NBA big man wins fourth DPOY award, tying all-time record

For the fourth time in his career, Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert stands alone among the NBA’s defensive elite. And, now, he joins an exclusive list.

Gobert edged out San Antonio Spurs rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama and Miami Heat center-forward Bam Adebayo Tuesday night to win the 2023-24 Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy, awarded to the NBA’s defensive player of the year. This marks the fourth time Gobert, 31, has won the award, putting him in a three-way tie for most all-time; he joins Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame big men Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo.

The award was announced Tuesday night during the TNT pregame broadcast ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Boston Celtics conference semifinal playoff game.

Gobert has continued to anchor the defense for Minnesota, which improved this season to 56-26 and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. With his 7-foot-1 frame, length and lateral quickness, Gobert is a dominant rim protector who routinely forces offensive players to adjust their shots inside the paint.

In 76 games this season, Gobert averaged 12.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, while adding 14 points per game. The Timberwolves led the NBA this season in defensive rating (108.4) and ranked second in opponent points in the paint, allowing just 46.1 per game.

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After dispatching the Suns in a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs, the Timberwolves have stunned the defending-champion Nuggets by taking a 2-0 lead in their conference semifinal series. Gobert missed Monday night’s game in Denver over the birth of his child but is expected to return Friday for Game 3.

Wembanyama, 20, was trying to become the first rookie in NBA history to win the league’s defensive player of the year award, though his future prospects are bright. Despite playing just 29.7 minutes per game this season, he led the league in blocks, with 254. The next closest player, Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren, recorded 64 fewer.

In fact, when factoring steals and blocks, Wembanyama (342) was again unmatched. By comparison, the next closest player in steals and blocks combined was Los Angeles Lakers forward-center Anthony Davis (269), while Gobert ranked seventh with 214.

Adebayo, 26, is a versatile defender who can guard all five positions on the floor, though he was not as statistically proficient as Gobert and Wembanyama.

Gobert finished with 433 total points in the voting for the award, while Wembanyama (245), Adebayo (91), Davis (83), the New Orleans Pelicans’ Herbert Jones and Boston Celtics’ Jrue Holiday also received votes. Gobert received 72 of a possible 99 first-place votes. Wembanyama received 19 first-place votes.

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