Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy raved about Jazz center Rudy Gobert earlier this season:
“There’s a couple things with Gobert. I think, obviously defensively, he’s really, really good. He’s got great timing. He moves his feet well on pick-and-rolls. He protects the rim. And then offensively, I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, too. He plays exactly the way they want him to play and exactly the way he needs to play for them to be successful. And if you watch, he is always in pick-and-rolls. So, they lead the league in pick-and-rolls per possessions, and a great majority of them are him. And he’s content to play that and role and just keep running pick-and-rolls. You don’t see him stopping down in the post and bringing the offense to a stop. He doesn’t get many post touches at all. But he’s content to play that way, and so their team plays really well. That guy is a winning basketball player. Quin and has his staff have done a great job developing him. He was obviously a great pick for them. And you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, because all he’s concerned about –.”
Van Gundy suddenly stopped himself.
“I don’t know the guy at all,” Van Gundy said.
But then the coach kept rolling.
“Just watching from the outside, all he’s concerned about is playing the way he needs to play for them to win,” Van Gundy said.
To watch Gobert is to believe you know him. He plays hard and selflessly with little fanfare. He’s the type of player coaches love and casual fans too often overlook.
This is the time of year someone like Gobert tends to get more credit. Everyone gets caught up in offense during the season, for the draft and in free agency. But even cursory consideration of Defensive Player of the Year or All-Defensive teams forces people to evaluate the other end of the floor, and Gobert shines there. He is – or at least should be – running neck and neck with Draymond Green for Defensive Player of the Year.
But don’t discount Gobert’s offense. Even though he averaged a modest 14.3 points per game, he contributes mightily on that end. He’s a compete player.
Just two players have ever surpassed Gobert’s 14.3 win shares in a season while averaging fewer than 15 points points per game: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
“I wish more fans would know much more than just the points,” Gobert said. “But I’m happy that it makes us better as a team.”
So, let’s talk about more than just the points. Gobert helps the Jazz offensively in three primary ways:
Gobert is a relentless screener, on and off the ball. He ranks second in the NBA in screen assists, screens for a teammate that directly lead to a made shot by that teammate:
But screen assists don’t fully capture Gobert’s value as a screener. He participates in pick-and-rolls that will never see him get the ball, but his roll to the basket collapses the defense and frees someone else.
“There are some actions that we run that are literally worthless if Rudy is not screening,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
“We need to continue to reward him for his rolling.”
Scoring at the rim
It’s easier to reward Gobert for his Yeoman’s work, because he has become such an efficient scorer.
He shot 70.4% at the rim this season, up from 61% last year. And he’s doing it on a healthy seven attempts per game.
Though he has grown in many areas, this is the crux of Gobert’s Most Improved Player case.
Scoring at the rim isn’t just about field-goal percentage, because even most poor finishers are more efficient at the rim than players generally are from other areas on the court. Generating attempts at the rim is a skill, and Gobert has become stronger to get better position and developed his hands to catch passes inside.
Plotting all NBA players by shots at the rim per game and field-goal percentage at the rim shows Gobert with an elite combination:
Maybe he should shoot more often.
“I can’t say enough about Rudy’s unselfishness on offense,” Snyder said. “And like I said, I think our players are aware of it. The more we can involve him and get him touches, we want to do that, too.”
After setting so many screens and rolling so hard, once the ball goes up, Gobert tracks it. He grabbed 13.6% of available offensive rebounds, 12th in the NBA among qualifying players:
That list contains many low-minute role players who expel all their energy chasing rebounds. This is only one of Gobert’s numerous responsibilities. And he handles them with aplomb – even if he doesn’t receive enough credit.
“People look at stats,” Gobert said. “Most people don’t watch the games. Only a few people watch the games, especially us, because national TV two times a year.”
The right stats show Gobert’s two-way effectiveness. His defense has become appreciated, but his offense remains underrated. The Jazz scored 4.1 more points 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor than off.
But if you watch, Gobert wasn’t merely along for the ride. He helped plenty offensively.
Utah’s playoff games will be nationally televised. Watch and find out.