Editor’s note: This is the fifth in the annual series from Salt City Hoops ranking the current players on the Utah Jazz roster. Throughout the preseason, we’ll count up through the current Jazz roster, from worst to first, profiling each player as we go along. The profiles are individually written by Salt City Hoops’ staff of writers, while the ranking was selected by me (Andy Larsen). To go through JazzRank articles from this or past preseasons, visit our JazzRank category page. Rudy Gobert is #9.
Enchanté, Monsieur Gobert.
Now seems like the perfect time to get to know Rudy Gobert, who comes in at #9 on Salt City Hoops’ preseason player ranking.
That ranking could be high or low for Gobert; his impact is probably among the most difficult to forecast given a number of factors. First, we’ve heard mixed messages about his readiness level. Second, it doesn’t appear clear yet whether he’s penciled into head coach Ty Corbin’s early season rotation or not.
Here’s what we do know: so far he has played just 17 minutes in the preseason, the least of any of the serious contenders for spots in the 4/5 rotation. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter understandably lead the pack, but even Jeremy Evans’ and Andris Biedrins’ minute totals (62 and 34, respective) suggest that Gobert might be on the outside looking in at the 4-man rotation up front.
In the long run, that might be okay. The Jazz have the option of being patient with Gobert as both a basketball player and an asset. They really only have until February to see how Biedrins can be leveraged as an expiring chip. The reality is that only one of these guys will get a rotation spot. One will be the fourth big, logging 15-20 minutes a night, and the other will wait for garbage time or foul trouble to make his brief appearances.
Whether Gobert is able to wrest minutes away from Biedrins probably depends on these three areas:
- His elite skills: Rebounding, shot-blocking
- Areas for improvement: Below-average athlete, limited offensive arsenal
- Jury’s out: Overall defense, screening
Neither guy has been a factor so far on offense – the end of the floor where the Jazz, so far, desperately need help – but both have been decent rim protectors and rebounders in their limited preseason minutes.
Gobert has averaged a rebound every 3.4 minutes so far in the preseason, which is exactly the rate he boarded at in Summer League. Rebounding and shot-blocking are two stats that Kevin Pelton says translate fairly well into regular season projections, so we’re likely to see a similar rate of rebounds in whatever minutes Gobert logs this season.
That’s good news for Swat Lake City, too: Gobert blocked over 4 shots per 36 minutes in Summer League. If that rate held, he could play just 12 minutes per game and still wind up in the top 20 for blocks per game. That might be his biggest claim right now to unseat Biedrins as the fourth big, although in non-statistical terms, Biedrins’ positional D looks a bit better than Gobert’s right now.
Gobert also has to watch his foul rate if he’s going to earn minutes away from his Latvian peer. The first problem with his foul rate is that he won’t be able to stay in the floor. Right now he’s averaging a foul-out every 17 minutes. But just as important is the impact those fouls will have on his defensive efficiency, since a lot of those fouls come while challenging shots. He’s the type of fouler that’s going to put a lot of guys on the line.
After watching Summer League and preseason, it’s clear that the other type of foul Gobert will struggle with is the moving screen. When you’re shaped like an 86-inch-long string bean, it’s hard to look like you’re holding a straight-up position, and as a result it’s easier for the refs to detect motion when there is little or none. One of Gobert’s top priorities right now should be learning how to set effective, legal screens. If he does that, and continues rebounding at the rate he has held up in July and October, it will be hard for Corbin to keep him chained to the bench.
On offense, his role will be limited. In France, he primarily scored off of cuts and putbacks, which is why he had an extremely low usage rate (he used just 6.7 possessions per game in French league competition, 9.3% of Cholet’s total). He had a crazily efficient 72% True Shooting percentage on those 6.7 possessions because he basically only attempted a shot when he got the ball at point blank range. And as a 60% free throw shooter, you don’t want him going to the line much more than you want Biedrins heading there (although Gobert’s form looks better so he probably has a better chance of improving from the stripe).
The other reality of Gobert’s game that hasn’t been discussed a whole lot is his overall lack of athleticism. He tied for the second-slowest sprint in Chicago last May (behind Kelly Olynyk) and also had the second worst lane agility test (DeShaun Thomas). He also had the lowest max vertical and second lowest standing jump (again, behind Olynyk). You could argue these matter less given his size and length, but the reality is that the Frenchman is a bit slower and more earthbound than his NBA peers on the whole.
At the most broad and oversimplified level, Biedrins and Gobert are actually similar players right now. Both are good rim protectors (albeit in different ways) and neither guy is going to do much on offense other than shoot ducks in the proverbial barrel. So who plays those minutes now probably depends on whether the Jazz are more interested in realizing Gobert’s potential or preserving Biedrins’ value as an asset. Both are noble pursuits, but I think they may opt for the latter since there’s a tighter clock on Biedrins’ trade possibilities..
Either way, we’ll get glimpses of Gobert all season and his elite NBA skills (rebounding and shot-blocking) will likely have us asking for more.