Rudy Gobert has missed the last two games with an ankle sprain. It’s nothing to worry about, it’s run-of-the-mill in nature and the only thing the 27-year-old center is missing out on in the long run is the chance to play in all 82 games for the first time since 2014-15.
But this injury highlights a problem on the Jazz roster, at least as currently constituted. Utah relies on Gobert a little too much. He’s on the court for too long. Among centers, the Frenchman leads the lead in minutes per game at just under 35 minutes an outing.
While many guards and wings can easily withstand such a workload, it’s much harder for centers to handle that minutes load. Since 2015, the only center to exceed Gobert’s current 34.9 minutes per game average is Karl-Anthony Towns — 37.0 in 2016-17 and 35.6 in 2017-18. That makes Gobert’s average the highest in about one-and-a-quarter seasons among centers.
While we don’t know if Gobert’s recent ankle sprain bled over from the overload in minutes, there’s plenty of evidence that’s been put forward in recent years suggesting increased minutes leads to increased chance of injury.
That brings us to the cause of Utah’s need to play Gobert so much: Ed Davis and Tony Bradley. These two play a key role for the Jazz, not necessarily as game-changers or top-level reserves. Head coach Quin Snyder ought not to expect much from these guys. The one thing he needs to expect from the two is quality backup center minutes. Preferably as close to 18 as possible.
As is the case with any player backing up an All-NBA starter, the backup isn’t there to dazzle the crowd and spark enormous, momentum swinging runs. He’s there to spell the star. But so far, Davis and Bradley have been shaky in that regard.
It’s obviously not fair to blame Davis for the last few weeks of spotty backup play. He’s been injured. That leaves Bradley, a former first-round pick entering his third season having never played a meaningful NBA minute in his life. He’s done okay, though, given the circumstances and his quality of competition.
From these two players, the veteran Davis and youngling Bradley, Snyder needs to be able to depend on lest Gobert remain mired in the doldrums of injury.
Davis will soon return. His first six games didn’t give us a great sample size to see how well he can back up Gobert but it wasn’t the greatest. Bradley has been up-and-down, though he’s had enough up to create an interesting battle for the backup position between him and Davis.
Either way, the play at backup center needs to be better. It may not be as good as Derrick Favors of yesteryear, who provided starting-quality minutes as a reserve center, but it has to still be good. Davis has to make sure his six-game stretch to start the season isn’t who he really will be in Utah and/or Bradley needs to cast away the inconsistency of his reserve minutes.
The longevity of Rudy Gobert rests partly in the hands of Utah’s backup centers.