How Reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert Has Reignited Utah's Defensive Identity
Courtesy of Getty/Mitchell Leff
The Utah Jazz are heating up, having won eight of their past nine games and six in a row. The team is showcasing the type of play that earned them the 5th seed in the Western Conference last year.
In this stretch the Jazz have just two victories against teams with a record above .500. All the same, Utah has built some needed momentum and consistency, with sporadic performances and energy defining the early part of their season.
One major part of the Jazz’s return to form has been the reclamation of their defensive identity. The club owns the league’s best defensive during their impressive 9 game stretch.
During November, Utah had the 16th best defensive rating. As former Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert explained, players are still adjusting to some of head coach Quin Snyder's new schemes.
“We want to be a physical team and we want to impact the other team’s movement,” Gobert said. “It’s a big change and it’s hard with all those screens and guards that are using that as an advantage to get fouled. It’s hard, but it’s the same for everyone so we have to adapt.”
Gobert himself has been instrumental in tightening the screws for Utah’s defense. As of late, he’s been an imposing force in the paint, anchoring a Jazz defense that now ranks 4th in the NBA.
During the Utah win streak, Gobert has been simply dominant on both ends of the floor. Against the Bulls Gobert had a monsterous 15 point, 16 rebound performance, with a career-high eight assists to boot. The next night he went for 18 points and 25 boards - another career best- in Detroit, followed by a 23 point, 22 rebound, 4 block performance at home against the CLippers.
Gobert’s back-to-back 20 rebound performances were the first by a Jazz player since Karl Malone in 1988. Gobert joined the Mailman in another stat-line below.
It’s no coincidence that Gobert’s powerful play has coincided with the Jazz’s win streak. The Frenchman is averaging 16.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1 steal per game in that time. Utah is now 26-21 at the time of this writing and 7th place in the Western Conference.
On the season Gobert also the league in field goal percentage at almost 67 percent. He’s 5th in rebounding and in blocks, too.
Gobert also ranks among the league’s best defenders. He’s second in shots contests within the three-point line. His presence in the paint is enough to halt drives and force teams out to the perimeter.
In Utah’s game against the Clippers, Blake Griffin attempted 11 shots from three-point range, a big departure from his average of 6.6 3PA per game. Gobert figures heavily into this equation. The next night Griffin attempted just two threes.
Not just a force on the defensive end, Gobert’s off-ball work is equally integral to the Jazz’s success, with the Frenchman averaging a league high 6.1 screen assists per game, which translates to a league leading 14.1 points per game.
If the Jazz are able to keep on this run of winning form through January, Gobert should be considered for an All-Star debut, although the loaded Western Conference may have Utah’s center just missing out.
Gobert’s hasn’t featured in the All-Star Voting returns so far, with DeMarcus Cousins even ranking higher despite only playing his first game of the season last week.
Not the flashiest player by any means, Gobert’s numbers and importance to the Jazz speak for themselves, and amidst a year full of career-high numbers, Gobert should figure to be amongst the coaches’ votes for the All-Star reserves.
Whether he is selected as an All-Star or not, Gobert’s play importantly has the Jazz back on track, with their defensive ferocity returning to neutralise offences league-wide.
All statistics per NBA Stats and Basketball Reference
Statistics accurate as of 1/21/19