Rudy Gobert’s Offensive Repercussions

June 22nd, 2015 | by Clint Johnson

With Enes Kanter’s departure and Rudy Gobert’s rise toward stardom, the Jazz improved significantly – but not in all ways. [Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News]

Rudy Gobert makes the Utah Jazz a defensive powerhouse. After Gobert’s insertion into the starting lineup following the trade of Enes Kanter, the Jazz became the NBA’s new It! team – with Gobert himself the source of the It! A defensive rating of 94.8, first in the league by a huge margin.1. A net rating of +6.9, tied for fourth-best with LeBron James’ Cavaliers. A 19 – 10 record for a .655 winning percentage (6th best in that time frame). Individually, Gobert posted monstrous stats like his season-long allowance of a mere 40.4% shooting at the rim, redefining rim protection.

But basketball involves a second side of the court, and Gobert’s offensive impact was both less examined and less positive.

Suggestions that the Jazz swapped out a rangy big capable of stretching a defense in Kanter for Gobert’s non-shooting are incorrect. Gobert is a non-threat to shoot in most situations, but in last season’s play with the Jazz, Kanter was anything but an effective floor spacer. His 33.1% accuracy on mid-range shots was the lowest mark among regular Jazz contributors by a large margin; in fact, for much of the season Kanter was near the bottom of the league here.

Gobert is a better and more willing passer than Kanter. Both players are elite offensive rebounders who produce better than three points per game by eating glass. If putting Gobert in Kanter’s place had a minimally detrimental impact on shooting (and resulting spacing), passing, and offensive rebounds, how could the change have hindered the Jazz offense?

The answer is clearly illustrated here:

 

Kanter didn’t give the Jazz much as a floor spacer, but he did in the post. Kanter is a player you can give the ball to and who can get an interior basket on his own. In contrast, Gobert’s post game is nearly as non-existent as his mid-range jumper.

Gobert is unable to threaten a defense with the ball in his hands from any area of the floor further than five feet from the basket, the consequences are hard to quantify for a number of reasons. Summation shows the Jazz offense was both less potent (-1.1 points) and less efficient (-0.5 TS%) after the Kanter trade than before, but by slight margins. However, deeper exploration shows consequences both more varied and more troubling.

1. Playing Against the Shot Clock More Frequently

Kanter was human stick’em with the Jazz. Once the ball hit his hands, it often didn’t leave. In some cases, this inhibited the free motion essential for execution of head coach Quin Snyder’s offense. But it also provided one of a very few options where the team could go to confidently get a shot other than Gordon Hayward. Without that outlet, the team found itself running their system against a collapsing shot clock with greater frequency.

Before the trade, the Jazz took 19 field goal attempts a game with seven or fewer seconds left on the shot clock. After Gobert’s ascension, that number jumped to more than 22. Gobert’s inability to get his own shot in the post placed greater strain upon the team to generate points by executing the offensive system. Cumulatively, figures show that attempts earlier in the shot clock have a higher net efficiency league-wide; by grinding up against a shot clock violation more often, the Jazz’s primary offensive creators – Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, and later on Rodney Hood – were put in more frequent situations of unlikely success.

2. Fewer Field Goal Attempts

The Jazz were never a speedy team this year, but things slowed even further when Gobert’s role increased. After his promotion to the startling lineup, the Jazz played at the slowest pace in the league (less than 93 possessions per 48 minutes).

With Kanter on the court last season, the Jazz took 3.5 more field goal attempts per 100 possessions than their opponent. Gobert essentially reversed that number: 3.3 fewer attempts per 100. That net difference of 6.8 FGA is massive. Some of this is a result of teams slogging in the half court against the Jazz’s lauded defense. But some is also a result of Gobert adding more weight to an already ponderous Jazz offense.

3. More Turnovers

Turnovers further choked Jazz scoring opportunities. The Jazz turned the ball over once more a game following the trade, and Gobert is predominantly responsible even in those cases where he did not turn the ball over himself. Like the areas above, his presence on the floor and lack of threatening offensive prowess has trickle-down effects on his teammates.

Consider that, for the season, lineups featuring Gobert turned the ball over 17.7 times per-100-possessions, tied with Dante Exum and Joe Ingles for highest among high-volume players. With Kanter on the floor before his departure the figure was just 15.6, right next to Trey Burke and Derrick Favors for lowest among rotation players. The Jazz never turned the ball over less frequently than the periods where Gobert sat.

Gobert’s preference to pass in situations where Kanter would shoot, combined with the added burden placed on the Jazz pick and roll and isolation games, means the team coughs up the ball a lot when Gobert is on the court. This had a huge impact on Jazz losses with Gobert starting. Of the 10 Jazz losses following the All-Star break, five were by three or fewer points – exactly how many additional points the Jazz gave up to the fast break after starting Gobert, nearly all of them the result of turnovers. Without the increase of turnovers and resulting fast break points, the Jazz’s record to end the season may have been nearer to 24 – 5.

4. Diminished Scoring at the Rim

Enes Kanter gets and makes layups. With Gobert playing in his stead, the team found more of its shots coming further out. Plus, they made fewer of the shots they did get at the rim.

With Gobert as a starter, the team took about 1.5 shots per game fewer near the rim, and made two fewer. That may not seem significant, but those four points must be made up somewhere where scoring is substantially less efficient, particularly for a poor three-point shooting team like the Jazz.

5. Strong Dependence on the Mid-range Game

With fewer shots near the rim, a team with marginal ability to make the three has no recourse but to score in between. Much has been said, written, and generally lamented about Jazz players’ penchant for taking long two-point shots, particularly Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward. But the Jazz offense to end last season really hinged on extreme efficiency from 10 to 14 feet.

With Kanter gone and Gobert an acknowledged non-option during most of an offensive set, players increasingly used the pick and roll and isolation to get the best shot they could. That “best shot” often came from between 10 and 14 feet. Both Hayward and Burke, the Jazz’s two primary offensive creators, increased their shot frequency in this area. More remarkably, Hayward, Burke, and Derrick Favors all shot significantly better from this area after the trade than before – and they did so while being assisted less often.

The actual numbers are striking.

Pre-All-Star to Post-All-Star Change in Shooting from 10 – 14 Feet

Hayward: +8.3% shooting, -1% assisted

Favors: +10% shooting, -8.9% assisted

Burke: +47.5% shooting, -39.1% assisted2

As a team, the Jazz shot 51.4% from this range to close the season, nearly 20% higher than anywhere outside five feet of the rim. If they had shot in the mid- to low-thirties on these shots as they did everything else but at the hoop, their points per game would have dropped from 94 to 92. Over the course of a season, that is on par with the tank-r-ific 76ers and Knicks.

With Rudy Gobert, the Jazz optimal offense last season often looked like this:

 

There is no question that Gobert is a major net asset, but that doesn’t negate the offensive liabilities he brings to the court. As the Jazz push for the playoffs next season against teams better prepared to contend with the Stifle Tower, they need to create more shots earlier in the shot clock, hold onto the ball, and a find a way to get more high percentage shots by the standards of their own players. The defense will be good, but it can’t win games alone.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

3 Comments

  1. Don says:

    Prior to the trade (dump) of Kanter, the offense often relied on a Kanter iso. Without Kanter, the offense often relies on the ability of the point guard to penetrate and create, and we have perhaps the 2 worst penetrate/creators in the league.

    We assume that that problem will eventually be resolved by player development or trade, so we just need to be patient.

    Keep in mind the Kanter iso offense had already reached near it’s performance ceiling, where as the motion offense has very high ceiling, which the Jazz is no where close to sniffing at this point.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I agree that the Jazz offense will improve significantly as Exum and Burke develop, and I’m confident both will (Exum by leaps and bounds). That said, I do think Kanter would have improved both his jump shooting and his passing in the regular course of his development; I also think he would have mitigated his propensity for turnovers. Most of that loss has been compensated for with Derrick Favors’ offensive improvement, but Gobert is still an offensive liability greater than Kanter ever was. Until Gobert (and Exum) develop respectable offensive games by the standards of their positions, Utah’s offense will bog down and be limited. As long as both of them struggle, points will be awfully hard to come by sometimes.

      • Don says:

        Agreed.

        Exum seems to be very measured and focused in his development. He repeatedly talked about his working on his defensive development first. So far so good on that front. If he puts that same focus into utilizing his physical abilities on offensive growth, we will see an entirely different Dante this year.

        Gobert has a very different personality than Dante, but seems to echo the same approach. He knew that D would get him playing time, and now it’s time to start focusing on offensive development. Making the effort to work with Nowitki’s shooting coach confirms his mind set.

        Both players were a real drag on the team offensively, but I’m not sure where their ceilings are. If they are both as focused and determined as they appear to be, we are in for a fun season.

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