Utah Jazz editorial: A Rudy Gobert appreciation post

Rudy Gobert has done so much in seven years for the Utah Jazz, and too much of it has been taken for granted by Jazz fans. Here are some reasons for why we need to appreciate the stifle tower for who he is.

The month of March hasn’t been very kind to the Utah Jazz, or anyone in that matter. My worst hope was that the end of College and NBA basketball would have to be played without any spectators in the stands.

The reality? Much worse. There is no more basketball (or sports) for the foreseeable future thanks to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It’s absolutely the right thing to do, as health and safety for the fans and the players is priority one.

But it sure does stink for those of us that were looking forward to the stretch run and playoffs for the NBA. This year was especially supposed to be fun given that several new championship contenders have joined the fray, and the hope was that the Jazz would be one of those new contenders.

Not too surprisingly, a lot of NBA fans are a little mad at Rudy Gobert right now. He was the first player to be tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back, not just for NBA basketball, but for all sports and public gatherings.

In my opinion we should all be thanking him for helping us take this pandemic more seriously than we would be otherwise, but unfortunately there is just a lot of negative energy out there for people unfamiliar with who the real Rudy Gobert is.

For those who don’t know, or who would like a reminder, let me tell you a little bit about the Rudy Gobert that I’ve come to know and love in my 13 years as a Jazz fan.

Development

Rudy declared for the NBA draft at one of the most perfect times to fly under the radar. That draft was particularly weak, and everyone knew it would be from the get-go. The top overall pick was Anthony Bennett, and the Jazz’s big acquisition of the 2013 NBA draft was originally Trey Burke.

There were a few virtual unknowns playing overseas that decided to take there talents to the NBA, as there always are. Outside of freak-ish body measurements and loads of room to grow, nobody knew much about these players.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th overall as a bit of a flier pick. There was no guarantee that he would pan out as an NBA player given his lack of skills developed. He’s grown into arguably the best player in the world and is yet to hit his ceiling yet.

The other, was Rudy Gobert. He came out of the draft combine with the highest max vertical reach since DeAndre Jordan was tested in 2009. His wingspan was 7-foot-9 and his standing reach was 9-foot-7.

The Utah Jazz were wildly impressed by his workout in Salt Lake City, and shipped off a second round pick and some cash to buy him from the Denver Nuggets on draft night. I particularly remember his confidence immediately upon being drafted.

He had high expectations for himself to become “one of the best players in the NBA“. When I first heard those comments I was a doubter, and I was just hoping he’d stick around to be a serviceable backup center.

But just like a lot of other doubters, Rudy Gobert would go on to prove me wrong.

After a rookie year that wasn’t too much to write home about (25 wins and virtually no playing time), the Utah Jazz hired Quin Snyder to take over coaching duties. Him and assistant coach Alex Jensen deserve some credit for unlocking the massive potential of the 7-foot-1 Frenchman.

via The Players’ Tribune:

“Quin really surprised me the first time we met. It was in training camp in September 2014. I had just spent the summer playing in the World Cup for the French national team. To be honest, I didn’t think Coach knew who I was. One of the first conversations we had, he came up to me and told me he had watched every game France played in the World Cup…

I remember what Coach said. He told me that he wanted me to play every single game the way I had played against Spain — that as long as he was my coach, he was going to push me to my limit. I didn’t know him very well but I could tell that he was serious. He was serious about coaching and serious about building a team in Utah that people wouldn’t be able to overlook.”

He performed well in the 2014 Summer League games, and even better during the FIBA World Cup.  His playing time slowly started going up throughout the regular season, until it became clear that he was the present, not just the future, of the Utah Jazz.

Dennis Lindsey shipped off Enes Kanter, who was feeling disgruntled in Utah anyway, and the plane took off from there. Gobert immediately became the most important player to the Utah Jazz on both ends of the floor, not just as a defensive specialist.

Offense

Quin Snyder was able to use Rudy’s large frame to rack up screen assists, a metric which Gobert has dominated for a half-decade. His offensive efficiency has been through the roof, and he set a new NBA record for dunks in a season.

Dunks and layups are the most sought-after shot in basketball, just talk to any basketball coach if you don’t believe me. The Jazz offense performs much better with Rudy on the floor than it does with him off the floor, and that’s been constant for the past five years.

And we haven’t even mentioned his defense yet.

Defense

This is where Rudy has made his case for the Hall of Fame, arising as one of the most defiant rim protectors in the history of the league. Before the season was suspended last week, Gobert was a contender for the Defensive Player of the Year award, which would have been a three-peat for him.

He’s quietly developed a better feel for perimeter defense too, as Trae Young learned last November when he tried to take Rudy off the dribble.

The Atlanta Hawks’ commentator Dominique Wilkins said “this should be interesting” before the play took place, most likely implying that he thought Trae would get an easy bucket. Interesting it was, but not the way Wilkins envisioned it to be.

His defensive strengths are very well cited on every Jazz blog out there, but something I’d like to point out is Rudy’s intangibles.

Leadership

His leadership is among the finest I’ve seen in my 13 years of watching the NBA. He leads by example, demanding the best out of everyone on both ends of the court as well as playing hard himself.

He’s the most unselfish player on the Jazz, constantly making winning plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet at all. If there was a metric for opposing offenses altered out of the paint, Gobert would lead that metric by a mile.

He holds them accountable on defense while also being willing to clean up their mistakes with his rim protecting ability.

He’s the most candid Jazz player in the locker room, always being vocal this season about the struggles of the team while everyone else was trying to hush up and try to forget about it.

Although he’s the first to point out the team’s struggles, he’s also the first player to tell you this team has championship aspirations and potential.

He believes in his team and in his teammates. It’s that same confidence he showed on draft night nearly seven years ago.

Dominance

He plays instinctively in the clutch situations, and is the result of several Jazz wins this season that would have been lost otherwise. Against the Pelicans (date) and Raptors (date), he either fouled out or was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter. The Jazz went on to lose both games.

How many players are in this league that instantly give you a top-flight offense or defense? Similarly, how many players are there in the world that alter the way opponents play against them? Lastly, how many players make their team and teammates play significantly better while they are on the floor?

Rudy is in elite company with LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Giannis Antetokounmpo as far as forcing opponents to game-plan his team.

If you drop him on any team in the league, even the New York freakin Knicks, I guarantee you that team can make the playoffs. That’s the kind of overall impact Rudy brings to an NBA team, and that’s something we should never take for granted as Jazz fans.

Next: Mitchell remains symptom-free in isolation

It’s why I stand with the faction of Utah Jazz fans that wouldn’t flinch if Rudy signed a supermax deal to stay in Utah.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.

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