Rudy Gobert is the most intriguing young talent currently playing for the Utah Jazz.
No one really has an idea of what kind of player Gobert can morph into in the coming years. Trey Burke’s path is laid out ahead of him pretty clearly, and the impact he can have on a team has already been felt. Gobert, however, with his gargantuan 7’9″ wingspan, remains a mystery.
The 21-year-old Gobert was playing professionally in France just last year (his English is strikingly good, by the way), but hasn’t played many minutes for the Jazz this season. Part of that is due to the fact that basketball in Europe has some very different elements to it than what we are used to in the NBA. For one, offensive goaltending—a call Gobert has been whistled for several times this season—doesn’t exist in Europe.
Aside from the sharp learning curve Gobert is experiencing this year, the French center weighs only 245 pounds. Contrast that with Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, who is two inches shorter at 6’11” but weighs a sturdy 285 pounds.
In Europe, Gobert was able to use his natural length and athleticism to overpower the competition, almost all of whom were much smaller than him. In the NBA, though, he has to figure out how to defend players who outweigh him almost on a nightly basis.
One thing Gobert doesn’t have to adjust is his ability to block shots at the rim. In 25 minutes of action Tuesday night during a home loss to Minnesota, Gobert blocked three shots in quick succession. The Timberwolves soon stopped attacking the paint while Gobert was in the game—simple as that. Gobert was able to shut down Minnesota’s inside game in a few short minutes during the second quarter.
His innate ability to block shots is what intrigues me the most about Gobert. The NBA will always provide a home to players who can block shots and anchor a defense, and while Gobert is far from being a defensive stalwart, he has the talent to develop into that type of player.
Development for the future is an overriding theme this season for the Jazz, but until the team’s young core matures, we’ll be looking toward the future quite a bit in Salt Lake City. It’s obvious that Gobert has talent—and it’s not all on the defensive end. He had one moment in the second quarter of the game against the Timberwolves when he tried to get the ball to a cutting Marvin Williams only to have it kicked out of bounds by Minnesota. As the season progresses, he’s showing more offensive aptitude, which could turn into a huge bonus for Utah down the road.
Gobert managed to post eight points, six rebounds and one assist in 25 minutes of play Tuesday night, and if he can consistently turn in numbers like that for Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin, the Jazz may have just found themselves a valuable backup center.
What kind of a career arc can we expect to see from Gobert, as not many players taken at No. 27 in the draft proceed to become franchise-changing players? In Utah’s draft history, the Jazz have had two other picks at No. 27 in the first round—Howard Wood in 1981 and Jacque Vaughn in 1997. Vaughn is currently the head coach of the Orlando Magic and is doing a respectable job with that young club.
Vaughn averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 assists in his 12 seasons as an NBA player. His statistical impact on the game wasn’t huge, but he stuck around in the league until he retired in 2009. Obviously, Vaughn had skills that were of value to NBA teams.
Gobert has a much higher ceiling in terms of numbers—he could easily average 10 points and six rebounds (and maybe more than that) a night in a bench role. He can also change the flow of a game simply by being on the court. If Gobert can develop properly, he could end up being a taller version of Tyson Chandler.
Hopefully the second half of this season will see Gobert getting more time on the court in order to help speed along his development.