Let me preface this post by saying that from the moment he was brought to Utah on draft night, I’ve been one of Rudy Gobert’s biggest fans.
How can you not love the 7’1” Frenchman who makes the term wingspan literal with arms the length of the largest birds out there? Especially when he can induce faces like this when he goes up for a block:
JaKarr Sampson is clearly afraid for the life of his shot in this photo.
However, toward the end of last season (admittedly after the knee injury) I became concerned. Gobert wasn’t finishing games, and it looked to me like his effectiveness was lacking when he was on the court. On several occasions it seemed that opponents simply chose to stack their lineups with shooters to draw him out of the paint, drastically reducing his defensive impact. On the other end of the floor he was struggling to catch even basic passes, let alone finish at the rim after the catch.
As a result, over the summer I put my opinion out there that I was unsure Gobert would be worthy of the max contract we all expected him to get. I suspect it’s part of the reason the front office has appeared in no hurry to get a max extension done.
So far this preseason (I know, I know, preseason...), Rudy has sent my concerns into the 12th row like a weak floater attempt in the lane. (Need I refer you to the above photo again? Here’s another reminder just in case:)
Block Party pour Rudy Gobert face aux Nuggets. https://t.co/Bktu8YkgUR— Arnaud Gelb (@ArnaudGelb) April 11, 2016
Gobert’s stifling of my concerns starts on offense. Though it’s the smallest of sample sizes, he’s hitting his free throws. Through three preseason games he’s 18-of-23 at the line, including a 13-of-14 performance in Phoenix. If that improvement is for real, that cannot be overstated. Hack-a-Gobert would be a thing of the past. It will also be important for him to work on his hands, since you can’t put the ball in the hoop if you don’t catch it.
Defensively, I think Gobert will benefit as much as anyone from the additions to the roster over the summer. The beefed up perimeter defense offered by the arrival of George Hill and the return of Dante Exum will drive opposing guards off their shooting spots. Clearly, Gobert is best when he’s protecting the rim, and if Hill and Exum can funnel players toward the rim, he’ll be ready for them.
I’m still not as confident in Gobert’s ability to be an all-pro center as I was at the beginning of last season, but the signs of improvement are there. If he can carry them through to fruition in the games that count, I am confident in saying that the Jazz will reside in Swat Lake City for years to come.