Is Rudy Gobert the Best Center in the NBA?

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The Utah Jazz are off to their best start since the 2011-12 season, and the largest part of that (no pun intended) is the 7’2″ behemoth Rudy Gobert‘s excellent play. He is averaging a very solid 10.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game on 64.2% shooting. Those numbers, while impressive when compared to the typical starting center, don’t stand out this season with the historic individual performances of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis – at least on the surface.

Gobert, however, has been unbelievably impressive this season in more ways than what show up from those box score statistics. He is the biggest reason for the Jazz being in the playoff picture in the West despite Derrick Favors (10,) George Hill (10,) Boris Diaw (9,) and Gordon Hayward (6,) all missing a considerable percentage of their 21 games. Gobert is accredited with 3.2 win shares, which is 10th in the NBA, and 1st among centers. The rate at which he’s gotten win shares (.229) is 9th in the NBA among players who’ve played over 600 minutes.

Max le Liard / ISB
Max le Liard / ISB

Gobert, even though he scores “only” 10.6 points per game, has been very dominant. No other center it seems can match up against his athletic and muscular 7’2″ 245 pound frame. His offensive and defensive ratings of 127 and 98 are both insanely dominant. His offensive rating is 4th in the league while his defensive rating is 7th best in the NBA. No other player besides Chris Paul (127 and 97) is as high on the leader boards for both ratings as Gobert.

Sure centers like DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, and Andre Drummond all put up gaudier numbers. In fact, Gobert is only 14th in points per game among centers, but none of them control the game like Gobert does. Gobert has the highest offensive rating among centers, and the 2nd best defensive rating.

With all of these stats accounted for, Gobert is having a season for the ages, actually. Since 2000, there have been five seasons in which a center has averaged at least 10.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and gotten win shares at a rate of .220 per 48 minutes or better:

Query Results Table
Shooting Per Game
Rk Player Season Tm FG% FT% TS% PTS TRB BLK WS/48
1 Shaquille O’Neal 2000-01 LAL .572 .513 .574 28.7 12.7 2.8 .245
2 Dwight Howard 2008-09 ORL .572 .594 .600 20.6 13.8 2.9 .234
3 Hassan Whiteside 2015-16 MIA .606 .650 .629 14.2 11.8 3.7 .233
4 Rudy Gobert 2016-17 UTA .642 .657 .671 10.6 11.0 2.5 .229
5 Dwight Howard 2009-10 ORL .612 .592 .630 18.3 13.2 2.8 .223
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/4/2016.

That is some very good company. Shaquille O’Neal is a future hall of famer, Dwight Howard could very well be one someday, and Hassan Whiteside, like Gobert, is an unbelievably dominant center in the current NBA. The fact that Gobert also led this elite group of centers in field goal and free throw percentages is also unbelievable.

Gobert was also one of a select group of players in NBA history to have an offensive rating of at least 126, a defensive rating of better than 98, and at least 30 minutes per game. Here are the players:

Query Results Table
Shooting Advanced
Rk Player Season Tm FG% TS% ORtg DRtg MP
1 DeAndre Jordan 2014-15 LAC .710 .638 126 98 34.4
2 Tyson Chandler 2011-12 NYK .679 .708 130 99 33.2
3 Chris Paul 2016-17 LAC .452 .608 127 97 31.3
4 Rudy Gobert 2016-17 UTA .642 .671 127 98 31.5
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/4/2016.

This is another very impressive group. DeAndre Jordan and DeAndre Jordan have been perennial defensive player of the year candidates, and Paul is a future hall of fame point guard. When adding Gobert’s elite block percentage of 6.4 to the criteria, there were no other players at Gobert’s level.

Even removing the minutes per game restriction on the results query, Gobert was in a group with just three other players: Corzell McQueen, Jamal Sampson, and Lucas Nogueira, but none of them have/had even close to the kind of non-garbage time role that Gobert has as an established starter. Nogueira (18.8) was the closest to Gobert in minutes per game.

If someone wants a player who is going to put up 20 points per game from the center position, Gobert isn’t the guy. In terms of real, successful impact, however, Gobert has been the best center in the NBA. When Utah gets its star players back, expect them to be very dangerous in the season and especially in the playoffs.

One Comment Add yours

  1. redrowdie says:

    Best defensive center, probably. Best offensive center, still guys like AD and Boogie better.

    Like

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