SALT LAKE CITY — Just as fast as they happen, basketball highlights get plastered all across the internet through various media outlets such as Bleacher Report, House of Highlights and Ballislife.com.
Most of them are offensive plays — rarely are defensive moves spotlighted, unless the block or steal is that eye-popping.
In an era where Boston’s Kyrie Irving operates as a magician with the ball, Golden State’s Steph Curry is draining 3s from near half-court and Houston’s James Harden has turned his step-back into a thing of beauty, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is one of the few who continues to receive lump sums of money for his work on defense.
But even as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year — currently tied for third in blocks per game (2.2) and the anchor of the league’s fourth-ranked defense — when it was time for All-Star voting, Gobert didn’t make the cut.
Being left off was certainly frustrating for the big fella, but it’s also an indication of the bigger picture in basketball where defense isn’t as tantalizing as offensive possessions — especially not for the average fan that tunes into the All-Star action.
“It’s always been valued less than offense and that’s the way it’ll always be,” said San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “I think as we go forward, more and more people might appreciate it but the majority of people are more interested in offense than they are defense, that’s just human nature.”
So how did it get that way? Or has it always been that way? Typically, the league’s top defenders do receive All-Star nods, but not always.
Since the 1990-91 season, there have been 17 different DPOY winners but Gobert and Marcus Camby are the only two to never make the All-Star team.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder insists that the team has moved past the snub, but Gobert’s scoring average has jumped from his normal average of 15.2 points to 18 points on 69.7 percent shooting in the four games since the All-Star reserves were announced on Jan. 31. The Jazz are sixth in the Western Conference standings with a 14-5 record since 2019 started. However, not all the NBA coaches are sleeping on what Gobert is doing this year.
“I value that side of the basketball and I know a lot of people don’t, but it’s a snub in my opinion that Rudy doesn’t make it,” said Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce. “So, you have to look within this season as the main criteria. This season is important and who affects the game for their team this season and I think there’s a lot of guys that do.
“There’s always gonna be someone that’s snubbed and there’s always gonna be someone that’s rewarded but that’s the tough part of sports.”
Snyder sidestepped any cultural analysis of why defense isn’t as revered as offense, but is certainly a defensive-minded coach who utilizes Gobert to the best of his ability as one of the most fearsome rim protectors in the league. He doesn’t plan on doing anything differently with Gobert to try to appease some of the coaches who didn’t vote for him.
“I want to avoid cultural analysis of what we value and what we don’t,” Snyder said. “I think people do value defense, but in this case I feel like Rudy’s defense is extreme and worthy of recognition.”3 comments on this story
Gobert also ranks second in double-doubles (45) behind Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, while maintaining the NBA’s top field-goal percentage (65.3). But even though his career-best 15.2 points per game, 12.8 boards and 2.2 blocks weren’t enough to secure his spot among the NBA’s elite in Charlotte on Feb. 17, Gobert is also concerned about how not including the league’s top defender in the All-Star Game will impact the next generation of ballers who may want to follow in his footsteps by making a living on the defensive end.
“Defense doesn’t sell as much as offense. It’s a business, it’s fine,” Gobert said. “But the game is still about competition, it’s about winning, and even though it’s a business, you still gotta keep that. Every year, it’s getting worse and worse — we’re losing that, and I don’t know where we’re gonna be in 10 years.
“It’s just gonna be a big old playground. It’s gonna be fun, but the real sense of competition in the game is fading away.”