I remember when I first set eyes on Rudy Gobert. It was in Chicago at the NBA Draft Combine back in 2013. He was ridiculously long, and tall, really looked so much bigger than the rest of his co-hort. Most of us media members had never seen him before, and we all searched out his name and number on the participant roster to find out who this guy was. He was big. He couldn’t move, at all, though. No one knew that he was playing with a foot injury that would require corrective surgery in the off-season - today I can only imagine going through a week long job interview with pain like that. But the funny thing was that even though he looked so slow it really didn’t matter.
His potential was off the charts with his size. But he wasn’t some giant because of a deformity or other medical problem (he did not have Acromegaly like so many other pre-draft numbers giants). He was an actual athlete. He moved well, even if he was moving slowly. When the warm-up drills ended and the ‘one on one’ and ‘one on two’ selections started you could tell the main reason why this guy was head and shoulders over the rest of the bigs on that day.
Rudy Gobert has the beating heart of a monster.
He didn’t even bother trying to shoot when he was open. Every single time he got the ball within 8 feet of the rim he attempted to end the entire universe by dunking it through the one or two defenders who were also trying their hardest to win jobs in the NBA. This was really the mentality that I absolutely found appealing.
On defense he was stopping guys . . . when he wasn’t supposed to be stopping guys. He was rotating in and out of offensive drills, but even as the disadvantaged guy he had the length and timing to change a lot of shots when he was just supposed to be playing as a token defender. I’ll never forget one time when he was on the opposite side of the rim, two steps away from a driving guard, and still found a way to nearly block the shot.
I elected to send MyLo to the interview room after the bigmen were done on day one, and I stayed on the floor to watch the point guards. (The Jazz had a point guard problem a few years ago you may remember.) But before we split up the idea that came in our heads was that with the 14th pick in the NBA Draft it would be okay to select Kelly Olynyk (size, shot blocking, shooting) or Rudy Gobert. And that was even with a Jazz team that had Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter already on it.
If you fast forward to the NBA Draft it was a huge surprise for me that night in Brooklyn. Utah ended up moving around the draft board (keeping me very busy) and finished the night with Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert, and Raul Neto. Years later, it’s Gobert who is the absolute anchor of this team.
Rudy got healthy, improved his body, and trained like hell. His length added a newfound strength and athleticism. His offensive deficiencies have also been eroded over the years. He’s not Tibor Pleiss at the free throw line, but in some games he looks unstoppable even if you do hack-a-Gobert. That monstrous mentality, trying to end the universe on dunks, is finally being exhibited on a nightly basis.
I felt like getting a rotation player out of the late lotto would be the most likely, best outcome in 2013. Instead, it looks like we are getting the best center in franchise history. (Walt Bellamy is a Hall of Famer but played fewer than 10 games for the Jazz. Mark Eaton has two DPOY trophies but was a liability on offense. Mehmet Okur really was the key that unlocked Jerry Sloan ‘s offense, and was tough and played hurt — but Rudy is just on another level.)
The crazy thing isn’t that he ‘tanked’ a job interview by playing hurt - and then used his draft spot (#27) as extrinsic motivation to hurt all the other teams for disrespecting him. The crazy thing has been his intrinsic motivation to be the best.
It’s been a very long time since we’ve had TWO guys who wanted to be the best (Gordon Hayward’s improvement year by year is also worth a long blog post). Rudy’s hunger has been remarkable. And his evolution is being televised.
That’s the crazy thing. Really. The national medial, local media in other markets, newspapers, TV, radio, blogs . . . and even video games are taking note of him. (It was a surprise he wasn’t an All-Star this year.) NBA2K has been following his play all season long, and it makes me wonder just how good he’s going to be if he continues to do something ridiculous every month.
If you don’t play the game, that’s okay. If you do it’s crazy to see that even his outside scoring skills have improved from his original “Gold” level release. The subsequent gem cards (Emerald, Sapphire, “Ruby” Gobert, and Amethyst) came after big games this season against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, and Dallas Mavericks.
His most recent evolution puts him as a better player than Mark Eaton — which is impressive, to say the least.
Gobert is, for the system that Quin Snyder runs, the most important player on the team right now. A lot of smart people are talking about him as a possible Defensive Player of the Year award winner. That would be fitting for the All-Star Snub. I can’t imagine what kind of Gobzilla stuff he’s going to pull out for the bigmen of the NBA after the All-Star break.
It’s unfair that the guys who know how great Gobert is, the other bigmen who have to play against him, are going to take the brunt of it — when it was the opposing coaches’ who did not vote for him.
But if we’re going by the number of words people are writing about him, the videos they are putting out, and his general rise in popularity with hoopheads and casual fans alike . . . we are all living in the Age of Gobarius right now. And that’s really something I didn’t expect at the NBA Draft Combine years ago. I always wanted him on the team. I was super pumped that he was traded for by Dennis Lindsey. But I’m completely ecstatic with Rudy’s evolution over the years.