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Rudy Gobert: The Overrated Superstar

Rudy Gobert Overrated

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Rudy Gobert Overrated
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Rudy Gobert: The Overrated Superstar

Rudy Gobert is one of the most controversial players in the NBA today, and I’m not even referring to his drama at the onset of the pandemic when he essentially accelerated the NBA season to be suspended, which supposedly lead to tension with co-star Donovan Mitchell. Anyway, some NBA fans see Rudy Gobert as a perennial MVP candidate, some see him as an All-Star, and some see him as even less than that. This is interesting to me, and today I’ll go into the reasons for all of this and why my criteria for grading NBA players shines a negative light on his game, leading me to the conclusion that Rudy Gobert is overrated.

Why The Controversy?

Gobert is probably one of the most unpredictable players in the NBA when it comes to how fans rank him. There’s a lot to love about his game, and a lot to dislike, and at the end of the day, with the game becoming more and more perimeter-centric, his weaknesses are more likely to show through than other NBA players. For example, as long as Seth Curry can hit three-pointers at a high rate, he will get playing time on any team, regardless of how he performs on defense. He simply fits the mold of today’s game well, and teams can never have enough shooting. The tough thing about Gobert is that he’s unarguably the best at what he does (interior defense), but this skill is becoming less important as the three-point revolution develops. The question then becomes, for example, does being the 20th best three-point shooter have approximately the same value as being the best interior defender since shooting is more important? Bringing in these factors causes many fans to have differing opinions.

My Criteria

There are many ways to rank NBA players, and I like to use versatility when ranking players, and this means many things. Number one, versatility means that unless a player is exceptional on offense, they must provide some value on both sides of the ball. Players who have high value for me under this category include Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Versatility also refers to a players’ defense itself and whether or not having to switch on a pick-and-roll causes unfair mismatches. For example, I believe that Ben Simmons and Draymond Green are two of the great defenders currently in the NBA due to their ability to guard literally any position at an above-average level. Lastly, versatility means that you can provide value no matter what team you’re on/who you’re playing against. Inefficient scorers lose a ton of value here for me, since their scoring output could only be from a lot of opportunities, or as fans like to call it, “empty stats”. To summarize, versatility and adaptability in all aspects of one’s game is what I appreciate about certain players, and this is the lens through which I choose to judge whether Gobert’s overrated.

How Gobert Stacks Up

My first criteria for what a versatile player looks like is controversial when looking at Gobert. You can look at the fact that he’s on pace to lead the NBA in field goal percentage for the third time in four years and say that he’s much more than a defensive star. His 16.0 points per game this season is very solid for a starting center, making him a very capable offensive player. There’s also the fact that Gobert shoots 72.5% of his shots from within 3 feet of the hoop, making him very predictable with how he scores the ball. At 1.2 assists per game, he is almost never setting up his teammates, so his entire offensive contribution essentially centers around him standing directly under the hoop. Nevertheless, his efficiency and points per game allow him to pass by my first criteria with only a little bit of trouble.

My second piece of criteria deals with a players’ defensive versatility, and this is where I think defensive stats don’t tell the full story. Putting Gobert in a pick-and-roll on defense is a nightmare for the Jazz, who often get exposed when Gobert has to switch onto a guard. In my opinion, I would much rather have a player like Giannis or Anthony Davis anchor my defense, since I know defensive switches during the game don’t impact the game plan. Although this piece of criteria is very specific, I feel it incredibly limits what Gobert can do at the thing he does best.

Gobert’s Downfall

The big reason I see Rudy Gobert as an overrated player comes from my final criteria, my biggest issue with certain NBA players, and that is a change in value based on what team you’re on or who you’re playing against. Don’t get me wrong, Gobert adds a ton of value to the Jazz and fits the team around him perfectly, but this is sort of the issue I’m talking about. Place him on another team, and I honestly don’t know at all what his value would be. A poor shooting team like the Wizards could find little value out of Gobert on the offensive end aside from an occasional alley-oop. At the end of the day, we just don’t know how Gobert’s value would fluctuate on different teams, whereas I see Donovan Mitchell as a much better player due to the fact that the way he plays the game would succeed absolutely anywhere, no doubt. When we rank players, let’s not rank their value to their current team, but rather let’s think logically about how they fit in with the rest of the NBA.

Finally, I would like to discuss the biggest reason I’m turned off by Gobert, and this was exposed in last year’s playoffs when the Jazz got upset by the Clippers, who lost Kawhi Leonard to injury when the series was tied 2-2. All the Clippers had to do was gameplan for Gobert by playing a smaller, quicker, more shooting-oriented lineup than they had been and catching fire was only destiny. Gobert simply cannot leave the paint on defense if he wants to have any value at all, so the Clippers found themselves shooting wide-open three-pointers, leading to the upset. In my opinion, the fact that a team could easily gameplan to diminish Gobert’s defensive value (when that is almost entirely where his value as a player comes from) is a huge turnoff, and makes me seriously question why people still call him an MVP-caliber player. If teams were suddenly able to gameplan to stop Stephen Curry from hitting threes, or to stop Chris Paul from finding assist opportunities, these players’ legacies would be damaged forever, and for some reason, fans don’t use the same logic towards Gobert.

Currently, the Jazz are middle-of-the-pack (14th) in defensive rating, behind teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, and Cleveland Cavaliers. Jaren Jackson Jr., Robert Williams, and Jarrett Allen are anchoring those defenses, putting in highlight-reel plays at a consistent rate. At this point, I honestly don’t see much separating the games of those three players from Rudy Gobert, and I don’t see the gap being large enough for how fans and the media treat those three players as opposed to Gobert. It’s time we start looking at him through this lens, and understand that Rudy Gobert has been overrated.

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