How a little-known Jazz reserve is morphing into Evolutionary Dikembe Mutombo
He goes by many names, many different aliases that attempt encapsulate the colossal leviathan that he is. Some call him The Stifle Tower. Others refer to him as Mount Gobert. Still others bestow the moniker of The French Rejection upon him. Some have designated him The Gobert Report. And others prefer to simply shout “RUDY’S GOT THE CHALK” as the ChalkZone theme song plays on an infinite cranial loop. But when talking about up-and-coming 2nd-year center Rudy Gobert, here’s one that I prefer: Best rim protector in the National Basketball Association today.
You may or may not have already heard things about Gobert, 22, the young big man for the Utah Jazz who hails from Saint-Quentin, France, and is currently waging a war of attrition on the Association with his 7‘2” frame and his 7‘9” wingspan. His arms are longer than all of the Lord of the Rings films combined, and trying to convert at the rim when he rotates from the weakside is akin to trying to win a philosophical debate against Voltaire. And after a rookie year where he averaged less than 10 minutes per game and the highlight of his season was getting his car popcorn’d in a rookie hazing prank, it’s all starting to come together for Gobert in his second season.
New Jazz head coach Quin Snyder is finding better ways to utilize Gobert than his predecessor (and now NorCal punchline) Tyrone Corbin ever did and credit Gobert’s accelerated development as well. The other Rudy G has nearly doubled his averages across the board this season relative to his rookie year, with averages of 6.6 points per game, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks on 62.5% shooting from the field. And the most spine-chilling part about those numbers is that he’s doing that in less than 22 minutes per game on average. Look at Gobert’s line per-36 minutes and those numbers jump to 11.1 points per game, 11.9 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks. And in 7 starts so far this season, the block totals rise even further, ballooning to 4.3 blocks per game (4.8 when starting at the center position). Lord have mercy.
RUDY GOBERT SAYS GET IT OUT OF HERE
(Vine by Mike Gallagher)
And Snyder isn’t even utilizing Gobert has well as he hypothetically could. The coach has given a vote of confidence to Enes Kanter as his starting center on multiple occassions, which doesn’t make a ton of sense given how much better the Jazz are when Gobert is on the floor. When The Stifle Tower is on the court the Jazz post a stellar defensive rating of 100.9 as opposed to a rancid 111.5 when Gobert sits. Those numbers make sense given how by every statistical measure imaginable, Gobert is the best rim protector in the NBA this season. Even throwing out blocks per game which doesn’t always provide the most comprehensive measure of defensive impact (though Gobert does still rank third in the league in that category trailing only DeAndre Jordan and some dude named Anthony Davis), Rudy G’s numbers are still as breathtaking as the sun coming down on Marseille.
Gobert leads the league in lowest opposing FG% at the rim amongst qualified big men this season and it’s not particularly close. At 37.7% on the year, he’s the only one in the 30s club as he holds a comfortable advantage over 2nd and 3rd, fellow elite rim protectors Serge Ibaka and Roy Hibbert (40.2% and 40.4% respectively). Gobert also ranks first in the league in defensive box plus/minus (“A box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team” per Basketball-Reference). DBPM normalizes for the value of perimeter defenders relative to post defenders/rim protectors and Gobert’s 4.33 mark so far this season is top in the league well ahead of DPOY candidate perimeter defenders such as Draymond Green and Tony Allen. Gobert grabs 19% of all the rebounds on the court whenever he’s on the floor (including 49% of all Utah offensive boards) and blocks over 8% of all opposing FG attempts (including registering 67% of all Utah blocks when he’s on the court), numbers that are absolutely staggering. Oh yeah, and the man is 22 years old.
Learn from the master, Serge
Gobert’s offensive game is still a bit of a work in progress, but you can definitely see that he’s making huge strides. The Jazz are beginning to utilize him offensively in a Tyson Chandler-role as a long, mobile big man that attracts the attention of a defense with his deranged rolls towards the rim. Gobert is able to perform dribble-handoffs to his guards properly to keep the Utah offense flowing and his athleticism to be able to catch a lob off-balance after setting the screen is ridiculous. He knows where to position his feet when setting those picks and his timing on his rolls gets better by the day. Gobert is also getting a better grip on how to utilize the Birdman Box (the baseline area just outside of the paint) and is able to finish creatively through contact from there. He’s very active on the offensive glass with such a soft touch (Gobert pulls down 2 contested offensive rebounds per game and 28% of all his made field goals this season come off putbacks/tip-ins) and he runs the floor so well I think he’d make Forrest Gump jealous. Gobert is shooting 68.5% from the restricted area this season (up from just 53.1% last season) and is even showing an occasional touch from short mid-range. That’s led to a much improved shot chart that looks like this:
The Stifle Tower doesn’t turn the ball over as much as you’d think a young player would either (currently a very manageable 1.2 giveaways per contest). And as his free throw percentage continues to improve (67% this season, up from 49% last year), he will become an even bigger weapon with his ability to draw fouls from in close (2.2 PFD this year). And though Gobert only averages 1.1 assists per game, he’s a very underrated pocket passer that’s able to use his tentacle-like appendages to wrap crisp passes around opponents to the open man down low. Gobert already shed the “raw” designation on the defensive end a long time ago. And as he becomes more offensively savvy with every possession he plays, I suggest the rest of the NBA head straight for the bomb shelters.
With Rudy Gobert’s combination of length, size, and athleticism, I think he just might be Groot. Only if Groot was somehow already the best rim protector in the National Basketball Association at the ripe, young age of 22. Gobert does all his damage despite limited minutes and if he ever surpasses Enes Kanter as the permanent starting center of the Jazz (perhaps as soon as next season with Kanter heading to restricted free agency in the summer), it’s officially DEFCON 1 for the NBA. 26 teams passed on this guy in a historically weak 2013 draft class, but Gobert has emerged as probably the best prospect of them all. And as he slashes and burns his way through the league swatting layup attempts like fruit flies, they’re all going to be wondering “How did we let him get away?” The Stifle Tower has arisen. Gobert’s got the chalk.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, 82games.com, and StatMuse
Edited by Lauren Anderson.
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