May 25, 2024

Timberwolves’ Rudy Gobert wins record-tying fourth Defensive Player of the Year award

Rudy Gobert was the best defender on the NBA’s best defensive team, and as a result is the league’s Defensive Player of the Year for a record-tying fourth time.

Gobert, 31, of the Minnesota Timberwolves, on Tuesday joined Hall of Famers Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo in winning his fourth NBA top defensive player award, with 72 of a possible 99 first-place votes.

The San Antonio Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama, on Monday named NBA Rookie of the Year, was runner-up, and the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo finished third.

The 7-foot-1 Gobert anchored a Timberwolves defense that led the league in rating (108.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) and opponent field goal percentage (45 percent). Gobert’s individual defensive rating of 106.6 was the best of any player who averaged at least 25 minutes per game, according to Minnesota’s analytics department.

“It’s great teamwork,” Gobert said on TNT after the award was announced. “We love to give individual awards and all these things, and it’s great, but you can’t do it alone. I really have a lot of gratitude for (Minnesota team president) Tim Connelly, (coach) Chris Finch, all my teammates for believing in me, allowing me to do what I do best every day, and just try to build the culture here in Minnesota.

“It’s a credit to the guys for buying in, for coming with the same mindset,” Gobert added. “We really wanted to be a defensive-minded team, and so far, we’ve been able to do that this year.”

Gobert previously won Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2018, 2019 and 2021 with the Utah Jazz. This is his second season with the Timberwolves, who have a 2-0 lead on the defending champion Denver Nuggets in their Western Conference semifinal series, though Gobert missed Game 2 Monday for the birth of his son, Romeo.

Wembanyama, 20, would have been the first rookie to be named the league’s top defensive player. He led the NBA in blocks by a wide margin, averaging 3.6 per game.

Adebayo, perhaps the NBA’s pre-eminent switchable defender out of the post, averaged 10.4 rebounds and anchored the league’s fifth-best defense while numerous Miami starters missed large swaths of games due to injury.

Gobert’s statistics, compared to Wemby’s, are perhaps a little behind the rookie, but opponents shot just 49 percent in the paint when Gobert contested the shot and 43.4 percent from any spot on the floor when Gobert was the closest defender.

Gobert was sixth in the league in blocks (2.1 per game), second in rebounds (12.9 per game) and fourth in defensive rebounds (9.2 per game) during the regular season. His team was tied for first in the West on the final day of the regular season, whereas the Spurs were ranked 21st in the league in defense and had the league’s fifth-worst record.

Gobert and Wembanyama, a tantalizing pair of 7-foot rim protectors and general defensive stalwarts, will co-anchor Team France’s defense at the Paris Olympics this summer, where international rules allow for packing the paint and goaltending.

“For us, Victor will play with Rudy,” Team France coach Vincent Collet told The Athletic. “They are our top combination, our main strength. We have many options, but probably to start the game, often, it will be Rudy and Victor.”

The No. 1 and No. 2 defensive players in the NBA, on the same national team, trying to defend home court in the Olympics France is hosting?

Sounds like a block party in the making.

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(Photo of Rudy Gobert and Chet Holmgren: Joshua Gateley / Getty Images)