Fitting In – Where Does Rudy Gobert Stand?

Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein NBAEPhoto: Andrew D. Bernstein NBAE

Finding a big man in the NBA is tough.

The Utah Jazz are in quite a unique situation, one that every general manager in the NBA should be envious of – Utah has several talented young big men. While scoring guards and versatile small forwards are a dime a dozen these days in the league, finding quality big men has become the holy grail of scouting over the last decade. Teams without size have a significant disadvantage nearly every time they step on the court against a team with a long center and pair of forwards. Take the Indiana Pacers, for example; their size is a huge reason as to why they’ve managed to give the Miami Heat a run for their money these past two post-seasons. Only the heroics of LeBron James have propelled the Heat to back-to-back championships.

This season, however, the Jazz find themselves with a stunning array of frontcourt talent. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the starting big men, and backing them up is Jeremy Evans, Andris Biedrins, and Rudy Gobert. Of the three backup big men for Utah, Gobert is the most intriguing to me.

Gobert is a player with not exactly a long resume of basketball experience. Born in France in 1992, Gobert grew up playing in youth leagues, and ended up winning a bronze medal in the 2011 FIBA Under-20 Championships, followed by a silver medal in 2012 at the same tournament. Gobert saw professional action for Cholet Basket, playing in 29 games during the 2011-12 LNB season. He averaged 4.2 points per game to go along with 3.6 rebounds. During the 2012-13 season, Gobert saw his minutes increase, and a healthy following of NBA executives at nearly all of his Pro A France games.

So what caught the eye of these NBA scouts? What drew them to spending time and energy watching Gobert? Well, for one thing, Gobert set a couple of records at the NBA draft combine – his wingspan is 7’9”, and he has a standing reach of 9’7”. He is the longest player to ever play basketball in the NBA. Coupled with all that length, Gobert is also incredibly athletic for his size. His body fat percentage hovers around 5%. He’s in incredible shape, and he’s displayed quite a lot of talent around the rim, some of which we saw last week during preseason games in Los Angeles.

Gobert has the potential to become a very good center. He could become that player who is a stalwart defensive leader, protecting the rim and making guards think twice about running into the paint for a layup. He also has a nice talent on the offensive end as well; his Pro A France league highlights are stuffed full of ridiculous put-back dunks. Since Gobert is the longest player on the floor, he can snag more offensive rebounds than a lot of other big men.

So where could Gobert fit in with the Jazz? Obviously, he’s going to have a steep learning curve in the NBA, as every rookie does. But is he going to see big bench minutes behind Kanter and Favors, or will he see more limited minutes behind Biedrins and Evans?

With a rotator cuff injury to Evans and an ankle injury to Biedrins, Gobert was the first big off the bench for coach Tyrone Corbin Wednesday night during the season opener against Oklahoma City. Gobert came in for Kanter, making him the five man on the floor alongside Favors. Having Gobert’s length coupled with Favors’ defense prowess proved an effective defensive tool all night long for the Jazz – the Thunder beat Utah primarily on mid-range jump shots.

Gobert had 7 rebounds and 2 points in his NBA debut Wednesday, but he did a lot of things that don’t always show up in the stat sheet. While he looked timid early on in the game, he settled in soon and showed that he has a good grasp of this offense. Utah’s flex offense isn’t the easiest scoring system to learn, as it requires a lot of reads and quick cuts and screens. However, Gobert showed aptitude and didn’t make any glaring mistakes. For a rookie debut, Gobert did pretty well.

In fact, with the game on the line late against the Thunder, Gobert stayed in until the 2:58 mark, when Kanter came in to finish out the game. Now, I know this is only one game, and two big men who were supposedly ahead of Gobert in the rotation are injured, but where can Gobert fit into the rotation this season for Utah?

“I just feel better game after game, i just try to do what coach asks me to, play defense, rebound. Just doing what coach asks me too,” Gobert said.

Defense and rebounding were big themes of Gobert’s Pro A France days, and if he can bring even more rebounding and defense to Utah’s frontcourt, that’s only going to help the Jazz in the long run.

After Wednesday night’s game, I think Gobert is going to find himself getting more rotation minutes, even when Biedrins and Evans manage to come back from injury. He’s willing to do the dirty work to help his team win, and that attitude should only serve to get him as much playing time as he can handle. Gobert said he wants to focus on, “Getting stronger, get more playing time, be more efficient, and just learn, keep learning.”

If Gobert can keep learning as he has so far, he’s going to work himself into the rotation simply because Corbin won’t be able to keep him off the court. While he may steal some minutes from Evans, Gobert has the chance to be one of the steals of this past draft.

Another enticing aspect of having Gobert as the primary big off the bench is his ability to block shots and defend the rim. WIth Gobert, the Jazz have potential to have shot-blocking on the court for 48 minutes every night. With Favors already making a name for himself as a swat-master, Gobert can come in off the bench and hopefully keep up Favors’ defensive presence. For a team that’s suffered defending the paint for the past few years, with under-sized big’s manning the paint, having such length and versatility defensively is a huge asset.

While Gobert may just be a rookie he’s showing a lot of upside. I think he’ll definitely find himself getting 20-25 minutes per night, and he could be a decent fill-in starter should Kanter or Favors be sidelined with injury.

It’ll be exciting to see what Gobert can do this season.

Spencer Durrant is an avid sports fan and fisherman. He’s a lover of classic rock and Sundays filled with football. You can find him on Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant
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