How Ready is Rudy Gobert?

August 12th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
Could Rudy Gobert really be about to lap Enes Kanter, as SCH's founder predicted? (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Could Rudy Gobert really be about to lap Enes Kanter, as SCH’s founder predicted? (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you like bold predictions, then the recent throwback installment of the Salt City Hoops podcast is right up your alley.

Among other gutsy calls, SCH founder Spencer Hall said he expects Rudy Gobert to play his way past teammate Enes Kanter on the Jazz’s depth chart during this upcoming season. There’s no dearth of excitement about Gobert’s tools and talent, but Spencer’s specific boldness seemed unprecedented enough to invite a conversation.

Could Gobert be ready to leapfrog his friend and go from fringe rotation player to major minute guy? What would it take? Today, we read the tea leaves relative to the battle for big man minutes.

Why it could happen

At first blush, you see things to make you think Spencer’s not that crazy. Several of Gobert’s numbers are closer to Kanter’s than you might think: they both shoot 49% from the field1, and in terms of total value, Gobert adds .045 WS per 48 to Kanter’s .050. They certainly add that value in different ways, but viewed at the broadest possible level, you realize Gobert is already close in terms of per-minute value.

Gobert is already an elite rebounder, with the 7th highest total rebound percentage of any player with at least 100 minutes. His block percentage is amazing, too: 7.4% of what opponents put up while Rudy is on the floor gets sent back by the big guy. That number is second only to Cole Aldrich. Rebounds and blocks are two numbers that generally hold up OK on a per-minute basis when playing time is increased.2

If Gobert works his way ahead of Kanter in the short term, it will likely be because of his defense. It’s hard to find a statistically significant category where Gobert isn’t much better defensively. He gets baited into more shooting fouls, but that’s to be expected from a rim protector.

What held Gobert back on that end was defensive understanding. Too often he freestyled, jumping out of system to do what he thought was the right thing, and leaving four teammates out on a limb. But I’m encouraged by what we saw on the court and what he said off of it in his time at the Las Vegas Summer League. Getting him to understand team defense and be in the right places appears to be a focal point. When he’s tuned in, he can absolutely dictate what’s going to happen on the defensive end for long stretches, and not a lot of players can do that.3

Gobert’s defensive FG% at the rim was 10 percentage points better than Kanter’s and the best on the team. In fact, he was 8th in the league in that stat among players who defended at least one such play per game in at least 40 games last season. That tells us that, if the discipline is there, he might not be far from being an elite defensive player already.

Top 10 rim defenders w/ at least 40 GP and 1 rim FGA defended per game. Source: stats.nba.com

Top 10 rim defenders w/ at least 40 GP and 1 rim FGA defended per game. Source: stats.nba.com

 

Why he might not be there yet

While their shooting numbers overall are closer than one might expect, the composition of Gobert’s offensive game is very different from Kanter’s. The latter is an able mid-range threat, with healthy portions of his used possessions coming at that range, and with pretty good results for a big man. Not so with Gobert.

A whopping 99% of Gobert’s attempts — and literally all of his points from the field — came from inside 10 feet. Even in the 3-10 foot category, Gobert hit just 13% of his shots, so we’re basically talking about a guy who’s not an offensive weapon if he’s not within arm’s reach of the hoop. And while his Summer League performance was encouraging in overall terms, it wasn’t a departure from this script. Of his 19 Summer League field goals, 18 were in the immediate basket area — the other a short jumper created off a teammate’s drive.

There’s something to be said for knowing who you are, and the fact that nearly 80% of his attempts come around the rim shows that Gobert understands his limitations. But it’s hard to play 4-on-5 on offense, and unless Gobert is sitting on the rim, that’s essentially what the Jazz have to do with him out there. The sub-.500 free throw shooting doesn’t help things much.

Passing is another area where Gobert is wanting. He had a total of just seven assists last season — all season!  It doesn’t look good even on a per-minute basis; if Gobert played 24 minutes per game, he’d have an assist about every third game4. And it’s not just assists – he doesn’t pass a lot, period. According to the NBA’s player tracking, he had fewer passes per minute played than any other Jazz player (although Kanter was close).

 

What he’d have to improve to move up on the depth chart 

More than anything, Gobert has to address his free throw shooting if he’s going to spend 20+ minutes per night on the court. You can’t shoot 49% from the line and be on the court in any kind of pressure situations.

There’s a chance that in improving his technique relative to free throws, he might even develop a nice touch for short jumpers. If so, that’s gravy. He doesn’t necessarily need that; you can play big minutes in the middle for a good team even if your offensive range is limited. But any improvements in his offensive ability would help justify his minutes enough to unleash the havoc of his defense on other teams.

He also needs to get better at effectively and legally screening. Especially since he’s already a less-than-ideal P&R partner given that he can’t pop off the pick, it is extremely important that he not further diminish his effectiveness on the screen with offensive fouls or bad positioning.

And, as mentioned, he must improve as a ball mover. I wish we had player tracking from Vegas to see if he’s understanding and embracing Quin Snyder’s hot potato ideology. He and Kanter were the only Jazz men last year to pass the ball less than once per minute played. Again, seven assists in a season is just not enough.

 

But for now… it’s Kanter’s to lose

Gobert has a lot going for him, especially in terms of physical tools. But for now, I think Kanter has the inside lane on this one. In terms of skill areas, Kanter is far enough ahead that I think he really controls his own fate. If he does the little things, the things that require focus and discipline, I can’t imagine him surrendering too many rotation minutes to Gobert of anybody else.

Put another way: it’s easier for a highly skilled player to improve overnight in terms of effort and energy than for a raw player to improve overnight in terms of skill.

Of course, this isn’t about pitting players against one another, and the Jazz would do well to help both Kanter and Gobert realize their full potential. And either way this particular discussion turns out, the Jazz should gain from a developmental standpoint. If Gobert does indeed lap Kanter, it means he has developed enough offensively and figured out how to channel his unique, elite defensive abilities. If he doesn’t, it means Kanter has improved his focus and habits, and is doing the little things it takes to win.

When you win 25 games, nobody’s job is guaranteed, so I’m sure everybody will have to come to camp ready to earn things. But as of today, I think Kanter is penciled pretty heavily into that second big slot.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton

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11 Comments

  1. LKA says:

    Can’t eat meat till you learn how ti drink milk.. Regular and at least eighteen minutes a game is just what the doctor ordered. Standing reach and he can almost touch the rim is good but he needs constant practice at shots at least free throw line range. With shot blocking and rebounds though he has a good start..

    • Dan Clayton says:

      I tend to agree with you, LKA. DL talks about the Jazz not skipping steps as a team, but it’s pretty hard to be successfull when you skip steps individually, too. It’s hard to go from fringe rotation players (9.6 mpg in roughly half the games) to starter minutes. I think there are some intermediate steps Rudy needs to check the box on first. Learn how to have an impact in 15 minutes, and then maybe they’ll let you have an impact in 24.

  2. Mewko says:

    For Rudy’s 2015 goals, I put to play in every game, and be a contender to make the starting lineup, stay out of foul trouble, and 100 free throws a day.

    I don’t think he fits along Derrick Favors, the Jazz encouraged Favors to bulk up, and he has (168 lbs). Rudy is going to be a killer backup center, if he can accept being a role player and hustle, read the book of Trevor Booker.

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  4. Andrew says:

    You could also have called this article the “Gobert Report.” I think you might have gotten a call from Comedy Central’s lawyers though.

    • Dan Clayton says:

      Haha, good call. Maybe we need a recurring feature where we updat e the world on Rudy’s progress and we can term it that.

    • Mewko says:

      I don’t know how it’s pronounced, I’ve heard it said “Go-Bear”, but I like your idea, it has a ring to it. You can be the marketing guy for Salt City Hoops.

      • Andrew says:

        Right it is Go-bear. “The Gobert Report” is a reference to the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. The joke is that it’s pronounced “Col-bear Re-pore,” because Stephen Colbert’s name is pronounced the same way.

  5. LKA says:

    I think you will find that the very good players take more than 100 free throws a day. They probably hire teenagers to come in and snag loose balls, throw them to another to put in the rack. The best players become gym rats. Sky is the limit to this guy. He has the fans back..

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