I'd like Rudy to continue to grow into the man that Bill Russell is too. —Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
CHICAGO — A few days ago, ESPN.com published a big feature titled, “How the Utah Jazz built the next Bill Russell.”
The eye-grabbing headline derived from a quote from Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, who told the sports conglomerate what he relayed to Gobert and his agent while the two sides were working on a contract extension last year.
“We hope,” Lindsey said, “that he’s the Utah Jazz version of Bill Russell.”
Gobert’s game has come a long way in a short time and he’s developed into arguably the best defender in the NBA along with being a terrific rebounder à la Russell, but his offensive game and trophy case both have a long way to go before the comparison is accurate.
The 11-time NBA champion averaged an incredible 22.5 rebounds — to go with 15.1 points and 4.3 assists — during his Hall of Fame career. The league didn't tally blocks when Russell played, but the Celtics legend helped revolutionize the way bigs defend.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder likes the Russell-Gobert comparison, especially in light of how crucial Russell was to his team’s success on the defensive end.
“I think it’s a great comparison,” Snyder said. “I grew up watching Bill Russell when he was in Seattle even after Boston. I admire him on many levels. I’d like Rudy to continue to grow into the man that Bill Russell is too.”
Gobert, whose team continues its four-game Midwestern road trip Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls, believes that’s an emulation worth striving for.
“That’s what I try to do every day,” Gobert said when asked about that off-the-court aspect.
As for on the court, Gobert understands the comparison but he wouldn’t necessarily make it himself.
“I love Bill Russell,” Gobert said, “but at the same time, I don’t really like comparisons because it’s a different time, different era, but that’s great. It’s probably a good thing.”
Gobert is going to continue to be compared to all-time great bigs and have younger prospects compared to him at the rate he’s going. It’s purely anecdotal, but he was recently the subject of an All-NBA debate in an NBA arena media room away from Utah amongst sports writers not from Utah. Media members were going back and forth about whether The Stifle Tower or Marc Gasol deserved first-team honors more.
Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy spoke quite highly of Gobert at the beginning of this road trip, too.
“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,” Van Gundy said. “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.”
Van Gundy was impressed how Gobert willingly accepts his role in pick-and-roll action even when he isn’t getting all of the touches. That helps the Jazz, who lead the NBA in the number of pick-and-roll plays they run each game.
“That guy’s a winning basketball player,” Van Gundy said. “Quin and his staff have done a great job developing him. He was obviously a great pick for them (at No. 27 in 2013). And you’ve got to give him a lot of credit because all he’s concerned about — and I don’t know the guy at all, just watching from the outside — all he’s concerned about is playing the way he needs to play for them to win.”
Along those lines, Gobert recently joked with Joe Ingles that the guy who sets screens that lead to open shots for teammates should get credit too.
“First, I’m just trying to set screens for my teammates and then just be aggressive, make the right play,” Gobert said when asked about his offensive mindset. “I don’t like to fall short. It’s tough. Just make the right play when I’m open, and I’ll thrust to the rim and be aggressive.”
Gobert said Jazz coaches told him, ‘Take pride in setting screens.” Now, as he humorously pointed out to Ingles, he’s happy when he helps even if he doesn’t get publicly recognized. Utah’s staff, however, does internally monitor screen assists.
“When I started to do it with precision, I realized how much setting good screens made us better as a team offensively. It made things easy for me and my teammates,” Gobert said. “People who read the stats, most people don’t watch the game. Only a few people watch the game. We’re only on national TV twice a year. I’m just worried about winning and making my teammates better and getting better.”
While Gobert scours Twitter at times looking for tweets to use as fuel for his fire — kind of like how he found drive in proving doubters wrong after falling to late in the first round and how he feeds off of being snubbed from the All-Star Game — part of Snyder’s charge is to keep the 24-year-old both humble and hungry. That was made clear when the Jazz coach was asked about Gobert being such a force following his 20-point, 19-rebound performance in Thursday’s 91-83 loss at Cleveland.
“He needs to pass the ball to the corner at the end of the game when we need a 3-point shot instead of laying it in,” Snyder said. “He needs to make sure he knows the play coming out of a timeout. He needs to recognize pick-and-roll situations when he’s got a smaller guy on him (when) he screens and they switch.
“Rudy’s a really good player and he’s getting better. We’re excited about him,” Snyder continued, “but there’s a lot of things that Rudy needs to do. He needs to stay grounded as well, like our whole group, and be able to execute and think when we need him to.”
That’s something Bill Russell would do if he were playing in today’s NBA.