Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert is ready to silence the doubters

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 4: Rudy Gobert
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 4: Rudy Gobert /

With an unfamiliar set of demands to be imposed on him next season, Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert has an opportunity to disprove his critics and diversify his game.

Although he has been in the league for four seasons now, Rudy Gobert‘s career so far has been characterized by surpassing the expectations laid out for him. It started with the 2014 NBA Draft, in which the Utah Jazz were able to snag him with the 27th overall pick in one of the worst crops of prospects in recent history.

Although his measureables and potential were already at an elite NBA level, concerns about his frame and toughness ultimately led teams to go elsewhere with their selections — decisions that almost all of them now regret.

Even once he was established in the league, the extent of Gobert’s prowess in protecting the rim was underrated by many pundits and fans alike for years. Not until 2016-17 did he so much as make an All-Defensive team.

Although he was selected to the All-NBA Second Team, Gobert did not secure a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team, a result that even surprised DeAndre Jordan, who received the spot instead.

Finally, this offseason, another challenge has been thrown at Gobert’s feet, one that he may not have expected he’d have to take on. With the departure of Gordon Hayward, a massive portion of Utah’s identity will not be on the roster next season, leaving a void that the remaining players, most notably Gobert, will have to fill.

Defensively, this should be no issue. Gobert already carried the team on defense last season, and with the addition of Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Donovan Mitchell, he’ll actually have more help on that end this year.

Related Story: The Jazz defense is poised to be even better

The offensive end is where the most questions arise. Although he was the Jazz’s third-leading scorer at 14 points per game last year, a large portion of Gobert’s buckets (74 percent) came off assists from other players.

To be clear, this was optimal for the Jazz last season and likely will continue to be in the future. Post-ups or otherwise force-feeding a big man is inherently less efficient than virtually all other types of action, particularly perimeter-based schemes.

However, the perception that all of Gobert’s offensive production could be replicated by any similar center across the league is a flawed one, and a critique that the big man takes special offense to.

The hallmark of any modern center’s offensive game is his play in the pick-and-roll. The Jazz went to the screen game often last season, and Gobert’s size, fluidity of movement and improved dexterity served him well in that regard.

According to Synergy, Gobert posted 1.38 points per possession as the roll man, which placed him in the 95th percentile league-wide. Around the hoop, he made a whopping 73 percent of his shots.

That is no small feat no matter the distance, as only three other centers bettered his mark last season while Gobert had more attempts than all of them.

More from Hoops Habit

The challenge for him next season will be to see if he can maintain his efficiency on a less optimal diet of shot attempts, considering the decrease in overall offensive talent around him.

Gobert’s usage rate last season of 16.7 percent ranked near the bottom of the Jazz roster and grades out among the 30-40th percentiles for centers leaguewide.

For context, the three players ranking higher than Gobert in terms of efficiency all posted usage rates lower than his, with two coming in below 12 percent.

In addition to this, the Jazz may ask their center to preform extra roles in the offense besides screening and acting as a pressure release.

On post-ups, Gobert put up 0.9 points per possession — a decent number but not one that should inspire Utah to feature him on the low block. Perhaps though, Utah could utilize his unique vantage point and long arms as the passer as part of split cut action.

The Golden State Warriors use this action in the half-court frequently and with great success. Notice how many times the player with the ball is making no pretense of attacking the basket, strictly seeking an open teammate.

Gobert isn’t a prolific passer, but his touch has improved every year. The Jazz offense could certainly support this type of movement, what with the cerebral nature of Quin Snyder and their players, so playing more inside-out rather than outside-in could be an interesting experiment.

If he can maintain his efficiency on higher attempts and diversify his game even a little bit, Gobert could score upwards of18 points per game next season, largely with the same efficiency he put up in 2016-17.

Utah will surely be one of the NBA’s lowest-scoring teams next season, but between Rodney Hood, Rubio and Gobert, they have a good amount of upside that could be tapped into.

If all these pieces start to mesh together, with Gobert screening for Rubio while Hood spaces the floor and acts as a secondary playmaker, they could seriously surprise people next season on the offensive end.

Next: The 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The wins that come about will be the main windfall, but the added bonus of proving his doubters wrong once again will be extra sweet for Rudy Gobert.