When word broke earlier in the week that both Ian Clark and Rudy Gobert had been sent down to the D-League for their second stint, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, they’d each get some much-need minutes, some time to develop their game and get into some sort of rhythm, something they haven’t been given the chance to do in their time with the Jazz so far. I’m having a hard time believing my eyes on this one, but it looks like the last time Gobert saw any NBA action was in a scoreless, six-minute stint against the Sacramento Kings on December 11. On the other hand, I’m struggling to understand why a shot-altering, long defender can’t get any time on a team that’s been at the bottom or near the bottom defensively all year.
In Gobert’s five-game stint with the Bakersfield Jam, he averaged 13.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks per game in 28.4 minutes of play. Yes, it’s the D-League, but those are solid numbers, nonetheless. But two things have stood out to me: 1. the rebounding numbers, and 2. his free-throw percentage.
Rebounding is one of the areas where I think we can hope for, and maybe even expect, for Gobert to be consistent. We see that he’s raw and unpolished, so we expect inconsistency on the offensive end, but we hope for some consistency in rebounding. So seeing these consistent rebounding numbers—double digits in every game—are encouraging.
What’s impressed me even more is Gobert’s improving free-throw shooting. When playing for the Jazz, he’s been shooting 42.4% from the line, worse than Shaq or Dwight-like numbers. In his five games in the D-League so far, he’s shooting 61.3% from the line—including 5-7 from the line in his last game—so we can see that he’s putting in the time to improve his free-throw shooting.
Also, in his last game, he had his best offensive performance, shooting 7-9 from the floor for 19 points to go along with 11 rebounds (six offensive, five defensive). He also tallied one assist, one block, and one steal, so he’s doing other things to help the team win, as well.
Backtracking a bit, in a great article on Hardwood Paroxysm yesterday, Derek James tackled the topic of the D-League and its lessening stigma, and specifically the case with Shabazz Muhammad. These two paragraphs were interesting:
Speaking with former D-Leaguers in the summer league helped me understand a lot about how the league benefits players that come through it. Not only are players able to stay in the same country as their friends and family, but they get the opportunity to play basketball in front of important basketball players. Several players such as Anthony Tolliver and Glen Rice Jr. have used the league to showcase their abilities and eventually get a foot in the door of the NBA when, in past years, they may have had to make the choice between playing overseas or remaining in the NBA as some team’s 13th man.
Yet, there is still a stigma that comes with a D-League demotion that is more prevalent than it is in Major League Baseball, perhaps because having those farm systems has been a part of its culture longer than you and I have been on this earth. However, as more teams get their own affiliate and learn to use it to get their developing players minutes and give their rotation players a way to ease back into the game after injury, maybe we’ll see that stigma fade. Maybe calling it a demotion doesn’t help, but doesn’t carry the same connotation when used in baseball or even hockey, so why should it be a negative one with the NBA? Like it has in other major sports league, the NBA just needs to get theirs fully integrated and time will take care of the rest.
And Rudy himself had some similar thoughts when asked about his D-League stint by Sekou Smith:
“Everybody is probably not happy when they tell you they want you to do this, come to the D-League. I was not. I thought about it and I thought maybe it is not bad. I try to bring a positive attitude and say that it is good to get a chance to runs and play and see that it makes me better for the future. It’s good for me to get some playing time and just have fun.
“But I don’t want to say that it is better to be here than in Utah. I think anybody who is a professional would rather be in the NBA.”
Given Rudy’s improving game, hopefully there will be more minutes for him in 2014 because, as he said at the end of that article: “My hope and my goal is in about three years we can be trying for the title and, of course, I expect to be a big part of that.”
Until then, we’ll just continue to enjoy pictures like the one Ian Clark posted.