SALT LAKE CITY — Big man. Big potential. Big dreams. Big minutes?
When it comes to Rudy Gobert, the first three are no-brainers.
And the getting-big-minutes part? Well, that’s more in the TBD category.
As Gobert tweeted following Monday’s game, the latest in which he only got garbage-time play, waiting for that big opportunity to arise requires: “Patience, patience, patience.”
The 21-year-old Utah Jazz rookie wrote that message on Twitter as much for his followers as for himself. Gobert hasn’t been given much consistent playing time, especially not the past few months, but there is hope for a brighter future, a future that includes him swatting shots and terrorizing opponents around the rim on defense and him using his athletic 7-foot-1 frame to create offensive opportunities in the paint.
“That’s about basketball, for sure,” Gobert said about the tweet, which was somewhat reminiscent of a message he wrote earlier this season about how he knew he could help the team if only given the chance.
“That wasn’t complaining about playing time,” he explained about Monday's tweet. “But I want to play, of course.”
Desire and reality haven’t aligned yet for the French player, whom the Jazz acquired in a draft day trade after Denver selected him 27th overall.
Because Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans have received the bulk of the big men minutes this season, Gobert continues working in the weight room and on the practice court, bides his time observing, learning and cheering from the sidelines, and waits for his time to come.
“That’s not the easy part,” he admitted.
It doesn’t just take patience, either.
Getting his body and game to the point where he’ll be able to earn the trust of his coach also takes a lot of perspiration and persistence.
“I like him. I like what he’s done. I like his growth this year,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He has a lot more growth to do, and he’s progressing.”
The morning after Gobert saw only two meaningless minutes of action at the end of the Jazz’s 114-94 drubbing by Detroit, Corbin took exception to being asked what is keeping him from playing more.
“Where we are right now,” Corbin replied. “Who are you going to play him in front of?”
The third-year Jazz coach was not asking to acquire insight from a reporter.
“You can’t look at just throwing a guy out there just because he’s young,” Corbin said. “You’ve got to make sure you put him in a position to have some chance of your team being successful and the guy being successful.”
Such as life is, Gobert’s playing time has been as sporadic as his performances. Maybe he'll play Wednesday night against Memphis. Maybe he won't. Maybe he'll be effective on offense. Maybe he won't.
As for playing time, Gobert has only made appearances in 38 games for an average of 10.3 minutes per outing. He hasn’t seen more than five minutes in a game since a 10-minute showing in the 114-88 loss at Milwaukee on March 3.
Even with the limited P.T., Gobert and his coach say improvement has taken place since he made the humongous leap from the French professional ranks to the best basketball league in the world.
“I think I learned how it works in the league. When you are outside you don’t understand everything, but when you are inside you can know how it works,” Gobert said. “I think I learned basketball. I learned a lot.”
Gobert’s strength, of course, is his ability to alter and/or block shots. He is the Stifle Tower, after all. While the Jazz have tried to get him to play even bigger, to fully utilize his 7-foot-9 wing span, his defensive presence has been felt when he’s in games.
The biggest problem comes on the offensive side. Corbin said the young player is learning the importance of timing and how essential it is for him to get proper position on pick-and-rolls, in the post, and during other plays the Jazz run.
“He has to make sure he’s in the right spot, and faster,” Corbin explained. “If you’re off a little bit, you throw your whole rhythm of the offense off.”
Gobert also needs to improve his handwork — from catching the ball when it comes his way to holding on to it when powerful opponents try to knock it out of his hands while pushing him out of his spot.
“They’re stronger. They’re more mature. They understand how and when to hit you to make you lose the ball and throw you off-balance,” Corbin said of NBA big men Gobert has to face. “He has a lot to learn.”
It’s somewhat frustrating for Gobert because he said he “was catching the ball every time” last year when he played in France.
The center also said he feels “more comfortable” with how he fares in practice against the stronger Kanter and Favors than when he gets into real-game scenarios. That’s especially the case on offense.
“I think in the game it’s more of a confidence,” Gobert said. “I don’t want to do something because if I do it bad Coach is going to take me out, if I do mistakes. When you play like this, it’s not easy. I think it’s just confidence, offensively. Defensively, it’s easier because it’s more intensity. You don’t have to think, you just have to play hard on defense.”
C'est la vie, right?
"I think in some ways he’s ahead of where we thought he would be. He was so raw, especially offensively," Corbin said. "He does some things defensively that can help you, but the other side of the game, you've got to play both sides."
Gobert has worked on adding bulk to his lanky frame, and has even been able to increase his weight from 238 pounds to about 245 and build lower-body muscle with the help of strength and conditioning coaches Mark McKown and Isaiah Wright. That’s taken a lot of time in the weight room before practices and even in hotels on the road.
Gobert looks forward to returning home to work out before returning to Utah a couple of weeks ahead of the Las Vegas Summer League, where he hopes “to show what I can really do.” After that, the Parisian plans on trying to help France win the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
The big man with big potential has big dreams after that.
“In five years,” Gobert said, “I want to be an All-Star. That’s my goal. And win a title.”
Of course, those accomplishments will take something he’s become very familiar with his rookie season: Patience, patience, patience.
NOTE: Utah Jazz games on DirecTV will be broadcast on Ch. 683-1 for the rest of the season instead of on Ch. 684-1. Wednesday's game against Memphis will be an 8:30 p.m. tipoff and will be televised on ESPN.
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