The next level: After seeing minimal playing time as a rookie, Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert looks to improve his game
SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert certainly looks like an NBA center.
Standing 7 feet 1 and weighing a lean but muscular 245 pounds, with a wingspan stretching closer to 8 feet and a standing reach of 9 feet 7, this is a young man who, it seems, was made to play basketball.
But in his first year in the NBA, he didn't actually get to do much of that — at least, not in regular-season games against other NBA big men.
As a rookie for the Jazz, the 21-year-old center from France played in little more than half of Utah's contests (45) last season. And when he did get an opportunity to get on the floor in a game, it was usually for only a handful of minutes and often in garbage time at the end of a contest whose outcome had already been decided.
"I learned a lot, learned a lot," Gobert said, summarizing his first NBA campaign. "It's a tough league with the best players in the world.
"I would say I liked it, I liked it," he said in his thick French accent, adding that his goal moving forward is to "just get better and be able to play."
Ah, yes, being able to play — that's the key thing.
Sure, Gobert has the size and ability to be a strong rebounder and shot-blocking force inside, but his offensive skills at this point in time are very limited. If that sounds an awful lot like the scouting report on another former Jazz center named Mark Eaton, then ding-ding-ding — you are correct, sir.
And if Gobert could someday become the player that Eaton was, Jazz officials would probably be more than satisfied, maybe even downright giddy.
After all, Eaton was a 7-foot-4 behemoth who worked extremely hard to become one of the greatest shot-blocking big men in NBA history. Gobert is not nearly as imposing as big Mark was physically, but is definitely quicker, much more agile and more athletic at this stage of his career.
Now, it's up to the young Frenchman nicknamed "The Stifle Tower" to put in the time and effort to prove that he deserves major minutes on the NBA stage.
He knows he needs to build his lower body so that other big men can't push him around in the paint. And he needs to develop an offensive game that consists of more than dunks and putbacks.
"No. 1, getting stronger," Gobert said of his offseason priorities. "My legs, all my body, but especially my legs. Getting stronger, quicker, and work on my game, of course, but mostly getting stronger.
"You've got to be tough, especially me, I'm a center. So you've got to be tough, you've got to be able to fight, you've got to be able to box out, you've got to be able to guard on the post. That's the main thing for me."
During his initial NBA campaign, Gobert averaged a little less than 10 minutes of time on the floor in those 45 games he appeared in, averaging 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and almost one blocked shot per game. He also spent some time playing in the NBA Development League, where with increased playing time he posted much more impressive numbers.
And occasionally, he had his NBA moments, too — few and far between as they might have been. He scored 10 points in a November game against Oklahoma City, had 12 rebounds in another early-season game against Chicago — one of two occasions last season when he actually led the team in rebounding — and blocked four shots in a game at Milwaukee in March.
Then there was the season finale at Minnesota, where Gobert got more than 14 minutes of playing time and responded with eight points, nine boards and a couple of blocks in Utah's double-overtime victory.
He's hoping that season-ending performance might've made a statement for him.
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