Rudy Gobert recovers his due: the French pivot of Utah, who was deprived of it last year by Giannis Antetokounmpo, this Thursday won the trophy for best defender of the NBA season, for the third time in his career after 2018 and 2019. Gobert, 28, was chosen in first position by 84 of the 100 print and audiovisual journalists who had to nominate the five best defenders of their choice, from an established list. With 464 points, he is well ahead of the leader of Philadelphia, Ben Simmons (287 pts), and the strong winger of Golden State, Draymond Green (76 pts).
“Grateful for all of this… the skeptics, the supporters, and especially my teammates and all the great people around me who push me to be better every day,” Gobert commented on his Twitter account.
“We’re just getting started,” warned the pivot, still in contention for the NBA title as Utah leads 1-0 in its conference semi-final against the Los Angeles Clippers, before the second game scheduled for the night from this Thursday to Friday.
With three trophies on the chimney, Gobert does as well as pivot Dwight Howard, acclaimed in 2009, 2010 and 2011, when he played in Orlando. Two players share the top of this ranking, with four distinctions: Dikembe Mutombo (1995 with Denver, 1997, 1998 with Atlanta, 2001 with Philadelphia) and Ben Wallace (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 with Detroit). Another Frenchman won this trophy, Joakim Noah, in 2014 while wearing the Chicago Bulls jersey.
A complicated year 2020
For Gobert, the trophy for best defender will undoubtedly have the taste of redemption. Because between his second distinction in 2019 and that of this season, the year 2020 was complicated. The first NBA player to test positive for Covid-19 in March 2020, the Frenchman was criticized for his lightness, after having touched the microphones and recorders with his hands during a press conference, a few days earlier. His test precipitated the suspension of the NBA season and cast a chill on his relationship with Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, quickly infected with Covid-19. When the championship resumed, Utah was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
Fortunately for the native of Saint-Quentin, water has since flowed under the bridges. Gobert, who signed at the end of December 2020 a record contract extension for a Frenchman in the NBA ($ 205 million over five years), before being selected for the second year in a row at the All-Star Game in February, has largely contributed to the excellent regular season of Jazz. Utah, first in the Western Conference with the best record in the league, got rid of the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. This Tuesday, the Salt Lake City team beat the Los Angeles Clippers (112-109) in the first game of the semi-final. A victory assured just before the buzzer, thanks to a decisive counter succeeded by Gobert.