SLAM Top 50: Rudy Gobert, no. 48

This is why you put up with it.

If the Jazz win the Championship in 2016, it’s because a very big boat with the Thunder, Warriors, Cavs, Spurs and maybe two Rockets will have capsized in May, and they will all have spent June lobbying Congress for stronger dinghies.

Utah might make the Playoffs. In a stacked West, they probably won’t. So why watch a hopeless thing? Especially when it’s in Utah?

In strolls big, maybe blind, maybe stupid hope.

Your big, not blind, not stupid hope is Rudy Gobert. Not to put too many expectations on a 23-year-old, but Rudy Gobert might be the best defensive center in the NBA next year, his team will go absolutely nowhere without him, and he might personally save the state of Utah from being sucked into a what astrophysicists everywhere call an “Earth-Eating Boredom Hole.” No pressure.

Once again, no pressure, but he’s ranked No. 48 on this list right now, and he realistically could be ranked in the top 20 by midseason, boat or not.

And again, man, no pressure, but in an NBA with less than a carload of true centers left—and, therefore, teams that could drag him away from his comfort zone with stretch 5s and eat him alive—he could also not be on the list next year. It could go either way.

No pressure, Rudy Gobert, 23-year-old center from France who renamed it “Swat Lake City” on Twitter because, I mean, Utah—but you’re it.

This is why we watch the whole thing, the flailing and hopeless, when some combination of LeBron and Russ and LaMarcus and Steph and Harden are going to be the ones playing in June. Because Rudy looks like he’s about to take the leap. Rudy looks like he’s going to be one of those guys up above who only needs one name listed, like Cher but fine.

Rudy was eighth in box plus/minus last year. You can and should say, “That sounds like one of those stats that can be fuzzy and warm until you actually read it—like one of those numbers Billy Beane made up so he could trade Scott Hatteberg for Jesus Christ and get a movie made about him.” And, normally, I wouldn’t disagree with you.

But here are the seven players with a better box plus/minus rating last year: Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard.

Here are six of the top seven MVP votes from last year: Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis.

The Jazz were the sixth-best team in the NBA with Rudy starting.

The Jazz’s go-to blog SLC Dunk called Rudy, who only began playing with the first unit when there were 29 games left, the team’s MVP of 2015.

Either Rudy Gobert is a statistical anomaly or he’s a monster.

But you’re right: Stats are stupid. Pressure is stupid. Hope is stupid.

So watch him play.

Watch this human-like idea of a person—the one with the 9-9 standing reach—chase down a block. Watch this guy subtly freak out everybody under 7-1 who comes into the paint trying to challenge him, then watch that dude fling the ball out of bounds like he’s lost all small motor function. Watch this man cut hard off a pick and roll and catch a lob NBA Jam-style, ball not aflame, but if it could be it would be.

Rudy Gobert is a monster. He should be higher on this list. He’s why you put up with it.

Rudy Gobert is a monster. And he’s about to save Utah.


SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14
49 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 9
48 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 9

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.