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The Downbeat: The new shot-blocker in town

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This town ain’t big enough for two elite shot blockers ... or maybe it is ...

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz are on a bit of a downswing, losing both sides of a back-to-back, first to the Los Angeles Clippers and then to the Phoenix Suns. The positive side of this (if there can be a good side of a losing streak) is that the Jazz can show/develop resilience in the face of adversity.

Rudy Gobert is the player on the Jazz most known for his defense, especially his shot-blocking (sound the obvious alarm). Last year he lead the NBA in blocked shots with 2.6 per game.

But this year, not only can Rudy Gobert not claim the title of best shot-blocker in the NBA, he’s currently not even the best on his own team.

Ekpe Udoh, who plays less than half of the minutes Gobert does (14.4 vs 33.6) is averaging 2.4 blocks per game to Gobert’s 2.2.

Mike Sorenson of the Deseret News wrote an article that included Gobert’s feelings on Udoh leading the Jazz in blocks.

“‘I’m getting worried now, he’s got twice as much as I do. I’ve got to catch up.’

“But Gobert is thrilled to have Udoh backing him up this year.

“‘It’s great, when I’m on the bench, I’m able to relax,” Gobert said. “When you have someone who plays defense like he does, you know the team is in good hands. He makes us better as a team.”’

Always the team player, Gobert is willing to play second-fiddle in stats as long as his team gets the “W”.

Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune, wrote about Ekpe Udoh’s journey playing in Europe and how it helped him in his return to the NBA. Specifically in his ability to guard smaller players.

“Udoh credits [Fenerbahce coach Zeljko] Obradovic with helping him learn more about the game, ramping up his offensive ability as well as his passing. But the most marketable skill the he gave him was the responsibility of guarding smaller players. The Golden State Warriors dynasty was just about to begin, but Fenerbahce was already ahead of the curve, riding their suffocating defense to a Euroleague title this spring — with Udoh as the tournament MVP.

“‘Ekpe’s comfortable in those situations where he’s on a smaller player,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s got instincts to guard smaller guys that have been honed over the last few years with that style of play.’”

In a ritual as old as I can remember, the Jazz have made their rookies use less-than-manly bags.

Apparently, according to Kyle Goon, in his second appearance in this Downbeat, Donovan Mitchell’s main concern with his backpack isn’t the fact that it’s pink AND has sparkly princess fairy wings. It’s the fact that it isn’t big enough. Seems like a legitimate concern.

[Editor’s Note: This tradition started during the DWill-Boozer era. Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans were the first recipients. Interestingly, Matt Harpring had a pink backpack that same year as it was his first year doing the broadcast.]

DeMarcus Cousins made his return to Sacramento to play his former team and recieved an ovation from Kings fans.

This makes me think about how the Jazz will react when their former player returns to town. I’m not sure it will be this nice, but every Jazz fan I personally know feels sorry for him right now.

John Stockton made his NBA debut long enough ago that I had to break out a calculator to figure out exactly how long ago (It was 33 years ago yesterday).

On October 26, 1984, Stockton played 17 minutes in a loss to the Seattle SuperSonics and recorded 4 points, 5 assists and 2 steals. The next day (33 years today for those keeping track), Stockton played 16 minutes and recorded 6 points, 6 assists and 2 steals.