[Ed. This is written in-between taking care of unruly nephews. Be gentle.]
The Utah Jazz have a monster on their hands in Rudy Gobert. He’s a beast of legend. And his true peer group is one amongst the legends. Let me explain.
Rudy Gobert is a monster. I knew that when I first saw him over two years ago at the NBA Draft Combine. He was flat out bigger than everyone else. And more than that, he was big with a purpose. Big like he was made by an engineer – not where there was nothing left to add, but nothing left to remove. Streamlined and powerful, like a jungle cat. Dare I say it, it looked like an athlete. He did not move like one, and was last in the foot race for his bigman cohort on day one. Shorter guys, bulkier guys, non-athletes, they were faster than him. Months after that footrace we found out that Gobert needed foot surgery but played in the combine with that news under the radar, and everything he did – like set records – he did while paying through pain.
I wasn’t the only one impressed by Gobert. Other coaches at Attack Athletics (what it was called back then) felt similarly. He earned his right to play in that gym because he did that one thing, relentlessly: he attacked. I will never forget his single-minded purpose on offense, to get the ball, and try to dunk it every single time. There was a purity there. It wasn’t because of a failure to adapt to what the defense did. He wasn’t slow, weak, and short like Al Jefferson was (look at his draft combine numbers for bench press, someday), who needed cunning and guile to become an effective offensive threat. Gobert knew that a) he was taller than everyone, b) had a longer wingspan than everyone, and c) was more inherently athletic than anyone … and concluded that settling for anything but a shot above the rim would be settling for less than he could have done.
This was also the case on defense, as he would defend out of his area, trying to block shots in a defensive drill that was not his. Team execs, scouts, and even lowly bloggisists like me saw something there called defensive leadership. If someone scored it was a personal attack, even if that player scored on someone else. If someone got it up and over Rudy, it was a blood feud. This is something that has carried over since that pre-draft evaluation where he played on one foot, it’s really something that he is as a basketball player. A competitor. An athlete. A stand out talent that only the best teams were lucky to have.
A few weeks later, on draft night, he was picked by the Denver Nuggets – a team that knows a thing or two about defensive stalwarts (think: Dikembe Mutombo, Marcus Camby) – but somehow parted with him for a beggar’s ransom of cash and a second round pick (Erick Green). It wasn’t their best move of the season. But in the long run it could be one of the best moves in Utah Jazz history.
Now, I don’t mean to say bad things about Erick Green, but I will say great things about Rudy Gobert. The first is that, clearly, he is head and shoulders above any peers he may have. At first I was trying to see how he was as a player compared to the likes of Mark Eaton, Greg Ostertag, Thurl Bailey, Truck Robinson, Rich Kelley, Olden Polynice, Felton Spencer, and so forth. But for what Gobert has shown he is capable of at this age I had to look beyond our Jazzy borders, into the land of the giants. (For what it is worth, Gobert is 4 blocks off of tying Jarron Collins’ production at the 5 spot in a Jazz jersey, in 407 more games.)
Right now, for Gobert’s career he has played fewer than 1,000 minutes in 73 games. His average if 12.9 mpg, his first season he was sacrificed to the God Vetzzzalcoatl. Well, not really, but it’s not like his former coach knew how to get him on the floor. (That type of coaching creativity doesn’t make me feel like he’s much of a Jazz conductor.) His last coach got Rudy into only 54% of the games his team played last season in a 25 win year; and only at 9.6 mpg.
Rudy is seeing more and more floor time this season, a little over 18 mpg. But for a guy like Rudy, it’s what he does when he’s on the floor that matters. (Aside: which is funny why there was a narrative to suggest that he improved over the off-season; rather, it was more like he was always good, and people needed to construct a way to defend a coach who was always defended by the media.) In some ways, Gobert was even more of an animal on defense last season than he is this season.
Last season Rudy grabbed 28.5% of all the available defensive rebounds when he was on the floor, this season it’s only 23.9%. His block percentage did rise from 7.4% to 7.6% from his rookie year to this year. But plainly the point here is that he was THIS good last year too. So let’s look at the numbers of other good bigmen.
Over his entire NBA career Gobert has a REB% of 20.0 and BLK% of 7.5. Where does this stand against other bigs? Here we have a chart showing bigs who have at LEAST had seasons of 15% in REB and 6% in BLK – and then going higher each step of the way until you see how rare it is to have a player like Rudy. (The number is the number of seasons where the player had the advanced stat minimums)
|Player||REB 15%, BLK 6%, 400 min||REB 16%, BLK 6%, 400 min||REB 17%, BLK 6%, 400 min||REB 17%, BLK 7%, 400 min||REB 18%, BLK 7%, 400 min||REB 19%, BLK 7%, 400 min||REB 20%, BLK 7%, 400 min||REB 20%, BLK 7.5%|
What this tells me is that if you look at what a defensive bigman can do, block shots and get rebounds, Gobert is really in good company. And that last column, for 20% REB and 7.5 BLK is Gobert's CAREER numbers. If you add this this his age, and inexperience (some of the guys on that list had big seasons 5 years removed from their rookie years), you see that Gobert has both performance and potential going for him.
Gobert is amazing. And he's young. And he was this good last season. So why is he only playing 18 mpg? Sadly, Gobert's time on the floor may not be determined by him, but by those around him. Derrick Favors is amazing when he gets the ball; but he really an inside only player. Enes Kanter has more of an inside/outside game, but even he cannot get on the floor for more than 27 mpg. Even if you scuttle Jeremy Evans, Steve Novak, and Trevor Booker only then can you hope to give the three young bigs the time that SOME of us may want.
But the good news is that beyond being a peer of some of the best ever defensive bigs, he is also someone who is more and more a two-way player who will get on the floor more.
We're just greedy because we can see what he does now, and want him to get on the floor asap.
His time will come, and a lot sooner than the time for our other 1st rounders in recent history. And I think we all can agree that is good news. There is no conclusion because there are three crying kids and someone foolishly put me in charge. I don't see how anyone with kids can blog . . . hats off to you parent-bloggers.