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Rudy Gobert vs. Nikola Jokic: Who’s a Better Player?

Nikola Jokic has been receiving more and more attention as of late as a result of his outstanding play on the offensive end. Rudy Gobert is a leading candidate for DPOY. Which player is the better one!?

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Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic are (or should be) household names and star centers in the basketball world. Jokic is known for his flashy passes and triple-double tendencies, while Gobert has been dubbed the “Stifle Tower” because of his shot-blocking prowess. These players are difficult to compare, but let’s take a stab at it. 

Gobert and Jokic will be compared based on the following criteria, with stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference:

  • Scoring
  • Passing
  • Rebounding
  • Defense
  • Overall

Scoring

Looking at the basic box score numbers does not do justice to this comparison. In 2017, Jokic averaged 16.7 points per game on 27.9 minutes per contest. Gobert’s figures were 14.0 and 33.9, respectively. With just a few games left in the 2018 regular season, Jokic’s PPG total has increased to 18.2 in 32.2 MPG. Although he’s missed 26 of Utah’s contests this year, 53 games played is plenty large enough of a sample size for Gobert. In those games, the 25-year-old is averaging 13.7 PPG in 32.6 MPG. Raw numbers give the PPG advantage to Jokic. But where do the points come from?

Gobert’s field goal percentage (62.7%) catches the eye and looks great, which it is. The downside to this number is that Gobert does not have much of a post-up game and has attempted zero three-pointers in 2018. Let that sink in. In the modern NBA, full of centers attempting (and knocking down) large amounts of threes, Rudy Gobert has not shot a single one in 53 games. At this point in his (still young) career, the majority of Gobert’s points will come from plays like this which, if you ask me, is more than fine:

Jokic, on the other hand, can do pretty much everything in terms of scoring the ball. Shooting an efficient 49.8% from the field and an even more impressive 39.3% mark from deep, Jokic’s bread and butter is … well, putting the ball in the basket. Need him to post up? No problem:

Need a three? Not a problem:

Create his own shot by driving to the rim? You got it:

You get the drift. Yes, Rudy Gobert has the potential to develop a post/face-up game and become a 16-18 PPG player, but that’s about it. Jokic is just scratching the surface scoring-wise.

Advantage: Jokic

Passing

This is going to be brief. Rudy Gobert averages 1.2 assists per game for his career. That figure isn’t much improved in 2018 at 1.4 APG. He simply doesn’t have the ball in his hands enough (16.6% usage rate, 64th among NBA centers) nor the skillset necessary to be a good passer. Passing likely won’t ever be a major part of Gobert’s game.

On the flip side, Jokic’s game is highly dependent upon his strong passing skills. Watch the video below if you need proof.

Jokic leads all centers with 6.0 APG. He can run the fastbreak, pass from the post, drop no-look dimes and everything in between. If you watched the video, you’ll see that this category is not even close to a contest.

Advantage: Jokic

Rebounding

Close call here. The box score says point: Gobert. The French center averaged 11.0 rebounds per game in 2015, 12.8 RPG last season and is bringing down 10.9 boards per contest in 2018. Jokic has seen his RPG averages increase from 7.0 to 9.8, then to 10.6 in that three-year span.

In 2016-17, Gobert and Jokic finished 7th and 11th, respectively in rebound percentage. The race is even tighter this season, with Gobert currently ranked 20th and Jokic not far behind him at 22nd. With all of this in mind, we’ve got a winner (although it’s becoming a tight race).

Advantage: Gobert

Defense

Box score says huge advantage: Gobert. Averaging over two blocks per game in each of the past four seasons, Gobert is one of the best defenders in the entire league. Jokic has yet to average a full block per game at any point in his career. Jokic narrowly edges Gobert in the steals department (1.2 SPG vs. 0.8 SPG), but the difference in blocks is way too large to ignore. What about the advanced stats – the good stuff?

Let’s start with last season’s numbers. Among centers who averaged at least 20 MPG and played in at least 20 games in 2016-17, Gobert finished 4th in the league in defensive rating and first in defensive win shares. Jokic? 56th and 53rd. That discrepancy between those figures is insane. Did things get better this year? If you squint and turn your head sideways, you could see it.

Despite having played just 53 games this year, Gobert currently leads all centers in defensive rating and defensive win shares (using the parameters listed above). Jokic still remains very far behind at 49th and 37th, respectively. The numbers speak for themselves, and Gobert completely blows Jokic out of the water when it comes to defense.

Advantage: Gobert

Overall

Rudy Gobert’s strengths are overall defense, shot-blocking, rebounding and efficiently scoring in the paint. His weaknesses are scoring outside of the paint and passing, which are legitimate concerns. However, it appears that he fits perfectly into the defense-heavy culture Quin Snyder has instilled in Utah. Over time, Gobert’s offensive repertoire could expand a bit and he could become a good contributor on that end.

Nikola Jokic has no weaknesses on offense. He is at or near the top among all centers in passing, running the fastbreak and shooting the three ball. His inside game is also a huge threat. On defense, though, he’s still atrocious. This glaring weakness doesn’t appear to be a huge obstacle in Denver but until he can improve on that end of the ball, Jokic’s ceiling is somewhat limited. In all, he’s still a great player and at the age of 23, there is plenty of time left for him to turn it around on defense.

The Verdict

As mentioned earlier in the article, it’s very hard to compare these polar opposites. Nikola Jokic is a great player to have in an offense that needs a scorer and distributor. His defensive shortcomings would have to be masked by his teammates, though. Rudy Gobert fits perfectly into a defense-heavy system, much like the one he’s in right now. Other offenses with scorers already in place would welcome one of the best defenders in the NBA with open arms.

Ultimately if I had to pick one of these players to put on my team, I’d pick Gobert. It’s a closer call than I thought it’d be before doing research, but a player who can dominate on the boards, force the opposition to completely alter its offensive gameplan and still manage to chip in ~14 PPG is a guy I want on my team. At his peak, Gobert could be a 16+ PPG, 13 RPG, 3 BPG monster.

With that said, the sky is the limit for Nikola Jokic if he can improve on the defensive end. He’s shown a tiny glimpse of hope in that regard and when considering he won’t turn 24 until February of next year, the best is undoubtedly ahead for the Serbian big. He could very well end up making me look silly for giving Gobert the slight edge overall. For now:

Final Pick: Gobert

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