Despite solidifying himself as the clear front runner for Defensive Player of the Year, the media bias against Rudy Gobert couldn’t be more significant.
In the midst of what is one of the best defensive seasons of recent memory, few mainstream media outlets accurately cover Gobert’s dominance. As a result, his impact often goes unnoticed to the point where he’s arguably the league’s most underrated player.
It’s unclear why this media bias against Gobert exists. But either way, it’s extremely prevalent and takes away from the greatness that he’s displayed this season.
Every player makes their mistakes. But for Rudy Gobert, those mistakes are far more exaggerated than they should be.
In an April 30 matchup against the Phoenix Suns, guard Devin Booker put a nasty move on Gobert. The Stifle Tower clumsily stumbled as Booker knocked down the jumper.
Naturally, the move went viral as countless social media accounts, like ESPN, shared the clip. As expected, fans clowned Gobert for looking silly.
With this play being the only talked-about event from the game, the consensus was that Gobert played poorly. Some even went as far as to say that the play disqualified him from D-POY contention.
However, those same accounts didn’t recognize any of the stellar defensive plays Gobert made throughout the game. In total, he held the Suns to a poultry 3/14 shooting as the primary defender and actually played great.
If anything, that performance strengthened his case for the Defensive Player of the Year award. But social media had people thinking it did the opposite.
Not only are Gobert’s mistakes over-magnified, but his strengths are also under-magnified. Although he leads the NBA in virtually every defensive stat, Gobert’s defensive reputation is lacking.
There are a few reasons for this. Some fans dislike him for his infamous COVID-19 incident in March 2020. Others might be critical of his scoring limitations and find his rim protection to be boring.
But the biggest reason Gobert receives most of his disrespect is that the media portrays him incorrectly. The aforementioned game against the Suns is just one of many examples.
Another instance came in a matchup against the Denver Nuggets. In a decisive victory, Gobert sealed the deal with a commanding block on MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic. But outlets like ESPN and Bleacher Report never shared the clip on Instagram or Twitter. Booker’s stepback on Gobert resulted in a viral reaction, but Gobert’s equally impressive block did not.
Instead, a clip of Michael Porter Jr dunking on Gobert made an appearance on Bleacher Report’s Twitter for thousands of fans to see. Again, viewers were led to believe that Gobert got exposed and humiliated in yet another poor defensive outing.
There’s also a longstanding narrative that Gobert is a liability when defending the perimeter, but this is false. Contrary to popular belief, he’s defended quicker guards effectively this season.
The stats and eye test suggest that his perimeter defense has been respectable alongside his exceptional rim protection. Anyone who watches full Jazz games would agree.
For every uncharacteristic lapse he has on the defensive end, he makes up for it with countless positive plays on a nightly basis. But of course, cherry-picked lowlights cause people to believe that he can’t guard anyone outside of the paint.
Odd Changes on the D-POY Ladder
NBA.com has put out a weekly award ladder for most of the 2020-21 season as a way to keep fans updated with the heated races for hardware. Of those races is the battle for the Defensive Player of the Year award between Gobert, Ben Simmons, Bam Adebayo, etc.
For weeks, Gobert’s elite defense as the league’s premier rim protector earned him the top spot on the ladder. And after another solid span of performances, his hold at the top seemed bound to continue.
Although Gobert’s boneheaded mistake at the end of a loss to Minnesota left a sour taste in fans’ mouths, he still played a quality defensive week overall. In a matchup against Houston, he held opponents to 3/15 shooting as the primary defender and boasted an insane plus-minus of +44.
In second place for quite some time was Ben Simmons, fresh off a week in which he played just 22 minutes in one game. He did nothing spectacular to warrant a boost in the rankings.
But ironically, Simmons replaced Gobert at the top. Needless to say, Gobert’s 97 minutes in 3 quality games brought far more value to the table than Simmons’s 22 minutes. So it made very little sense to reward Simmons with the top spot after weeks of recognizing Gobert as the frontrunner.
Depending on one’s criteria, it’s understandable to believe Simmons is the Defensive Player of the Year based on what he’s done throughout the season as a whole. If he put together a streak of multiple elite defensive performances over the week, a jump in the rankings would be fitting.
But that wasn’t the case. Instead, inexplicably, a single 22-minute performance was enough to give Simmons the edge over Gobert, who’s having one of the best defensive seasons of the century. It’s hard to believe there wasn’t some element of an agenda involved.
Something to Prove
The media bias against Rudy Gobert is something that few other players ever experience. Social media accounts regularly post highlights of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, etc., with no hesitation. Unfortunately, Gobert’s situation is the exact opposite.
But with the postseason quickly approaching, it serves as a perfect opportunity for him to prove his doubters wrong on the biggest stage. Then, hopefully, the bias against him can finally turn into well-deserved respect.