Sunday, 21 Jul 2024

Defensive Player Ladder: Rudy Gobert Dominates the Season

If we were to compare the Defensive Player Ladder to a hill, it would be safe to say that Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz reigns over it. In our weekly ranking of the NBA’s most potent defenders, Gobert stands tall at the top rung. As this is the final edition for the 2020-2021 regular season, it holds a special significance, as it carries one first-place vote for the prestigious Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award. My personal ballot places Gobert first, followed by Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers and Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, while the remaining 99 voters will ultimately determine the final order.

Choosing Gobert for the top spot was an easy decision. No matter which way you look at it, whether through analytics or the naked eye, his contributions on the defensive end are vital to the Jazz’s overall defensive scheme. In fact, Utah’s defensive strategy is the backbone of their league-leading 52-20 record this season. They ranked third in points allowed per 100 possessions (107.5), fourth in points scored per 100 (116.5), and topped the league with a 9.0-point gap between the two metrics.

Gobert’s individual statistics also speak volumes about his defensive prowess. Utah’s defense improves by a staggering 11.9 points when he is on the court compared to when he is off. Opposing shooters perform 7.7% worse when Gobert contests their shots, and he leads the league in defensive field-goal attempts with an average of 19.1 per game. His defensive rating stands at an impressive 100.9, his plus/minus for the season was an outstanding plus-728, and his defensive win shares were 0.181, according to

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While Simmons is widely recognized as one of the league’s premier on-ball defenders, his approach to defense differs significantly from Gobert’s. Simmons primarily focuses on guarding the opposing team’s top scoring threats, such as Bradley Beal, Luka Doncic, or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even limiting these players to “only” 20 points is considered a success. However, Simmons acknowledges the value of having a defensive anchor like Joel Embiid and recognizes that Gobert’s unique style of defense is equally, if not more, impactful.

Adebayo, too, deserves accolades for his defensive versatility and tenacity. However, the NBA’s decision to link media-voted awards to contract incentives creates an awkward situation regarding the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Adebayo stands to make an extra $16 million in a five-year extension if he secures the DPOY title. Despite this added pressure, Adebayo remains focused and optimistic about his chances.

Completing the top five of the 2020-2021 Defensive Player Ladder is Clint Capela of the Atlanta Hawks and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Capela’s dominance on the boards, leading the league in rebounding with 14.3 per game, combined with his shot-blocking presence, significantly impacts the Hawks’ performance. When Capela is on the court, Atlanta boasts a positive point differential of 9.8 per 100 possessions. As for Antetokounmpo, his defensive rating dropped slightly this season, but he remains a force to be reckoned with, as opponents shoot 4.6% worse when he guards them.

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The Next Five (in no particular order):

  • Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks: Adds versatility to the Bucks’ defense, especially against the Miami Heat.
  • Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: A perennial defensive stalwart, often in the GOAT defender conversation.
  • Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat: One half of the formidable defensive tandem, along with Bam Adebayo, that powers the Heat’s defense.
  • Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers: Given more minutes, Thybulle’s defensive prowess will gain wider recognition alongside his offensive contributions.
  • Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns: No matter the tough perimeter matchup, Bridges embraces the challenge and showcases his defensive skills.

In conclusion, Rudy Gobert’s exceptional defensive performance lands him at the top of the Defensive Player Ladder for the 2020-2021 season. His impact on the court, combined with the statistical evidence, solidifies his candidacy for the coveted Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award. However, the competition from Ben Simmons, Bam Adebayo, and other talented defenders should not be undermined. As the NBA prepares to announce the winners, it’s clear that these players have left an indelible mark on the defensive side of the game.


Q: Who is leading the Defensive Player Ladder for the 2020-2021 season?
A: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz is currently at the top of the Defensive Player Ladder.

Q: How does Rudy Gobert’s defense contribute to the Utah Jazz’s success?
A: Gobert’s defensive presence is crucial to the Jazz’s defensive scheme, which has been instrumental in their league-leading 52-20 record this season.

Q: How does Rudy Gobert’s defensive statistics compare to other top defenders?
A: Gobert’s statistics, such as his defensive rating, plus/minus, and defensive win shares, are among the best in the league. His impact on opponents’ shooting percentages and the overall defensive performance of the Jazz sets him apart.

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In the final Defensive Player Ladder ranking for the 2020-2021 season, Rudy Gobert stands at the top, showcasing his dominance on the defensive end. His contributions have been vital to the Utah Jazz’s success, and his statistical advantages over other top defenders validate his candidacy for the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award. However, Ben Simmons, Bam Adebayo, and other talented defenders have also left their mark on the league. As the NBA prepares to announce the award winners, it’s evident that these players have elevated the defensive side of the game to new heights. To stay updated on the latest NBA news and awards, visit