Last season's Utah Jazz were interesting, but they topped out as a fringe contender. They dealt with injuries and couldn't get over the hump, winning 40 games and finishing ninth. On the bright side, it was the beginning of the "Gordon Hayward is a stud" movement that has only continued to intensify. Rudy Gobert, the enormous Frenchman, was a solid interior player for the Jazz, averaging just over 9 points, 11 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots a game.
Gobert, coupled with Hayward's 20 ppg season, led a resurgence in Utah and a lot of people picked the Jazz to make the playoffs this year. They've done that. Easily. Sure, Hayward has been the driving force, but let's look a little closer at the possible Defensive Player of the Year (and if it weren't for Nikola Jokic, the probable Most Improved Player) and the three areas he's been so good at this season.
Gobert is averaging 14 points a game, up more than four per 36 minutes over last season. Among players who have appeared in more than five games, Rudy is fourth in field goal percentage (per NBA.com) at 66 percent. He trails only DeAndre Jordan, Lucas Nogueira and Tyson Chandler.
He has really improved in the pick-and-roll: Among players with more than 45 possessions, as the roll man, Gobert trails only Jordan, Quincy Acy, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo in efficiency. He sticks his screens, and in the clip below you can see him wait long enough for the true advantage to show up. Dante Exum also makes a great pass.
Of course Gobert is a finisher and doesn't shoot from outside the restricted area, but why would you when you're 7 feet tall with arms roughly the length of a telephone pole? He's serviceable at the free throw line at 65 percent, which means he's not a great candidate to intentionally foul.
2) Gobert is a defensive monster
Gobert leads the NBA at 2.7 blocks per game. He has been responsible for an insane 72 percent of the shots that the Utah Jazz have blocked. That may seem logical, as a great shot blocker should block most of the shots, but the Jazz are 12th in the NBA in blocks and have the third ranked defense in the league. If Gobert were playing for an otherwise terrible team, that 72 percent would make sense. Instead it's just another impressive stat.
Gobert does this kind of thing to one of the three most talented offensive big-men in the NBA.
Gobert needs some work on handling smaller players in the pick-and-roll —? something that will undoubtedly be exploited in the playoffs, particularly if they get through Los Angeles in the first round. According to Synergy, Gobert is in the 48th percentile at stopping the ball handler as a big man; it's not terrible, but not in line with the rest of his ratings. He is good enough against the roll man and against a traditional post up that teams simply don't do it more than twice per game against him.
3) Thirteen rebounds per game
The Jazz play at the slowest pace in the NBA, making high-volume statistics more impressive. For example, Utah averages just over 43 total rebounds per game — 18th most in the NBA. If you adjust that to account for pace of play by switching the metric to total rebounds per 100 possessions, the Jazz are third in the league at over 46 rebounds. That difference may seem negligible, but if Gobert grabs more than 20 percent of all rebounds the Jazz see (he does) and they see 3+ more rebounds per game from playing at a faster pace (they would), he would average at least one more rebound per night. This would place Gobert within 0.3 of the NBA's leading rebounder, Hassan Whiteside.
Moreover, Gobert is dominating the offensive glass. Only Andre Drummond gets more offensive rebounds per game, and Detroit takes nine more shots per game than Utah. Thanks to having Gobert in the middle, Utah's opponents average the lowest number of total rebounds in the league.
I considered adding a fourth heading that says "Passing!" — just kidding. That's the one, big hole left in Rudy's offensive game. He's not exactly a Marc Gasol down low. However, he's only 24 years old, and he has substantially improved every year he's been in the league. Gobert's not g as a passer, but he has time to learn.
Come playoff time, it looks like his first round matchup with be against DeAndre Jordan, so if you're not a fan of big men who rebound like crazy and block shots, maybe watch a different series. If you do like the sound of that, then lock in. This is going to be an excellent series.