When Frenchman Rudy Gobert got drafted into the NBA in 2013, the main draw to the Center was his height (7 foot 2 inches) and his nickname, the Stifle Tower. Anything but that and what was available to the Utah Jazz hierarchy was a lean mountain of a man who was a mystery from the other side of the Atlantic.
His stature was great for the budding defense first franchise but how good could he be? Was he another version of Shawn Bradley whose career is remembered for being the big guy on the receiving end of big time dunk by recent Hall of Fame inductee Tracy McGrady? Four years later, the Jazz can pat themselves on the back for picking one of the best young players in the league who is a throwback to the era where behemoths like him ruled the world’s greatest basketball league.
Earning a Defensive Player of the Year nomination highlighted a very good year Gobert developed to a solid foundation a contender could be built on. While his defense shone through, his offensive production jumped sharply from a 9.1 average in 2015 to 14 last season. The presence of veterans George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw helped him a lot and assistance from go to guy Gordon Hayward was immense in a good year for both player and team.
However, the upcoming season promises to be a rather low year from the high recorded in the last campaign due to the extreme makeover of the team. Gone are Hayward, Hill and Diaw and in their places are veteran players who have been around the league for a while and little beyond the league as it were.
Ricky Rubio, Nate Wolters, Ekpe Udoh, Thabo Sefolosha and Jakob Jerebko are the headline names in town following a busy offseason for the team. Despite the increased number of vets on the team, their possible impact on the Jazz is very likely to pale to what last season’s group offered.
In Hill, Utah a defense first Guard who could run an offense decently and hit three point shots while Diaw brought the Championship winning touch to the team’s fight for postseason seeds; In All Star Hayward, Utah had one of the best scoring Forwards in the league. However, as great as Rubio is dictating play and defending, his shooting limitations have capped his growth since landing stateside from Spain in 2011. Sefolosha, another European import is a very good defender but no offensive dynamite ditto Jerebko whose catch and shoot abilities come in handy early in games but not one to count on in clutch time.
For Ekpe Udoh, the former lottery draft pick has not lived up to his potential and checks back into the league past his prime after spending three straight seasons in the Euroleague. While Utah’s defense looks good to maintain its top mark next season, its offense is likely to plummet without Hayward and Hill’s major contributions on the offensive end of the court. And that is the problem the Jazz that will prevent the Jazz from reaching the postseason in the super tough Western Conference.
For Gobert to bring Utah home, the team’s hierarchy need a lot of floor spacer’s to give the French big ample room beneath the basket. With Rubio on the ball, teams will sag off him to contain Gobert forcing him to shoot from distance. Unfortunately, backup Guards Raul Neto and Dante Exum can’t be trusted with that and is the same situation for Shooting Guards Alec Burks and Rodney Hood. While both players have good upside putting the ball through the hoop, neither has stayed healthy for a long time to impact games in Salt Lake City. Due to mad dash of talent to the western conference this offseason, teams like Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz-who maintained the roster or upgrade marginally- are bound to miss out on the playoffs.
Their spots will be taken over by Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets who did the opposite by signing All Stars Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap to talented rosters that have Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic on them. While Memphis Grizzlies have barely moved the needle on its roster, the veteran combination of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley gives the side a steady pair of hands to drive them back to the playoffs albeit with a first round exit outlook. Ultimately, Utah Jazz miss out on the high points reached last season because Gobert still remains an unknown commodity among the elite ranks and how he turns up next season is high up in the air.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter