Despite suffering multiple injuries throughout the season, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was still productive and led one of the best defenses in the NBA.
On May 26, the NBA released the final results of the voting for the All-Defensive teams and for the second straight year, there was a very noticeable absentee. Despite passing the eye test and having the stats worthy to be included in either the first or second team, Rudy Gobert finished with the most votes for a player who missed the cut for the second time in as many years.
Gobert finished third in the league with 2.1 blocked shots per game and was sixth in the league with 11 rebounds per game. He also averaged 9.1 points per contest on 56 percent shooting from the field to go along with 1.5 assists in just under 32 minutes per game.
The seven-foot-one center out of France just finished his third season with the Utah Jazz. He made a name for himself in his second season when he anchored a suffocating defense and helped his team finish the season winning 19 of the 29 games after he was moved into the starting lineup.
His 2015-16 season had some bright moments as well, but there were also some big bumps in the road.
There’s no way that “defense” isn’t the first word you think of when you hear the name Rudy Gobert. At 41 percent, Gobert led the league with the lowest field goal percentage allowed at the rim. DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside (the two centers who made the All-Defensive teams over Gobert) allowed 46.6 and 46.9 percent shooting at the rim respectively.
With a nine-foot-nine standing reach and a seven-foot-nine wingspan, the Stifle Tower is a lot more valuable to the team defensively than stats will ever show. When Gobert is on the court, the wing players are able to be more aggressive going for steals; they know if their man gets past them, then they’ll have to deal with Gobert at the rim.
The team defense that head coach Quin Snyder has built with Gobert as the centerpiece allowed 95.9 points per game, which was good for second best in the NBA. The only team that allowed fewer points per game was the 67-win San Antonio Spurs.
The next seven teams (Raptors, Cavaliers, Heat, Hawks, Clippers, Pacers and Hornets) all made the playoffs, putting the Jazz in elite company defensively.
Unfortunately for Gobert, one of his biggest strengths from his breakout 2014-15 season turned into one of his biggest weaknesses this past season. Other than Dante Exum, Gobert was the only player to play in all 82 games during the 2014-15 campaign.
In April, while the Jazz were wrapping up the season against the Los Angeles Lakers, Gobert (who didn’t even travel with the team) missed the game due a severely sprained ankle he suffered the game before against the Dallas Mavericks. The injury was the third separate injury he suffered during the season that kept him sidelined.
On December 2, 2015, Gobert injured his left knee in practice and would go on to miss the next 18 games from December 5 to January 7. When all was said and done, Gobert missed 21 games and the Jazz went 7-14 in those games.
When Gobert was healthy and on the court, the Jazz went 33-28 (.541). While injuries are often times unavoidable, a healthy Gobert is a must for the Jazz to get back to playing playoff basketball.
The 2016-17 season is the last season of the rookie contract Gobert signed with the team in the summer of 2013. The Jazz have had several players like Gobert, who are important to the future of the team, reach the end of their rookie contracts in the past few seasons.
I see two scenarios that could potentially play out to keep Gobert in a Jazz uniform for the next few seasons. There’s the Derrick Favors and Alec Burks route, where both the player and the front office agree to a contract extension before the October 31 deadline. Or there is the path it took to keep Gordon Hayward in Utah, where the team offers the player a qualifying offer, making them a restricted free agent.
Gobert said during his locker room clean out interview with David Locke that this offseason, he would like to improve his lower body strength and his base. With Gobert being goal oriented this summer and focusing on the small fundamental details of his game, this upcoming season could be the best of his young career.
While he won’t become an offensive powerhouse in one offseason, a bump up to a double digit point per game average isn’t unrealistic. And one thing you can count on with Gobert is his continual growth on the defensive end, which has helped the Utah Jazz increase their win total over the past two seasons as they inch toward becoming a playoff team.