SLAM Top 50: Rudy Gobert, No. 25

Truthfully, if we’re keeping it all the way a buck, I’m not even a Rudy Gobert fan. This despite the fact that Rudy Gobert is a Twitter superstar (which is just about all it takes to earn my respect in 2017) and the fact that writing about Rudy Gobert gives me a very rare opportunity to flash some French (thanks for sending me to immersion school when I was a kid, mom, knew it would come in handy at a critical moment in life).

Maybe it’s that he plays for Utah, a West Coast team that’s never been the kind of sexy late night appointment viewing on League Pass that even bad teams like the Lakers or Suns have been. Maybe it’s that so far all the attempts at nicknames for Gobert have been, objectively, quite awful. The Stifle Tower, The French Rejection, The Gobert Report, Gobzilla? You gotta be kidding me. I just rolled my eyes so hard my head almost fell off my body.

It doesn’t really matter what the reason is—the point I’m trying to make here is that nothing makes me want to hype up Rudy Gobert. Nothing really makes me want to sing his praises from a mountaintop.

But goddamn, he is good at basketball.

Remember when the Nuggets drafted him with the 27th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, only to be traded to the Jazz for Erick Green and cash? Of course you don’t, because then he was just some French guy we’d never heard of. Now? Denver looks pretty stupid.

Even at 7-1, Gobert’s 7-9 wingspan and 9-9 standing reach is freakish. He singlehandedly made Utah one of the three best defensive teams in the NBA last year with his ability to protect the rim. He’s not just a steady presence in the paint—he’s a dominant one. He can guard the NBA’s pet play, the pick-and-roll, basically by himself, making the ballhandler think twice about entering the lane, and using his length to keep the roller from receiving an easy pass. Meanwhile his teammates can stay home on the perimeter. That’s a long-winded way of saying he’s a game-changer on the defensive end.

His 14 ppg, 12.8 rpg and league-leading 2.6 blocks per game in 2016-17 were all career-highs, and he finished second in the NBA in Win Shares. Want more advanced stats? How about all of these:

And here’s one more for you, perhaps most revealing: nERD is a metric developed by numberFire that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on their efficiency, where League average is 0. Similar to win shares, you can think of it like, if dude played on a team with four league-average teammates, we’d expect that team to finish X games over .500 that season.

Last season, Gobert finished with a 17.8 nERD rating, second in the NBA behind only Kawhi Leonard (19.5). Which means over the full 82 last season, in terms of efficiency, Gobert contributed more to his squad than 48 of the other 49 names you’ll see on this countdown.

And, in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s departure for greener (I’m sorry) pastures in Boston, Gobert is all of a sudden a leading man. Hell, he’s already the Most Influential Person in Utah Sports. (No, seriously.) So while he’s never been a back-to-the-basket offensive playmaker who you can just throw the rock when you need a bucket, his efficiency in limited offensive touches is promising, especially for a 25-year-old who will be given every opportunity to become the man. Plus, he’s a criminally underrated passer:

The Jazz were better when Gobert was on the floor last season—on both ends—and he was knocking on the door of an All-Star nod with career-highs across the board. His stock is pointing up for ’17-18. Way up. Like, most impactful big man in the NBA level up.

Et vous savez quoi? Je pense qu’après avoir dit tout ca, en réalité, je suis un fan de son.

Abe Schwadron is the Managing Editor at numberFire and a former Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @abe_squad.

Previous Rankings
2016: No. 40
2015: No. 48
2014: Not Ranked
2013: Not Ranked

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 –  DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry