Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is becoming a defensive menace far quicker than anybody predicted.
At 22 years old, Gobert — a 7’2″, 240-pound center from France — is developing a reputation as one of the NBA’s best shot blockers and rim protectors, capable of changing offensive schemes because of his length.
Utah traded starting center Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline. Now, Gobert will get extended minutes and have a chance to prove himself as a foundational piece of the Jazz going forward.
Gobert declared for the NBA Draft in 2013 after playing several years in France. Like many young, raw big men, he was considered a “project,” a player who needed time to grow into his body and develop his skills.
DraftExpress’s Jonathan Givony wrote a draft profile on Gobert, noting his upside in many categories while acknowledging that he needed to strengthen his lengthy frame and improve significantly on the offensive end.
Givony concluded the profile by saying:
While Gobert is a little older than you might hope considering the stage of development he’s currently at both physically and skill-wise… there’s little doubt that he’s a prospect with significant upside still. If a NBA team feels he has the potential to put on significant weight in the next few years they could pick him very high on draft night, as players with his potential defensively can be game-changers in today’s NBA and are extremely difficult to come by.
Gobert’s offensive game still needs work — he doesn’t do much more than dunk — but his defensive improvement over the last year and a half has shocked the NBA.
Gobert has a 7’8″ wingspan and an absurd 9’7″ standing reach. His length makes him a force around the rim.
On Monday night against the Spurs, Gobert finished with 7 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He was matched up against Tim Duncan most of the night and guarded him with ease. At one point, he turned Duncan away with a block, then forced Kawhi Leonard into a missed layup simply with his length:
Later, he defended Duncan one-on-one and swatted his shot into the stands:
After the game, Duncan praised Gobert, saying, “He affects the game a lot. He is a rim-protector and a shot-blocker and he cleans up a lot of people’s mistakes. He has been great for them and this was another good game. He’s improving.”
Gobert has made highlights other times, denying what otherwise seem like sure dunk attempts:
His teammate Gordon Hayward described the significance of Gobert’s presence in the post to Basketball Insider’s Alex Kennedy, saying, “Rudy [is] amazing. It allows us to pressure then go for steals because we know if we miss, Rudy is there.”
With Gobert on the floor, opponents shoot just 37.7% at the rim, the best average in the league. The Jazz’s defensive rating drops from 105.2 to 101.4 with Gobert on the court, which would be 11th in the NBA if they maintained that number.
DraftExpress scout Derek Bodner said Gobert’s already made strides nobody saw coming:
“The amount he’s been able to contribute so early in his career has blown pretty much everyone away. The amount of ground he’s able to cover, quickly, in one stride is incredible. He’s the type of shot blocker that can not only impact guards driving to the hoop, but can shut his man down as well. He impacts every shot around the rim, even those he’s not able to get to.”
While his offensive game does need improvement, that’s an easier step to take than learning how to play elite defence from scratch. If Gobert becomes a more polished team defender and offensive player, he’d resemble almost the prototype NBA center today — a big man who can finish around the basket, doesn’t require the ball, and anchors the defence.
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