My goal is to protect the basket. Most of the time, I won’t block the shot but I’m going to affect the shot or I’m going to affect the way they think. —Rudy Gobert
SALT LAKE CITY — Opponents may want to think wisely before challenging Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert at the basket.
The Stifle Tower is a defensive assassin, trained to swat basketballs for breakfast.
No. 27 for the Jazz is cool, calm and collected off the court, but certainly an intimidating presence for NBA players not on his squad.
Jazz beat writer Eric Woodyard recently caught up with the league’s leading shot blocker before his knee injury then again briefly afterward to discuss his mental approach to blocks and his lofty goal for the season.
Eric Woodyard: What’s your thought process on shot blocking? Just kind of getting deep inside your mind. What goes into goes into being an effective shot blocker? It kind of seems like you’re like a goalie in the soccer field when I’m watching you, but what are you thinking?
Rudy Gobert: It’s pride. You don’t want your opponent to score. You don’t want your guy to score and once you get better at it, you get used to it, it becomes a mindset. You just try to do it every game.
EW: At what point in your life did you realize that you were a unique shot blocker?
RG: Probably when I was 17 and I started playing the four and the five. I realized that I had good reaction, good timing, good size, good length so then it just became a habit and then I realized how much it wins games so it’s just a mindset. It’s not only size, it’s really the not-giving-up attitude.
EW: So is that a goal of yours to lead the league in blocks? Is it something you purposely go out and think of or does it just happen in the flow of the game?
RG: My goal is to protect the basket. Most of the time, I won’t block the shot but I’m going to affect the shot or I’m going to affect the way they think. Sometimes, I see the guys driving and they don’t even look at the rim, they just dribble out so it’s as good as a block or even better because I’m kind of laughing when I see that. That’s what it’s about. Some games I’m going to get more blocks or they’re going to do more mistakes and give up more baskets but some games I get zero blocks and I affect 20 shots.
EW: How much can that change a game when you beat a shot, man? Do you feel the momentum of a game change, like the block you had against Damian Lillard versus Portland?
RG: For sure, because it gets them to think and it gets them to say, ‘Oh, you blocked that one? So how am I supposed to go?’ and the next time they drive, it’s in the back of their head like, ‘he blocked the last one, so maybe I should shoot a floater on that one’ and then instead of shooting a more effective shot they shoot a floater. So, yeah I think it kind of affects the game more than people think.
EW: So do you kind of study your opponent’s tendencies before you face them?
RG: I do. I do. I know when a guy is going to try and dunk on me. I know before the game already so I’m aware and I know when a guy is going to be passing so I’m aware of that, too. I just try to learn and study the guys so I’ll be more prepared.
EW: Well, I’m from Flint, Michigan, but there’s another guy from Saginaw, Mich. that won last year’s Defensive Player of the Year. His name is Draymond Green. (Laughs)
Now is that a goal of yours this year to try and get that award.
RG: Of course. Every year, I think I’m the best defensive player in the league and I want to be the best. I think being the defensive player in the league is making your team better because, like I said, there’s a lot of things you don’t see on stats. When you make your team better, usually it means a lot.
EW: Do you like how Utah has embraced your defensive culture? I mean, they’ve got the ‘Super Rudy Block’ game, with the t-shirts being sold in the team shop. A lot of areas aren’t embracing that
RG: Yeah, the thing is the NBA and the guys don’t promote defense enough. All these kids don’t think about defense, they just come in the league and try to get buckets, like they say, and they forget that if you don’t play good defense, you can’t win games. You’re going to have a night where you don’t shoot good but defense, you can do it every night.
EW: Why are you able to keep such a positive mindset with this injury? I mean, most people would mentally break as the team is struggling a bit and you go down with an injury, but how did you get to this point to stay calm and positive in the midst of the storm?
RG: Like I said, starting the season I’m confident that the team is going to win games even when I’m not here and I’ll be back stronger. It’s like an all-star break before the all-star break. So everything is good, I’m confident and nothing’s changed. No team goals. No individual goals. Everything’s good.