Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert reclaimed the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award Wednesday night, becoming the fourth player to be named the league’s top defender at least three times in his career.
Gobert, who won the award in 2018 and ’19 before Giannis Antetokounmpo won it last year, earned 84 of 100 first-place votes and finished with 464 total points. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (15 first-place votes, 287 total points) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (76 total points) finished second and third, respectively.
Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace and Dwight Howard are the only other players who have won at least three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Mutombo and Wallace each won four times, and Howard won three.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gobert said of being a three-time winner of the award. “When I started basketball as I kid, if somebody would have told me that I was going to be defensive player of the year, I would have never believed them, let alone three times.
“It’s hard to put into words the things that you can achieve when you just enjoy what you do, first of all, and when you have a group of people that believes in you and you put the work in every single day. I try to write my own story, try to enjoy my own journey, but just being one of only four guys that have won the award that many times, it’s just amazing.”
Utah began its ascent to being one of the West’s elite teams several years ago behind a team full of defensive players built around the massive 7-foot-1 center’s special skill set. But with more offense-first players on the current roster, the Jazz have relied more on Gobert to keep the team’s defense at an elite level. He succeeded, as the Jazz finished the season with the league’s fourth-ranked offense, third-ranked defense and the best net rating (9 points per 100 possessions) by nearly three points over their closest competitors (LA Clippers, 6.1).
Gobert said he has embraced the challenge of being an impact player as a traditional center while the league has shifted to smaller lineups.
“For me it’s really been about getting better every single year and teams have been trying to negate my impact one way or another every single year,” Gobert said. “So I had to raise my level year after year and day after day to be able to try to keep dominating on that end.”
Simmons, one of the league’s most versatile defenders, thanks to his 6-foot-10 frame and impressive athletic gifts, helped spearhead the league’s second-best defense, which, in turn, helped Philadelphia claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Green, on the other hand, proved he’s still more than capable of having a significant impact defensively after leading the Warriors to the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA during the regular season — not to mention doing a spectacular job defensively in Golden State’s loss to Los Angeles Lakers in the play-in tournament game last month.
The NBA has already announced that Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award, New York Knicks forward Julius Randle won Most Improved Player, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau won Coach of the Yeah and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic won Most Valuable Player.
Rookie of the year is still left to be handed out, as well as the All-Rookie, All-Defensive and All-NBA Teams.
Like last year, the NBA has reverted to its traditional rollout of the awards during the playoffs, rather than having a large awards show at the end of the postseason, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.