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Why Rudy Gobert Deserves Most Improved Player Consideration

A look at why Rudy Gobert deserves to mentioned with Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler in the Most Improved Player race.

John Zitzler profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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This season we have seen a number of players take their game to the next level. Guys who have thrived in a larger role, proving that they have the talent to be impact players at the NBA level. Basketball Insiders’ own Alex Kennedy took a look at the top candidates for Most Improved Player just a couple weeks ago; now, I’ll offer my take on which of those players is most deserving of the award this season.

It goes without saying that Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Golden State’s Draymond Green have made tremendous strides this season.

With Derrick Rose again sidelined for much of the year, the Bulls needed Butler to step up and be a leader in their backcourt, and he did just that. He has improved his numbers in nearly every category and been a major reason the Bulls haven’t dropped off despite losing Rose. Butler has increased his scoring from 13.7 points per game last season to 20.2 this year, and despite his increase in usage, has been seen his field goal percentage rise from 39.7 percent a season ago to 46.2 percent during the 2014-15 season. He has continued to play hard-nosed defense and you could argue that Butler has been the Bulls’ most valuable player this season. His growth has been a crucial part of Chicago’s success on both ends of the court.

In Golden State, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson get most of the headlines, but the impact that Green has had this year shouldn’t be overlooked. Last season, Green played just under 22 minutes a night, averaging 6.2 points and five rebounds per game on 40.7 percent shooting from the field. He was a solid role player who played tough defense and showed some promise. This season, he has fulfilled that promise and become an integral piece on the best team in the NBA. Under first-year coach Steve Kerr, Green has started in every one of the Warriors’ 69 games this season and become a vital part of their team identity. While Green has made significant improvements on the offensive end, his play on defense is where he shines brightest. Green leads the NBA in defensive win share (4.7) and is tied for the league lead in defensive rating (96). He is extremely versatile on that end, with the ability to match-up with multiple positions. Green, along with Andrew Bogut, having been the driving force behind the Warriors’ league-best 97.7 defensive efficiency rating.

While Butler and Green are certainly the frontrunners for the MIP award, Rudy Gobert in Utah is arguably just as deserving. After being selected No. 27 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Gobert was viewed as a long-term project for the Jazz. It was clear he possessed terrific physical tools, size and length, but he was very raw. During his rookie season, Gobert appeared in only 45 games and averaged less than 10 minutes in those contests. When he did get on the floor, Gobert appeared to be very early in his development and it seemed it would be quite some time before he could be a regular contributor, even if his incredible size made him a very intriguing prospect.

Now, in only his second season as a pro, Gobert has burst onto the scene as one of the better young big men in the NBA. He began the year coming off the bench, but he was still playing much more consistent minutes than he did in his rookie campaign. As the season progressed, he earned a few spot starts and put up some eye-opening numbers in those games. Over a stretch in early January where Gobert started five straight games, he recorded two double-doubles and had three games with five blocks or more. Still, Gobert was moved back to the bench with Enes Kanter returning to the starting line-up. While his numbers weren’t quite as impressive in a reserve role, Gobert continued to make a substantial impact off the bench.

His return to the bench didn’t last long. The Jazz shipped out Kanter at the trade deadline, clearing the way for Gobert to be their primary option at center. He has started in every game since the All-Star break and played a significant role in the Jazz’s late season resurgence. They are 15-9 in games which Gobert has started, compared to 16-29 in games when Gobert has been brought off the bench. He has flourished in his short time as a starter. In his 24 starts, Gobert is averaging 9.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and just over three blocks per game. Offensively, he is still a work in progress. Gobert isn’t much of a back-to-the-basket threat at this stage of his career, but he has proven to be a more than capable finisher around the rim. Gobert takes the great majority of his shots from inside three feet (78.9 percent), an area where he shoots 70.1 percent. However, when he expands his range out to 3-10 feet, his field goal percentage nosedives to 27 percent. This is one area he will have to work on going forward.

His play on the offensive end has been a pleasant surprise, but it’s been his influence on the defensive end that has made him a serious contender for MIP. At only 22 years old, statistically Gobert is already one of the top defensive big men in the NBA. He is second in the league in defensive box plus/minus (5.2), second in block percentage (7.3), seventh in defensive rating (98) and 16th in defensive win shares (3.3). In his short time playing extended minutes, its clear Gobert has the ability to be an anchor in the paint for the Jazz for years to come.

The growth Gobert has made in such a short time is almost hard to believe. He has transformed himself from a developing prospect who barely played to an elite interior defender in less than one calendar year. Gobert has seen his minutes increase by 15.1 per game this season and his production has followed. With the opportunity to play steady minutes, Gobert has seen per game numbers rise in almost every category from a season ago. Most notably, he is averaging 5.2 more points, 5.4 more rebounds and 1.4 more blocks per game.

Butler and Green will most likely be the favorites to win MIP when the season wraps up. They are both more than worthy nominees who have had breakout seasons on playoff teams. With that said, the progress Gobert has made since last season can’t be ignored. He has been able harness his jaw-dropping physical tools and become a building block for the Jazz in the middle. If Gobert can finish the season strong, there is no reason that he shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Green and Butler in terms of the most improved players in the NBA this season.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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