Like the unathletic kid in the school yard, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were selected last to play in the big game, all while holding the best record in the league.
Thanks to recent comments from Shaquille O’Neal, we are left questioning if Utah’s French star is worth the massive contract he received in late December 2020.
The Jazz big man inked an extension that would net him $205 million (A$266 million) over the course of five seasons, making the deal the largest contract ever given to a centre in NBA history, and while Rudy Gobert is an All-NBA player and two-time defensive player of the year winner, the contract is certainly questionable.
Shaquille O’Neal stated during an appearance on CBS Sports’ All Things Covered podcast, “This [Gobert’s contract] should be an inspiration to all the little kids out there. You average 11 points in the NBA, you can get $200 million.”
While obviously a jab at Gobert, the French big man did not seemed phased by Shaq’s comments as he issued a response on Twitter. Gobert suggested there was no beef between the two and that he is going to keep “beating the odds”.
Shaq’s obvious jabs and complaints seem childish at times, however, it is worth looking into whether Gobert is in fact worth the contract he has been given. Despite being one of the best players on his team, the Frenchman has barely led his team to any significant success.
The Jazz have seen themselves sitting in the middle of the pack for years, with the team not making any significant waves in the postseason. They are young, and players such as Donovan Mitchell will continue to grow, but it’s possible the Jazz may have overpaid Gobert.
Shaq’s main argument centres around Gobert’s point production. While the big man averages just over 11 points per game for his career, his averages have improved over the past few seasons. Gobert has averaged over 15 PPG the past two seasons, while averaging around two blocks per game for his career. The big man has also averaged 13 or more rebounds per game the past three seasons. This season looks to be another successful one for the Frenchman, as he is currently averaging 13.3 PPG and 13.1 rebounds per game.
However, while his offensive numbers may not indicate he is worth the money he received, Gobert is a monster on the defensive end. As mentioned earlier, he averages over two blocks per game and is an elite rim protector, guarding the paint from the opposing team. He has been in the previous four All-Defensive First Teams, and has secured the defensive player of the year award twice in the past three seasons.
While it is debatable whether Gobert is worthy of such a monster contract, it is laughable for critiques of the contract to purely come from his career averages in points rather than his improvement and defensive capabilities. Gobert continues to grow on the offensive end and is a defensive pillar.
He is a cornerstone of the Jazz franchise, along with Donovan Mitchell. This, along with his elite defensive capabilities, has seen him get paid. Defence is an underrated stat in today’s game, but defensive players get paid. Look at Jerami Grant, who signed a three-year, $60 million contract (A$78 million) with the Pistons. His numbers came purely from the defensive end for multiple seasons, before he developed into more of an offensive threat.
Both of these factors led to him getting paid and being highly sought after, with not as much criticism as Gobert has been receiving. Much like Grant, Gobert’s defensive capabilities have never been in question. However, his offensive game has continued to grow which resulted in a growth in value.
Whether Gobert was indeed worthy of that staggering figure or not, it is certain that he was due for a pay rise. Now, he will have to continue to prove the doubters wrong and continue to elevate his game as he has done in the past. If he does that, his pairing with Mitchell will continue to be a major headache for opposing teams for years to come.