensively.
For the season, he’s averaging 13.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 swats per game, but, more importantly, he's altering shots and protecting the rim even without blocking shots.
Footwork is the key.
“I think I’m way quicker on my feet, also my decision-making is better, so definitely you can see that,” Gobert said.
Those quick feet were on display in Utah’s 103-97 victory against the Kings Saturday night when Gobert made a game-saving swat with 33.6 seconds remaining in regulation against a driving Bogdan Bogdanovic to help the Jazz close the game on a 7-3 run. His 22 points, 13 boards and four blocks were also his third straight game of 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder emphatically agreed that his center is certainly deserving of being voted as the Defensive Player of the Year.
“I think it’s an empirical fact,” Snyder said. “Empirical from the standpoint that if you look at every number, he’s dominant. Like, not just good, he has been dominant. I’m not pining for him. I will, but I am just stating what is happening with our team and what Rudy is doing is special right now.”
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell also suggests Defensive Player of the Year voters may need to stay up later to see Gobert in action on Mountain Time Zone if they pick against him. He has some advice for them.
“I would say stay up past 10 o’clock Eastern Time to watch the game for starters, I know they don’t do that,” Mitchell said. “The stuff he’s doing is unreal. It’s incredible.”