Developing a new skill can go a long way. Even something as simple as teaching your dog to sit can help the situation. In basketball, we've seen a lot of new skills show up in surprising places. We’ve seen Brook Lopez have multiple games this season with more treys in one outing than he had in his previous eight seasons combined. Avery Bradley added a lot of new wrinkles to his offensive game and he’s now a plus offensive presence to go with his defense. The list goes on and on.
One player in particular has basically added an entire offensive skill set. Rudy Gobert is on one of the most ridiculous statistical tears in his last four games, averaging 24.3 points, 15.5 boards, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals and 4.8 blocks on 74.5 percent from the field. Here’s what his shot chart looks like:
Not very complicated, huh? One of the reasons why he’s crushed so hard inside that three-foot area is his 6.8 boards per game on the offensive end. In the second half of the game against the Knicks, Gobert racked up a ridiculous 12 second-chance points to help him get to a career-high 35 points. As you might expect, Gobert is first in the NBA in second-chance points over his last four and has moved up to fifth on the season in that department (Hassan Whiteside, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard).
As you might expect, he’s doing a lot of dunking to get his scoring. In this four-game sample, Gobert has dunked for 28 of his 38 makes. He was unassisted on 24.0 percent of those, so it’s not like a full DeAndre Jordan. More impressively, Gobert has been much better on layups, making 59.1 percent on those in the four-game sample. Before this stretch, he was unassisted on layups just 38.6 percent of the time and made 51.6 percent of those. In other words, he’s not your run-of-the-mill player from within three feet anymore.
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One interesting factor on Gobert’s hot streak is how Derrick Favors hasn’t been around. There is a stark difference in efficiency without D-Faves for Gobert to go with a 0.8 usage rate increase. On the season, Gobert has a 67.7 field goal percentage without Favors compared to just 59.0 with him. The biggest difference by far has been how Rudy does at the rim, making 72.7 percent at the rim without Favors compared to just 60.2 percent with him. Sure, some of this is due to Gobert getting better later in the season, but that’s a serious difference and you could chalk it up to Favors taking away some interior freedom for the Stifle Tower.
Another player that has affected Gobert negatively on efficiency has been George Hill, which comes as a surprise. Gobert has a 63.5 field goal percentage with Hill and a 68.2 field goal percentage without him. This is a little strange because Gobert is assisted more often when he’s next to Hill. Basically, it’s tough to draw a conclusion here.
When it comes to play types, there’s one clear area we’ve seen Gobert improve. Last year, he was only at 68.0 percentile on efficiency as a roll man, but this year he’s all the way up to 96.6 percentile. Basically, the only other high-volume guy ahead of him on efficiency is DeAndre Jordan, who just dunks everything. Gobert is also sixth in the NBA on points as a roll man this year, which is crazy after he was just 54th in points per game as a PNR roll man.
There’s some talk of him adding a jumper, but he really doesn’t need to. As he’s talked about several times during the preseason, Gobert’s priority has to be at the free throw line. Now that he’s getting a usage rate close to 20 and considering how much contact he takes due to his close-range game, he would be a monster if he can get his free throw percentage to the upper 70s. For what it’s worth, his last full month was his best one with a 72.1 percent from the line in February — he’s back down to just 58.1 percent this month, though.
As mentioned, the usage rate is steadily climbing, and also there’s a nice upward trend for efficiency in the last three months. Here’s a small table of his true shooting percentage and usage rate in the last four months:
If Gobert can continue his current pace, he would be the second player ever to have a season with at least a 68 true shooting percentage, a 16.0 usage rate and play in at least 32 minutes per game in a season (Artis Gilmore). Gobert was a small letdown last year, but the breakout is 100 percent for real this time around.
For fantasy, he’s shaping up to be that late-first pick we were hoping for last year. For DFS, he’s looking like he’s a lot closer to Karl-Anthony Towns than ever before.
By the way, he has to be the Defensive Player of the Year, right? Sure, Draymond Green is maybe the smartest defender ever and he can read a play better than anyone, but Gobert’s pure ability is just absurd. Plus, his rebounding can’t hurt his case.
Defend The Land?
The Cavs official hashtag on Twitter is #DefendTheLand. Yeah, about that. To counterbalance the Defensive Player of the Year, how about we talk about the worst defensive team in the NBA these days? The Lakers have been really bad, but they’re not the worst defense in their last 15 games. The reigning champs are!
The Cavs have a 114.5 defensive rating in their last 15 games. How bad is that? No NBA team has ever put up a 114.5 offensive rating in a season, so yeah, it’s kinda bad (Note: I’m going off NBA.com’s ratings and not Basketball Reference). Their defense is so bad (HOW BAD IS IT!?!?), it’s so bad that it’s basically taken LeBron James out of the MVP race and Isaiah Thomas may even be ahead of him.
So what lineup is killing them? Here are their lineups with at least 20 minutes in the last 15 games:
Yikes on the J.R. Smith lineup, and that lineup probably has to go for now. One reason LeBron got so much credit for MVP is because the Cavs are terrible without him. Well, not so much lately because he’s on the court for each of those lineups with more than 20 minutes.
So why do they keep bleeding points right now? A lot of it has to do with the 3-point line and not covering shooters. On the season, the Cavs have given up the third-most wide open 3-pointers (defender 6+ feet away) while they’re 10th in open treys (defender 4-6 feet away). Also, they’re just 27th on percentage of catch-and-shoot attempts allowed per game over their last 15, so they don’t have too many of those overall.
They’re also getting killed on the offensive glass, giving up a 27th-ranked 11.7 offensive rebounds per game over their last 15 games. Without the stats, the Cavs just look like they’re taking too many plays off these days, and really they're not getting back on defense after misses. Offensive rebounding has been one of the best hustle stats for years and getting beat there is telling.
From a DFS angle, the Cavs have been a team to attack. In this brutal 15-game stretch, they’re the fourth-best matchup for point guards, fifth best for shooting guard, eighth for small forwards, 17th for power forwards, and seventh for centers. Plus, it’s not like they’re really had a daunting schedule for offensive teams, so powerhouse offense could post some huge lines.
Coach Tyronn Lue says he has a secret plan for the Cavs to fix this, so maybe it’s going to be to make a lineup change with J.R. Smith. In fact, it looked like LeBron wanted Smith to come out last night:
Well, the Cavs are now in second, but is anyone really worried about them? It is LeBron James after all. If there is one positive, at least we should have a fun run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.