Rudy Gobert will be the key for the Utah Jazz to outmatch the LA Clippers

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 27: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers and Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz fight for position on February 27, 2019 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 27: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers and Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz fight for position on February 27, 2019 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

If the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers meet in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, Rudy Gobert’s impact could very well be the factor that determines victory or defeat.

This offseason has seen the NBA landscape get turned upside down. With more star players changing teams than ever before, it’s been an absolute whirlwind summer, with some teams undergoing massive improvements, others being forced to rebuild for the future, and seemingly several squads doing their best to play for a championship in a field that’s as wide open as it’s been in several years.

Among those teams going all in, the Utah Jazz are certainly one of the most intriguing. They made all the right moves this summer to patch up several glaring weaknesses and improve dramatically in terms of talent. For a hot minute, they were all the rage even among the national media as a team that had a chance to be the best in the West.

Then, in one quick peppering of Woj Bombs, all of a sudden the LA Clippers swooped in and undeniably stole the title of preseason favorite. By adding Kawhi Leonard in free agency and subsequently pulling off a massive trade to bring in Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers became the team that most are expecting to be the best in the West.

Sure, their regular season record may say otherwise with PG recovering from shoulder surgeries and Kawhi Leonard almost certain to undergo a load management program once again in 2019-20, but we’re talking best teams come playoff time. And from where we’re sitting, the star-studded and loaded Clippers look like the team at the top of the hill.

That said, the Utah Jazz still figure to be a powerhouse of their own. Whether they will be better than the other teams in the West such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets or Houston Rockets remains to be seen, and if we tried to predict what seed they’d land as and what kind of playoff power they’d be, we’d be getting far too ahead of ourselves.

However, if we operate under the assumption that the Clippers and Jazz will be among the best in the West – an entirely reasonable projection – then it isn’t farfetched to presume that the two could meet in an epic playoff showdown between two heavyweights. The one in LA featuring a star-studded duo and a deep bench. The other in Utah boasting several fringe All-Stars looking to bust out this season alongside arguably the most well-rounded roster in the NBA.

But if these two prospective behemoths were to meet in the postseason, one man in a Jazz uniform could very well be the key to securing a victory for Utah. That man, as should come as little surprise, is Rudy Gobert.

Now, in some ways this might feel like something of a ‘no duh’ statement considering that Gobert is already Utah’s most important player as the anchor of their defense and a staple in their offense as a screener for the prolific ball handlers and a roll-man extraordinaire in the pick-and-roll. The past few seasons have shown us clearly that when Rudy Gobert is at his best and isn’t neutralized by opponents, the Jazz are a daunting foe to beat.

However, when Gobert’s strengths are mitigated or when he’s absent or ineffective for whatever reason, the Jazz suffer mightily. More often than not he, as a rule of thumb, is the deciding factor in victory versus defeat for the Jazz.

So while you could argue that he’s the key in just about any series, that’s even more the case against the LA Clippers. Allow me to explain.

The Clippers are going to be a daunting foe no matter how you look at it as they’re led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. As much as Jazz fans like to poke fun about how Joe Ingles shut down ‘Playoff P’ in the playoffs two years ago (and don’t get me wrong, he did), George is still a sensational player. In fact, he’s far better than the collective masses of the Utah faithful give him credit for due to the small sample size that was the first round of the 2018 Playoffs.

Not only that, but he’ll be in an entirely different situation with Leonard as his running-mate instead of Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is dangerous, but force him into mid-range shots (as much as possible) and he can be contained. This allowed the Jazz to put an emphasis and focus on reeling in George as a top Thunder threat. However, for Kawhi there really is no answer.

The Jazz certainly don’t have one, but neither does the rest of the league, if we’re being honest. Sure, Royce O’Neale and to some extent Joe Ingles (when he’s not marking PG) could challenge Kawhi, but their ceiling will be merely slowing him down and little else.

With Leonard taking up so much attention and being so difficult to deny, less attention will be allowed to be placed on George, which should make him an absolutely scintillating weapon. Oh yeah, and in talking about these two players only, we’re ignoring the fact that the Clippers also have pitbull Patrick Beverley as the starting point guard who’s prolific on defense and a solid deep-ball shooter.

They also have prolific bench players in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who are deadly scorers. They have a dead-eye shooter in Landry Shamet and a defensive specialist and shooting threat in Moe Harkless. In short, this team has a lot of weapons and is well-rounded on both ends of the court.

Save for one spot where there is indeed a glaring weakness.

That spot just so happens to be the one directly across from the Utah Jazz’s mighty Rudy Gobert – the center position.

LA’s likely starter at the center spot is Ivica Zubac, who is a promising young talent in his own right. However, Zubac is far from being known for any semblance of defensive prowess and is a matchup in which the Stifle Tower should be able to thrive.

Behind Zubac on the depth chart is Montrezl Harrell who, in my opinion, is one of the more underrated players in the game. He’s also a better defender than Zubac in a vacuum, as he can grind with the best of them and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work if that’s what it requires to challenge a bigger opponent.

But therein lies the exact problem the Clippers face with Harrell. He’s definitely undersized for a center, measuring in at six-foot-eight. Gobert only has five pounds on Montrezl, but he has five whole inches. Sure, Harrell is known for badgering even the best of bigs with his gritty D, but it remains a matchup in which Rudy should still have the edge due to his size.

And if the Jazz hope to win a series against the Clippers, they’d absolutely need him to hold that edge.

The other guy that the Clippers could potentially throw at Rudy is yet another solid member of LA’s depth in JaMychal Green. But there again, Green is only an inch taller than Harrell and is actually about 13 pounds lighter. Yet again, Rudy should be able to take advantage in a big way.

That said, even though one would assume Gobert could outmatch any one of those three big men, that might not be a safe prediction to make if Rudy doesn’t make massive strides from a season ago. What I mean is, although Gobert has improved significantly in terms of catching the ball and challenging opponents in the paint, he’s still not where he needs to be to truly take advantage of opposing bigs the way the Jazz would need him to in a playoff series against the Clippers.

Rudy needs to improve his offensive repertoire to where he has at least some semblance of a move he can use to get the ball up and over shorter but stronger players like Harrell or Green. He also needs to get stronger with the ball in his hands so he can muscle through equally tall opponents such as Zubac and still get to the rack. He also needs to improve as a free throw shooter so that when all his foe can hope to do is foul him, he will still make them pay.

Luckily, I feel confident that each of those items is within Rudy’s wheelhouse and taking a leap in all those areas is very much within his realm of possibilities. He may already be at a point currently where he could topple any one of them. If he improves in those areas this summer, there will be no question.

With such being the case, the hope would be that while Leonard acts as a difficult force for the Jazz to stop, meanwhile Gobert would punish LA’s bigs on the other end of the floor, forcing them into frustration or seeking other answers to hold Rudy in check.

As much as it pains me to say it, the Jazz will have a hard time matching wits with Leonard and George. But it’s within Gobert’s power to level the playing field. And the mismatches he alone can create could very well be Utah’s key to overcoming the team that is projected to be the favorite in the West.

Next. Royce O'Neale should start at the four spot. dark

A lot remains to be seen as to which teams, including the Jazz and Clippers, are able to live up to their hype and ascend the ranks in the Western Conference. But if Utah and LA manage to meet expectations, we could very well see them face one another in the postseason, wherein Rudy Gobert’s impact could make all the difference between victory and defeat.