Utah Jazz: The Stifle Tower? French center Rudy Gobert making a big first impression

Published: Tuesday, July 9 2013 9:45 p.m. MDT

ORLANDO, Fla. — Alec Burks smiled when he was asked what it was like to shoot over or around his new teammate, Rudy Gobert, during Utah Jazz scrimmages at summer league.

"I've been on the same team," Burks said. With a chuckle, he added, "But I will get the chance and I'll let you know."

That explains why Burks was able to grin about the question.

Two games into his Jazz career, it's become apparent that not many people will be able to put on a happy face after facing Gobert in the paint. The way the 7-foot-1 French center has been smacking things away, The Stifle Tower might just swat the smile off their face.

"He makes you second-guess your shot when he goes to the lane — just a defensive presence," Burks said after the Jazz's 85-71 loss to Houston on Tuesday in the Orlando Pro Summer League. "He's all over the floor, it looks like, with that wingspan."

Ah, that wingspan.

When Gobert spreads his arms out, his 7-foot-9 reach is wider than most Peugeot cars in France.

More useful in the NBA realm, the rookie can defend space in nearly half of the 16-foot-wide key without moving an inch.

The coaches from Swat Lake City, Utah, are pleased with what they've seen so far from Gobert, who came to the Jazz in a draft-day trade with Denver after being selected 27th overall.

"He's so long in there he's able to come over and if he doesn't block the shot, he can alter that shot," said Jazz assistant Sidney Lowe, who drew the media-duties straw for summer league play.

"Even today, you saw where he got a couple of rebounds out of his area. He didn't have to move his feet — he just reached over. So, he's going to be big for us."

After two summer league games, Gobert is averaging six points, four rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots.

Those might not be dazzling statistics, but he's shown he can be both agile and aggressive. Gobert is also doing small things that coaches pay attention to, Lowe pointed out, including rotating on defense, making smart choices on pick-and-roll plays, and being active with his hands.

"One thing is he's not going to shy away from the contact," Lowe said. "He tries to get in there and get rebounds and come away with blocked shots."

This whole process is all a big transition for this 21-year-old, who grew up in Saint-Quentin, a city that's about two hours northeast of Paris.

Gobert would likely have been drafted eventually in 2012, but he opted to remain with his French team, Cholet Basket, to continue developing his game in Europe before heading overseas.

To play for Utah, Gobert had to do a buyout with his old team, but he said that was "100 percent" the plan all along and went smoothly.

Since playing in his new league, Gobert has had to get used to NBA rules, especially goaltending. Last week, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin laughed when reporting that the international player had to be reminded that he can't swipe the ball off the rim.

"Goaltending, sometimes it's tough because you're in the air and you say, 'No, no. Don't take the ball.' I just get used to it," Gobert said. "I feel good. I get the rules quickly, so I know I've just got to get to know my teammates and keep playing hard."

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