The Utah Jazz (20-13) are turning the corner right now. But, despite this entire seasons’ secret agenda being about placating Unrestricted Free Agent forward Gordon Hayward, the real corner stone of this franchise is center Rudy Gobert. The entire focus of this team is to be defense first. And he is the defensive anchor that makes it work. The 24 year old got paid, signing a $94 Million dollar / 4 year contract extension earlier in the year. And he’s worth every penny.
A future NBA All-Star, All-NBA player, and Defensive titan is a double double machine who protects the paint in such a manner that he has no peer right now. And in this new era of teams going small, point defense near the rim has never been more important. There are a number of ‘Top level’ bigs right now: Al Horford, Andre Drummond, Andrew Bogut, Anthony Davis, Brook Lopez, Clint Capela, DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Joel Embiid, Jonas Valanciunas, karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Mason Plumlee, Nikola Vucevic, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Tristan Thompson, and Tyson Chandler. Everyone is fighting for space, rebounds, easy buckets, and recognition. Clearly Rudy belongs in this group of centers. And he’s doing one thing that’s going to keep him in the discussion for a long time — he’s making his free throws.
Now in his fourth season in the league his MPG and PPG have gone up each season. And his FTA per game have as well, 1.4, 3.3, 4.6, and now this season 5.8. His free throw percentage hasn’t been as linear though, but it has been remarkable. As a rookie he shot a Karl Malone like 49.2% and this year he’s at 64.8%. That’s huu-uuuge. That’s almost as big as his wingspan.
Looking at the last 25 games we see Rudy being somewhat consistent from game to game, but he continues to see the stripe and most of the time make teams pay.
The last game, where Rudy went 3/11 wasn’t so hot. But for the most part his ability to get to the line and make the freebies has been a huge addition to his game. When you add it all up it’s 98/146 — or 67.12%. And it’s an average of 3.92 FTM/G from 5.84 FTA/G. Having your center go 6 times a game and making nearly 70% is very nice. As a point of comparison:
- Rudy Gobert: 5.8 FTA/G, .671
- Mehmet Okur: 4.3 FTA/G, .804
- Al Jefferson: 3.1 FTA/G, .767
- Rich Kelley: 3.1 FTA/G, .791
- Felton Spencer: 3.0 FTA/G, .674
- Danny Schayes: 2.9 FTA/G, .782
- Mike Brown: 2.4 FTA/G, .715
- Joe Meriweather: 2.3 FTA/G, .654
- Jarron Collins: 2.1 FTA/G, .706
- Enes Kanter: 2.1 FTA/G, .744
- Otto Moore: 2.1 FTA/G, .656
- Greg Ostertag: 2.0 FTA/G, .575
- Antoine Carr: 1.9 FTA/G, .796
- Mark Eaton: 1.9 FTA/G, .649
- Armen Gilliam: 1.7 FTA/G, .779
- John Amaechi: 1.5 FTA/G, .586
- Eric Leckner: 1.5 FTA/G, .721
- Jack Cooley: 1.3 FTA/G, .429
- Rafael Araujo: 1.0 FTA/G, .621
- Andris Biedrins: 1.0 FTA/G, .167
- Kyrylo Fesenko: 1.0 FTA/G, .398
- Olden Polynice: 1.0 FTA/G, .290
- Kosta Koufos: 0.8 FTA/G, .682
- Francisco Elson: 0.5 FTA/G., .839
- Tibor Pleiss: 0.2 FTA/G, 1.000
So over this little sample size (N=25 games) we’re seeing Gobert get to the line waaaaay more than most Jazz bigmen, and shooting ‘okay’. He’s not an 80% shooter from there just yet, but let’s not forget that he’s still not old enough to rent a car in most states just yet. If you remove the face-up bigs here and just look at the 7+ feet guys who are defenders you see Gobert really stand out.
When you see Gobert’s cumulative performance over this period of time you also see that he’s normalizing around 70%.
Of course, his last game really tanked this data, but hey, he shot 3/11. He SHOULD have made like 3-5 more FTs. He didn’t. That hurts HIM the most. And he is determined to fix it. I’m not going to expect him to shoot above 75% for the season this year. But above 70% for sure is something he can achieve.
Free throws are funky. Joe Ingles, leading the league in 3PT% is shooting only .786 from the stripe this year. But I think Gobert wants to be the best he can be. And he knows that out of this group of bigmen what’s going to really show his work ethic is going to be his remarking improvement from the line. From 48% to 70% in four years is a legit, epic improvement.