When you have someone who plays defense like he does, you know the team is in good hands. He makes us better as a team. —Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert
PHOENIX — After leading the NBA in blocked shots last year with 2.64 per game, Rudy Gobert was off to a slow start in the blocks department going into Wednesday’s game with just six in four games, an average of 1.5 per game.
Instead, it’s Gobert’s teammate, Ekpe Udoh, who leads the Jazz and ranked third in the NBA with 2.75 blocks per game, despite playing less than half as many minutes (15.0) as Gobert (33.0).
When asked if his backup might block more shots than him this year, Gobert smiled and said, “I’m getting worried now, he’s got twice as much as I do. I’ve got to catch up.”
But Gobert is thrilled to have Udoh backing him up this year.
“It’s great, when I’m on the bench, I’m able to relax,” Gobert said. “When you have someone who plays defense like he does, you know the team is in good hands. He makes us better as a team.”
When the blocked shots were pointed out to Jazz coach Quin Snyder, he said he wasn’t aware of those numbers and said it was a small sample. He said he was more surprised by Gobert’s number than Udoh’s.
“What we’re seeing is Epke is a unique player too,” said Snyder. “His ability his timing his length, he’s making those plays. He’s blocked some shots in those situations where he’s just pursued, he hasn’t given up on plays. It shows his competitiveness as much as anything.”
Udoh, who bragged before the year that he was one of the top defensive players in the league, said “I’ve been a defensive guy my whole life. I just got to do the best I can to help us win. It’s just something that I do.”
In Wednesday night’s game, Gobert started closing the gap on Udoh, finishing with five blocks to Udoh’s one.
FINDING A NICHE: Royce O’Neale, who as the last guy to make the team, got his first meaningful minutes in Tuesday night’s loss to the Clippers. He played six minutes and was part of the Jazz rally in the fourth quarter with a plus-4 on his plus-minus.
“It felt good, getting my opportunity after staying ready,” he said. “You never know when you have to go in the game so I just have to be ready. I just have to adjust to the flow of the game and bring energy and try to impact the game as I can.”
O’Neale, who didn't get into Wednesday's game, is playing his first year in the NBA after playing in Europe last year and playing collegiately at Baylor.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “We’ve got great guys leading the way and I’m finding my niche.”
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz defeated the Suns twice in preseason games, 112-101 in Salt Lake and 120-102 in Phoenix . . . The two teams meet three more times this season: Feb. 2 in Phoenix and Feb. 14 and March 15 in Salt Lake . . . The Jazz have four straight home games before their next road game, Nov. 5 in Houston . . . The Suns came into the game third in the league in pace with 108 possessions per game while the Jazz were last at 95 per game.