By Thomas Zhou
I have not paid much attention to the Utah Jazz backup center Rudy Gobert until he made a name for himself in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. He scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds, and had three blocks in 21 minutes of action. His performance was highlighted by a rejection of a Nerlens Noel dunk, making a commentator pun his name “Don’t Go-Bear.”
Before that 21 minutes of fame, Gobert, also referred to as the “Stifle Tower” due to his French nationality and his enormous physical frame, had experienced a rough rookie season where he almost failed to make the NBA. He had to play in the D-league to prove himself. The widest attention the Frenchman ever got was probably when a six-foot-three Damian Lillard damaged the 7-foot-1 Stifle Tower with a nasty dunking missile, 10 days before the Rising Stars Challenge. It had the commentator exclaiming :“Gobert you are a poster!”
From a marginal figure to a rising star, Gobert, the 27th overall pick of the last year’s draft, has made a huge leap into his sophomore year.
Gobert did not start once in the 45 games he played in the NBA last season. He played eight games for the Bakersfield Jam in the D-league, but his 3.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game in that one-month stretch brought him back to the NBA. Still, his first-year stat sheet was just 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds in 9.6 minutes per game.
This year, however, his minutes soared to 21.9 per game. He has played all the 53 games and started eight of them. He averaged 8.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 3.9 blocks while shooting 66.7 percent as a starter.
His progress probably can ease some nervousness of the Jazz because its starting center Enes Kanter wanted to be traded, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Looks like Gobert could fill his shoes just fine and save Jazz some trouble deciding who should start the game.
What weakens Gobert’s rule seems to be his contribution to the team. He only has 21 positive “plus/minus” games this season. The “plus/minus” statistic refers to the point differential for the team when a certain player is on the court,which means the difference in the points scored for and against. Five of those negative have come from his eight starting games. As a starter against the Thunder last month, in which he played a career-high 38 minutes, he ended up tying an embarrassing career-low -20, even though he posted a career-best seven blocks.
Still, he can have a bright future because of his potential.
The Jazz, whose postseason drought starts from the 2012-13 season, expects big things for the 22-year-old, especially on the defensive end. Gobert has averaged 2.2 blocks per game, becoming one of the most dominant rim protectors in the league. Despite of the Lillard dunk, Gobert’s Stifle Tower reputation did not come from nowhere.
And let’s not forget that the Jazz has contributed two other players to the Rising Stars Challenge – Dante Exum and Trey Burke. While long gone is the golden Sloan era and chances are low to the playoffs this year, the Salt Lake City fans do have something to place their hope on – the youth of their team. The Jazz is the third youngest team in the league, with an average age of 23.9, only older than the Bucks (23.7) and the 76ers (23.4). As the stars grow and mature, so should the fans’ hope.
All stats are from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise specified.