Defensive Stats Spotlight: Rudy Gobert, Robert Covington, Jarrett Allen
By Brian Martin
Another week brings another look at some of the top defensive players in the league with a deep dive into the numbers behind their efforts. This week, we highlight the reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert of the red-hot Utah Jazz, as well as Minnesota's Robert Covington and Brooklyn's Jarrett Allen.
All stats through games played on Jan. 14
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the NBA at the moment, winners of 10 straight as they have climbed to second place in the Western Conference standings. After getting off to slow starts and rallying after the All-Star break in each of the past two seasons (32-25 pre All-Star, 18-7 post All-Star last season; 30-28 pre All-Star, 18-6 post All-Star in 2017-18), the Jazz have found their stride earlier in the year thanks to strong performances on both ends of the court.
Entering Wednesday's games, the Jazz rank 11th in offense (110.4 points per 100 possessions) and eighth in defense (106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). Offensively, Gobert is averaging 14.9 points per game on a career-best 67.6% shooting, which ranks second in the NBA. Gobert also leads the NBA in screen assists with 7.8 per game that create another 17.9 points per game for the Jazz.
In addition to his offensive contributions, Gobert continues to shine as the anchor of Utah's defense. The Jazz allow just 103.1 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the court, compared to 108.0 when he sits. Gobert ranks seventh in the league in blocks at 1.9 per game, which would be his lowest average since his rookie season. However, even if Gobert isn't blocking shots, he is constantly changing shots at the basket.
Among the 22 players that have defended at least 200 shots at the rim this season, Gobert ranks third in lowest field goal percentage allowed at 49.7%, trailing only Milwaukee's Brook Lopez (44.7%) and Dallas' Kristaps Porzingis (49.0%). No player in the NBA faces more shots inside 10 feet each game than Gobert (11.8 per game) and opponents shoot just 43.3% (12.7 percentage points below their normal average) when Gobert is the closest defender.
In addition to patrolling the paint and gobbling up defensive rebounds to end opponent possessions - Gobert ranks second in the league in both defensive rebounding and overall rebounding behind Detroit's Andre Drummond - Gobert is also a capable defender when pulled away from the basket. Gobert defends 5.5 shots per game outside of 15 feet and holds opponents to 36.4% shooting (2.1 percentage points below normal).
Gobert's versatility can also be seen when looking at his defensive matchup stats. As expected, he spends the majority of his time (56.2% to be exact) defending fellow centers and holds them to 42.8% shooting. He has also spent 28% of his defensive matchup time on forwards and his effectiveness has not suffered as forwards are shooting just 42.3% against Gobert. But the true hallmark of a versatile big defender is the ability to contain guards when switched onto them in pick and roll defense or when there are cross matches in transition. In 71 minutes defending guards (15.8% of his defensive matchup time), Gobert has held opponents to 39% shooting from the field and 29.1% from beyond the arc. He has blocked nearly twice as many shots (31) as opposing guards have made against him (16) this season.
Robert Covington, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves have won five of their last 10 games as they look to climb back into the Western Conference playoff picture - they currently sit in 12 place, but just three games back of the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies with three teams in between them. During this recent 10-game stretch, the Wolves have a defensive efficiency of 102.4 (3rd in NBA), which is a significant improvement over their season-long 108.7 defensive rating (16th in NBA).
Of the 90 qualified players that have averaged at least 30 minutes per game over the past 10 games, Covington leads them all in defensive efficiency at 98.7 points allowed per 100 possessions while on the court. The Wolves defensive efficiency rises to 105.1 points allowed while Covington sits.
Covington is one of just 12 players across the NBA to average at least one steal and one block per game this season, and at 6-foot-7 is the shortest player on that list (only Bam Adebayo and Al Horford are also under 6-foot-10, with both standing 6-foot-9). Covington ranks seventh in the NBA in both deflections (3.6 per game) and steals (1.7 per game). In addition to being a strong on-ball defender than can force turnovers, Covington is among the league's best in defending the 3-point line. Covington's matchups have shot just 29.4% (45-153) from beyond the arc this season.
In terms of matchups, Covington spends the majority of his defensive time (60.2%) on fellow forwards and has held them to 48.6% shooting from the field and 30.2% from 3-point range in nearly 900 possessions. In 478 possessions against guards, his defense has been even better as his matchups have shot just 43.1% from the field and 27.0% from deep. Covington has also forced more turnovers (60) than assists (59) to his matchups and has 21 blocks on their 383 shot attempts.
Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
Halfway through his third NBA season, Jarrett Allen is on pace to set career highs nearly across the board despite not seeing a big increase in playing time from a season ago. On offense, Allen is averaging 11.4 points on 65.0% shooting (4th in the league). On defense, Allen is averaging 1.3 blocks (21st in the league) and 9.7 rebounds (17th in the league). He has 18 double-doubles in 39 games after posting 28 in the 152 games of his first two seasons in the NBA combined.
Allen makes a bigger defensive impact than his per game numbers indicate. While he ranks 21st in blocks, Allen allows the fourth-lowest field goal percentage at the rim with opponents shooting just 49.8% against him - a percentage that is nearly identical to the two-time Defensive Player of the Year we showcased earlier. Gobert and Brook Lopez are the only players in the league that contest more shots per game than Allen's 14.8, so even if he doesn't record a block, Allen is constantly forcing opponents to alter shots and thus shoot lower percentages.
A look at Allen's defensive dashboard gives a snapshot of his versatility as he forces opponents to shoot below their normal averages from all over the court. Overall, opponents shoot 44.5% when Allen is the nearest defender, which 2.5 percentage points lower than their normal success rate. Inside of six feet, he allows 49.8% shooting, which is 10 percentage points below normal. Allen has contested 2.4 3-point shots per game and opponents are shooting just 32.6% on those attempts (2.7 percentage points below normal).
When examining his defensive matchups, Allen has been extremely successful in defending forwards. In 123 minutes (33.6%) of his defensive matchup time, Allen has held forwards to 39.5% shooting from the field and 16.7% (6-36) from 3-point range while also blocking 17 shots and forcing 25 turnovers. Guards have shot 45.1% from the field and 33.3% from three against Allen in 71 minutes (19.5%) of matchup time. Nearly half of Allen's defensive matchup time has been defending centers; in 171 minutes, centers have shot 50.3% from the field and 42.9% (12-28) from three against Allen.