Harry How/Getty Images

Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert quietly excels offensively, too

Leave a comment

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:

Screens

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:

image

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:

image

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.”

Offensive rebounding

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:

image

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.

Part of that is Utah’s rotation. Gobert often plays with the Jazz’s talented other starters, including Gordon Hayward and George Hill (another underrated player).

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.

Mark Cuban: Trump has “got to be able to take the blowback” from comments

Associated Press
Leave a comment

President Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of his office to, well, bully — he fired shots at the NFL over its concussion protocols and players kneeling during the national anthem. Then he rescinded his invite to the White House to the Warriors after Stephen Curry said he would vote not to go.

Sports stars fired back. LeBron James called Trump a bum, Chris Paul asked if he didn’t have better things to worry about, and the Warriors said as a team they would use their time in Washington this season to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.” Even supporters of the President, such as Patriots owner Robert Craft, rebuked the president for his comments.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for Meet the Press Trump has to be a big enough man to handle people standing up to him.

“If the president’s going to say something condemning a person, an industry, a sport, then he’s got to be able to take the blowback that’s going to come back,” Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for “Meet the Press.”

“So LeBron [James] and Steph and any athlete, any owner, it’s an open door now, and so they have every right for the same reasons to be able to say whatever’s on their mind,” he said. “Now we’ll be able to see if he can take it.”

Unlike previous presidents of both parties, Trump is not good at letting criticism of him and his administration roll off his back to stay focused on his agenda. It’s more personal with him, and that is something Warriors coach Steve Kerr said is a problem for him, and the nation.

Bottom line, NBA players are not going to back off — their base isn’t going to push back against them for their comments. Most are going to nod their heads in agreement. The NBA fan demographic is not the NFL’s. This storyline is far from over.

Three questions the Indiana Pacers must answer this season

Al Bello/Getty Images for the NBPA
1 Comment

The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 42-40, swept in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Larry Bird resigned then the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, a horrible deal that got the summer off on the wrong track. Indiana also swapped Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis for Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in order to prevent bottoming out. The Pacers picked T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) in the draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PACERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Indiana escape its unsatisfying track? The Pacers are headed toward winning 30-something games, missing the playoffs and picking in the bottom of the lottery. It’s a miserable place to be.

Be just a little better, and they could make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Be just a little worse, and they could land a premier draft pick.

Either direction is preferable to the apparent status quo.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to tank. Hence, their offseason strategy. But if the season goes south quickly, they could embrace losing by trading veterans and/or giving more minutes to young players.

Competing for the playoffs is a little trickier, but Indiana has enough veterans where that could take care of itself. The odds are against it, but this team is capable of sneaking in with the right breaks.

2) Can Victor Oladipo handle the expectations thrust upon him? Oladipo didn’t choose to return to the basketball-crazed state where he starred in college. He didn’t ask to be the Pacers’ main return for Paul George.

But here he is.

Oladipo is a solid player, and at 25, he might still be improving. He’ll have to in order to justify the George trade (and maybe even his four-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in this season).

No longer playing with Russell Westbrook should help. Oladipo regressed while trying to play a spot-up role next to the Oklahoma City superstar last season. Indiana needs Oladipo to be more aggressive with the ball, a role that better suits him. Whether he’s good enough to handle those responsibilities on a good team is another question entirely, though.

3) Will Myles Turner break out? With George gone, Turner is now the Pacers’ franchise player (ignoring how the team might market Oladipo, who returns after starring with the Hoosiers).

Turner has all the potential to be a modern rim-protecting, 3-point-shooting center. He can get more comfortable beyond the arc. He must fine-tune his defense. But all the future looks bright for the 21-year-old.

He was intriguing as a rookie then even better last year. How steeply Turner continues to ascend will play a major role in whether Indiana exceeds expectations this season – and how its rebuild looks beyond.

Goran Dragic back with Heat after summer title for Slovenia

Associated Press
Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) — A quick summary of the last few weeks in the life of Miami guard Goran Dragic:

He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland and the place he calls home, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. The title game came against Serbia, his father’s homeland and a place where he still has relatives.

He was the tournament’s MVP. He received one of Slovenia’s highest civilian honors. He was brought to tears by a gift of a jersey from the mother of his idol, the late star Drazen Petrovic.

And through it all, the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoed in his head – winning a championship is usually more demanding mentally than physically.

“Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.

It’s a lesson Dragic hopes to put to more use starting next week, when he returns to the U.S. and the Heat begin training camp. The only true point guard on Miami’s roster, Dragic is going to be a major key if the Heat are to return to the playoffs and contend in the Eastern Conference. And coming off his MVP showing at EuroBasket, the Heat hope his game keeps elevating.

“He looked sensational,” Spoelstra said of his point guard’s play at EuroBasket. “I’m so happy for him, so proud of that accomplishment, this most unlikely championship. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million. It’s smaller than the city of Miami. And to beat the powerhouses over there, but also to see how passionate Goran was about trying to lead this team to the title.”

Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists in the nine games. His 35 points in the title game was the high for the tournament.

He told Spoelstra in June he was all-in on trying to deliver Slovenia its first gold medal.

“He trained extremely diligently for this,” Spoelstra said. “And he competed and led at such a high level. You could just see the emotions pouring out of him. I talked to him on the phone after they won and he said, `This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”‘

The task that awaits in Miami won’t be easy.

The Heat had a strange season a year ago – starting 11-30, finishing 30-11 and missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker. Dragic averaged a career-best 20.3 points, and emerged as a locker-room leader as the year went along. He also did what he could to persuade Heat free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson to stay.

“It’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” Dragic said. “I’m looking forward to come to Miami and to battle for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team. Nobody is going to give us a chance in Miami. But I always believe. Why not?”

An estimated 20,000 people stood in the pouring rain to greet the Slovenian team when it arrived home. The medal ceremony after the championship game became Slovenia’s most-watched television event in the country, at least since ratings started being kept. Dragic was told 94 percent of the nation was watching.

“I’m just proud of him,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And I’m proud that we have him.”

Before 1991, both Serbia and Slovenia were part of Yugoslavia. Hence, the family ties for Dragic still exist.

“Playing for my national team for the past 12 years, you’re always waiting to achieve something, and as soon as we won the final all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” he said. “I felt so happy. And, of course, on the other side, I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia … it was not a question that I was going to do everything to bring them a title.”

Three questions the Utah Jazz must answer this season

Getty
Leave a comment

The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
52-30, lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.

I know what you did last summer: Most notably, lost a free agent bid to keep Gordon Hayward. Drafted Tony Bradley and Donovan Mitchell. Signed Jonas Jerebko, Royce O'Neale, Thabo Sefolosha, and Ekpe Udoh. Re-signed Joe Ingles.

THREE QUESTIONS THE JAZZ MUST ANSWER:

1) Can the offense be effective? Last season’s team was based off of the third best defense in the NBA. It’s no secret that the key to success in Utah and indeed the NBA is to have a strong unit on that end of the floor.

But they were also the slowest team in terms of pace last season and were 12th in offensive efficiency. That number is potentially set to dip after Gordon Hayward made his exit to Boston to join the Celtics. A number of young players must step up for this squad, as well as some newcomers.

Ricky Rubio knows how to run an offense and get players to be their best on the offensive side of the floor. He is certainly going to make things exciting, and that is the hope in Utah. We also have a healthy Alec Burks to look forward to (hopefully) and a wide open berth for Rodney Hood. Add in a dash of power from Derrick Favors, and some wing depth from Thabo Sefolosha and there are new roles abound.

This will really be a test for head coach Quin Snyder, who has to work in major new faces like Rubio and will need to see if he can juice things up a little bit next year with less proven players.

2) Can the young guys step into their new roles? I know we have heard this before when it comes to Utah, but this season more than ever will need to be a big one for Burks with Hayward absent. I tend to be more skeptical in any case, and no doubt Utah fans are as well when it comes to the oft-injured guard.

Perhaps more important, it is Hood that will need to be less of a streaky scorer and more of a consistent offensive weapon for the Jazz. The hole left on offense by Hayward for Hood will be considerable, even as he has help from Sefolosha, Rubio, and Dante Exum on the wing.

Exum is an interesting case here as well, as he has been sidelined for a significant portion of the time with this squad due to injury. Exum had a lot of hype coming into his rookie season, and now heading into his fourth he will need to be much better lest he force his team into a tight spot.

3) Is this still a playoff team? This seems broad, but it is perhaps the most interesting question to ask about the Jazz. Yes, they have a perennial DPOY candidate as their highest paid player in Rudy Gobert. They also have a league favorite in Rubio at point guard, a young scorer in Hood, potential in Burks, bench scoring and rebounding in Favors, and a league pass jewel in Ingles.

For as difficult as it will be to replace the production of Hayward from a basketball standpoint, this isn’t a team that has been completely blown apart. They lost their star, which seems more common in today’s NBA. But they didn’t lose the structure around him, and in fact they have been growing their minor league type guys for seasons on end.

They are perhaps one of the only teams in the NBA who are semi-prepared to lose a star like Hayward. But again, this is mostly from a roster perspective. We still have to wonder whether the offense can be efficient and consistent on a nightly basis, and whether the new parts will fit together with the old ones.

I like a lot of the things the Jazz did this summer and it still goes to say they could be a playoff team this season. If anything, at least they should be fun to watch on defense.