On December 14th, the Utah Jazz assigned Rudy Gobert and Ian Clark to the Bakersfield Jam, Utah’s D-League affiliate. With the recent emergence of Jeremy Evans as a rotation player, and coach Tyrone Corbin’s move to give Andris Biedrins the minutes Gobert was getting, (Biedrins was injured for a good chunk of the season with a sprained ankle) Clark and Gobert weren’t able to find minutes on the court. Now, they have an opportunity to let their talents shine and gain some vital in-game experience and development.
A lot of fans mistakenly think of the D-League as the place where rookies go to die, because they’re not quite able to earn the minutes on an NBA court. However, most players end up in the D-League simply because they have the raw talent to play in the NBA, but need to be put through a bit of a refiner’s fire before they’re really ready for night-in and night-out NBA action.
Consider recent D-League call-up Diante Garrett. Garrett played pre-season basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was sent to the D-League, then called up by the Jazz. Since his call-up, Garrett has stuck around as a solid backup for Trey Burke, and a large part of his success can be credited to his developmental league experience.
Now, consider Gobert – he’s a player with an interesting basketball resume. Playing for France in the FIBA under-20 championship in 2011 and 2012, Gobert won the bronze and silver medal respectively. He saw two seasons in French pro hoops, playing for Cholet Basket, and also saw time on the French olympic team practice squad. Comparing his basketball experience of most other NBA players, Gobert doesn’t exactly measure up, but his incredible length and athleticism attracted NBA scouts to his talents.
Up until Saturday, when Gobert wasn’t seeing minutes with the Jazz, it was clear that he had a lot of growing up to do in terms of basketball knowledge. The game is played differently over in Europe (the goaltending calls being some of the most obvious), and the European leagues don’t have nearly the talent that the NBA does. Couple that along with the fact that Gobert didn’t play college basketball, and you could see why the Jazz would be eager for him to get minutes and playing time in. The D-League just happens to be the best place for Gobert to do that.
Clark is a different story. Clark boasted the third-best three-point percentage last season in NCAA DI basketball, and led his Belmont Bruins to a second-round NCAA Tournament defeat to Arizona. While Clark certainly is more familiar with the NBA game than Gobert is, he also has certain elements of his game that need a little fine-tuning before Clark’s ready to go as a regular contributor for the Jazz.
A D-League assignment is in no way a bad thing, and for these two players, it could end up being a great way for them to gain confidence in their game, before coming back to Utah and helping this Jazz team win a few more road games.
As they’ve played in the D-League, Gobert and Clark have both put their marvelous talent on display. In their first outing with the Jam on Sunday against the Reno Bighorns, Gobert and Clark showed at once why they both received contracts from the Jazz. Gobert posted 16 points and 14 rebounds, while Clark added 14 points and 6 rebounds.
In the Jam’s most recent game, Wednesday against the Idaho Stampede, Gobert put up 16 and 14 again while Clark contributed 8 points and 6 assists, to hand the Stampede their first loss of the D-League season.
Gobert is simply a machine when it comes to rebounds, and if he can translate that skill to the NBA, he’ll be an incredible player. Rebounding was one of his most vaunted qualities from NBA scouts before the draft, and Gobert looks to be exceeding those expectations.
Clark also showed promise, going 2-6 from behind the arc in the Jam’s loss to the Bighorns, and 1-2 against Idaho. The thing that stands out most from Clark’s performances, though, is the fact that he can distribute the ball in addition to being able to shoot. Clark has 8 assists in two games, which is right around the average you’d expect from a starting guard in the NBA.
Hopefully, this D-League stint can help Gobert and Clark improve and hone their talents for future use in Salt Lake City.