While the Utah Jazz are in the midst of a current six-game losing streak, it is important to acknowledge and analyze the struggles. It is also just as important to remember and review the positives.
Rudy Gobert’s growth this season has certainly been a highlight. His play has been encouraging and has Jazz faithful excited and optimistic about the young big man.
As a rookie, the lithe 7’1″ French center showed flashes of being a strong rebounder and an active, capable defender. He also exhibited typical rookie big men traits – poor free throw shooting, the occasional bobbled basketball and the every-now-and-then missed rotation on defense. But the potential was definitely evident. His off-the-chart wingspan, size and mobility were and are enticing.
Most thought that it would take a few years for Gobert to develop, and it may indeed take that long for him to fully become the player he can become. But, in many ways, he is ahead of schedule. Along with Gordon Hayward’s stellar jump1, Gobert is easily one of the most improved players on the Utah roster. And he’s getting the attention of NBA experts.
First, Gobert’s solid summer was well documented. He was the best player on the court during most of the Jazz’s summer league outings in Las Vegas. He was imposing defensively, clearly showing his superiority over the other entries’ front courts. Gobert also showed great aggressiveness offensively–at times, it felt like he was dunking everything. He averaged 11.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 2.5 BPG, while making 19 of 26 shots (73.1 percent). The advanced stats were even more impressive – 27.7 PER, 22.7 TRB%, 8.2 BLK% and .693 TS%. Yes, he was going against many bigs who are not NBA caliber players, but still.
His experience with France’s FIBA team was another confidence-builder. With a talented roster, Gobert’s time was up and down, but he made the most of it. His game against the Gasol brothers was clearly a highlight, as he was defensively dominant down the stretch. In nine games, he tallied 4.1 PPG and 4.7 RPG, while shooting 72.7 percent. Gobert proved that he can hold his own against some of the game’s best.
Needless to say, Gobert came into Utah’s training camp ready to play and he quickly got the new coaching staff’s attention. From his first days on the job, it was clear that head coach Quin Snyder was a big Gobert backer. He repeatedly expressed his excitement about the big man’s potential and he was given ample opportunities to display his abilities in the preseason. As one of the team’s most consistent performers, Gobert put up 7.4 PPG and 9.0 RPG, while showing some slick passing skills. He once again was an advanced stat darling, evidenced by his 22.6 PER and 24.4 TRB%.
Now, let’s take a look at how his regular season is going. Here are his raw numbers from his first two seasons.
His playing time was sporadic during his rookie campaign, so while he’s averaging just 16.3 MPG this year, that is a sizeable jump2. A few things easily stick out. He has more than doubled his scoring, while not doubling his on-court time. His shooting has climbed up dramatically. It should also be noted that a solidportion of his rookie minutes were in blowout games against second and third stringers. This year, he is going against more front liners. The advanced stats are where Gobert’s improvement really shows.
The increase from last year’s 12.9 PER to this year’s 18.8 mark is very impressive for a second-year big man, especially one who is playing more against stiffer competition. His BLK% is elite, his passing has improved and his turnovers have gone down. Gobert’s defensive rebounding has dropped – something that is a concern for most of the Jazz front court – but his offensive boarding is still very strong. What is exciting is his jump from .045 WS/48 min to .137. That shows Gobert is helping the Jazz immensely when he’s on the floor.
His boost in True Shooting Percentage can be attributed to a number of factors. Gobert is stronger physically and with a year under his belt, it’s showing in the way he’s finishing–66.0 percent on 0-3-feet shots (up from 58.6 percent). He is also more decisive and aggressive, as shown by his 21 shooting fouls drawn (23 last year). The familiarity with teammates is also a big thing. Nearly 70 percent of his baskets are assisted and through 18 games, Gobert has 23 dunks – 48.2 percent of his made shots. He had just 14 all last season.
Monday was a great example of how far he’s come. With Favors out with the flu, Gobert stepped up in a major way, as Salt City Hoops editor Andy Larsen detailed. While he had a defensive lapse or two, which elicited the “teaching moment” with Snyder, he was the catalyst for the second half comeback. Gobert single-handedly changed Denver’s approach. Their guards were not penetrating as much and the Nuggets became more reliant on their perimeter shooting. Beyond that, he was snagging rebounds and added a few baskets to boost. As Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan tweeted, Gobert being in down the stretch is something to notice.
Lastly, it is easy to see that Gobert works hard out there. He constantly gives great effort. I’m one who believes that working hard is a talent and this will aid Gobert’s continued growth. You also have to appreciate his attitude: after being unfairly mocked after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan emphatically dunked on him, Gobert’s Twitter response was classic.
All in all, Gobert has been a bright spot. It would make sense for him to see increased playing time, as he continues to get better each passing game. As time passes, the fact that he was drafted 27th in the 2013 Draft and the Jazz got him for a song3 is one that makes me happy. It would not surprise me to see Gobert dubbed one of the big steals of that class.
He is undoubtedly a big part of the Jazz’s future, both literally and figuratively.