We’ve played him there. I said this at the outside of the year, and we’re seeing it kind of evolve as far as it’s a new group in the some of the impactful positions. —Quin Snyder, on using Thabo Sefolosha at power forward
SALT LAKE CITY — Less than an hour before tipoff, the Utah Jazz announced that center Rudy Gobert was ruled out of Saturday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets with a right knee contusion.
Coach Quin Snyder had already tweaked the starting lineup Friday, starting rookie Donovan Mitchell in place of Rodney Hood against the Miami Heat, but he had to make another adjustment on the fly.
Enter: Thabo Sefolosha.
Sefolosha slid in at power forward, while Derrick Favors switched to center for the night. They rounded out the starters with Joe Ingles at small forward, Mitchell at shooting guard and Ricky Rubio at point guard.
Obviously, rim protection wasn’t as strong without Gobert — the league’s leading shot blocker — but spacing improved with the smaller unit.
Even before starting at the four, Sefolosha already embraced the challenge during Friday’s shootaround. He also experimented a little at power forward near the end of his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks.
Sefolosha would end with nine points, nine boards and five steals to go along with a plus-17 rating in the four spot for the Jazz. Utah snapped its four-game losing streak with a much-needed 114-106 victory over the Nets.
At 4:24 in the second quarter, Sefolosha hustled to grab a steal then nailed a transition 3 to give Utah a 54-38 edge.
“We’ve played him there,” Snyder said of using Sefolosha at power forward. “I said this at the outside of the year, and we’re seeing it kind of evolve as far as it’s a new group in the some of the impactful positions.”
Sefolosha doesn’t lead the team in any major statistical category, but if you ask folks in the locker room, he’s certainly taken a leadership role. He’s often the first off the bench to congratulate players and isn’t afraid to offer suggestions.
“It’s a little different but at the same time it’s a matter of being connected with my teammates, whether I play at the wing or at the four, it’s kind of the same,” Sefolosha said.
“Whatever position you play, I think it’s kind of the same principle.”
INJURY BUG: Three Jazzmen were absent from the lineup Saturday night. Rudy Gobert was ruled out less than an hour before tipoff. He suffered a right knee contusion in the third quarter of Friday’s 10-point loss to the Miami Heat, after clashing with Dion Waiters. Joe Johnson has missed the past six games with right wrist tendon instability and Dante Exum hasn’t played a regular season game yet as he recovers from left shoulder surgery.
SLICK RICK: Ricky Rubio caught fire during a three-game stretch against the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers, posting three straight 20-point games from Oct. 28-Nov. 1. But then the Spaniard floor general struggled. He went 0-for-5 in Friday’s loss at home to Miami and while connecting on just 9-of-40 attempts for just 22.5 percent entering Saturday’s game, while failing to get more than 13 points. He appeared to break out of his slump in his latest showing against Brooklyn, with 10 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and four steals on 4-of-9 shooting. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep his confidence.
HEY, ROOKIE: Jazz first-year guard Donovan Mitchell posted his fourth game with 20 or more points against Brooklyn, which ties him for first among NBA rookies. He ended with 26 points in 26 minutes on 10-for-17 shooting.