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NBA: historic, Gobert ahead of Wembanyama for the title of best defender

“Nothing is ever in the pocket,” whispered Rudy Gobert, when he was asked, a few weeks ago, to talk about the title of best defender of the NBA season which was reaching out to him.

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NBA: historic, Gobert ahead of Wembanyama for the title of best defender

“Nothing is ever in the pocket,” whispered Rudy Gobert, when he was asked, a few weeks ago, to talk about the title of best defender of the NBA season which was reaching out to him. There was, however, little suspense. Certainly, Bam Adebayo (Miami) and especially Victor Wembanyama (San Antonio), the two other finalists, had arguments. Winner of the best rookie trophy, “Wemby” amazed the NBA and the entire basketball world during his first campaign across the Atlantic, particularly in the defensive field. The figures are not enough to highlight the fear he inspires in opposing attackers, but we can still point out that he finished best blocker of the season (3.6/match, 254 in total), far ahead of Gobert for example (2.1/match, 162).

If the pivot of the Timberwolves, currently opposed to Denver in the second round of the play-offs (2-0), was still playing it modest in March, for Le Figaro, his young (20 year old) compatriot already had no more illusions. “Rudy has a very good chance of winning it this year. It would be deserved,” he said in mid-March. And adding with a laugh: “Let him win it now, because afterward it will no longer be his turn.” In the meantime, it is that of Rudy Gobert, rewarded for the fourth time after 2018, 2019 and 2021, when he was still wearing the colors of Utah. Marcus Smart and Jaren Jackson Jr have won this trophy over the past two years. Four best defender titles? It is a record that the 31-year-old Picardy giant, happy young father of a little boy, shares with Dikembe Mutumbo (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001) and Ben Wallace (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), distancing Dwight Howard (2009-11).

Also read “I had never felt so strong”: the Gobert wall conquers the NBA title... before dreaming of the Olympics

“It would be incredible to win a fourth title of best defender of the year, it would be an honor,” he told us in March. I never would have imagined this when I started playing basketball, not even one actually! But little by little, it came to me and when I retire, I would like to be considered one of the best defenders of all time, that’s the mentality I have every day,” he explained. again, he led the best defense in the league during the regular season which just ended, as had already happened to him with the Jazz. This is what makes Gobert strong, also second best rebounder in the NBA (12.9/game) in 2023-24. This ability to make others better, to make your team strong. No one disagrees with the individual impact of a “Wemby”. But the Spurs are not (yet) at the level in this area. No match.

Who better to talk about that than Minnesota coach Chris Finch? The latter explained this on Monday, during the 106-80 victory of his players in Denver, on the floor of the outgoing champions, without Gobert, who went to his partner to attend the birth of his son before the game: “Rudy is at the origin of our defensive culture. I think that speaks to his impact and his presence and what he brought to the team, how important defense is and how great it can be when we play it.” The T-Wolves lead 2-0 heading into two games in Minnesota.

“The best defender in the world, who plays in the best defense in the league, will have the opportunity to enjoy a few days at the beach during the All Star weekend,” summarized a squeaky Gobert after the announcement of the list of players invited to the all-star game. An event in which he has already participated three times (2020-22). Not this year. Anthony Edwards had (logically) been invited. The coaches had favored Karl Anthony Towns over the “Frenchy”. “This is not the first time that I have been disrespected,” he said again, he who was, for example, named the most overrated player in a recent survey by The Athletic among NBA players. “During my Hall of Fame induction speech, I will have the opportunity to talk about the days off I received during those years when I was snubbed for the All Star Game. (…) I may never have the respect I deserve, but that’s okay, I know my value, what I bring,” he added in February, also saying he was “misunderstood” after the survey. What you have to understand is that Gobert is more impactful than ever on defense.

Also readNBA: “This is neither the first nor the last time that I have been disrespected,” squeaks Gobert

Impact which is not accessible to the first comer, especially since the Frenchman does not have a sexy and relaxed style like “Wemby”. And there is everything else, everything that makes his image blurred, not to mention the jealousy that his (big) contract arouses among some. The person also sometimes gives the stick to be beaten. This is no reason not to recognize his performances, he who already admitted having “the Olympics in the back of his mind” in March.

Before that, there are of course the play-offs, and in this case this series against Nikola Jokic's Nuggets, after dismissing Kevin Durant's Suns in four dry rounds in the first round. Play-offs approached with appetite and ambition in Minnesota, after a disappointing campaign collectively and individually for Gobert. And this while the Wolves went “all-in” to attract him, in 2022, who is on a contract of $205 million over five years. “Last year there were a lot of ups and downs, that's part of life, part of a career... At times you're not 100%. This summer, I had a little more time to recharge my batteries and prepare well. There, I had never felt so strong, so good. It necessarily impacts the way I perform on the pitch, he explains. All good things take time.

Collectively, the Timberwolves also shifted gears, defining the contours of the team's identity last summer. That of a team that was going to defend the iron. The plan has so far been respected. All this, without any injuries when entering the final sprint, that changes everything. For the rest, there is the talent of Karl Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, the latter having taken on a new dimension this season. Note that another Minnesota player inherited an individual distinction, Naz Reid, best sixth man.

“The priority is to help my team go where it has never been before. And me to also go where I have never been, that is to say to play for an NBA championship title. That’s what matters most,” Rudy Gobert told us a few weeks ago. All dreams are still allowed on this subject, while his team started the play-offs with six victories and no defeats. As for the best defender trophy, won by Joakim Noah in 2014, this time, it's really in the pocket. Time will tell if the Picardy giant will have the opportunity to win the cup a fifth time, which would allow him to become the only record holder, before Victor Wembanyama begins his harvest. It's a question of time…

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