Last season, when the Utah Jazz traded Enes Kanter at the trade deadline and elevated Rudy Gobert to a starting role, Gobert helped transform a Utah defense that ranked 27th in efficiency at the All-Star break to the league's best defense after the break.
Gobert's interior defense has had a similar impact on the Jazz this month, leading him to our defensive player of the month honors for March.
The Jazz posted the NBA's third-best defensive efficiency during March, trailing only the Atlanta Hawks and the San Antonio Spurs, the two teams at the top of the league's defensive efficiency rankings for the season.
Gobert was at the heart of that improvement, as the Jazz held opponents to just 95.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court compared to 102.8 with him off the floor in March. For the season, that's roughly the difference between San Antonio's top-ranked defense and the Thunder's 12th-ranked unit.
Perhaps no game illustrated Gobert's defensive impact better than the team's overtime loss to the Warriors on Wednesday. In the 38 minutes that Gobert was on the floor, the Warriors' league-leading offense could muster only 93.4 points per 100 possessions, a far cry from the league-leading 112.4 per 100 they average. In the 15 minutes that the French big man sat, Golden State scored a more Warriors-like 108.1 per 100.
The Warriors missed three shots that Gobert contested within four feet of the rim in a game that saw him rack up 18 rebounds and two blocked shots in nearly upsetting the defending champs.
Overall, Gobert allowed the lowest field goal percentage at the rim in March among the 41 players to defend at least six shots per game at the cup, according to NBA.com player tracking, and it's not close. Opponents shot just 40.3 percent against Gobert in these situations in March. The next closest player is LaMarcus Aldridge at 44.0 percent, and only 10 of the other 40 players allowed lower than 50 percent shooting at the rim.
Gobert's big defensive March has kept the Jazz in the heart of the playoff race as they entered play on Saturday tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the West's seventh spot, just one game ahead of the No. 9 Houston Rockets.