Coaches and managers all across the sports platform always seem to adopt the “next man up” philosophy. This usually happens when injuries transpire. But in Utah’s case, when Enes Kanter was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder back on Feb. 19, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder called for the next man up and Rudy Gobert has ferociously responded.
In the 22 games he has started, the 7-foot-1 center has posted averages of 9.7 points, 12.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in 33.9 minutes per game. The Jazz have found something in Gobert, who was acquired in a draft night trade from the Denver Nuggets after the Nuggets took him 27th overall. He has grabbed double-digit rebounds in 10 of his last 11 games and 20 or more rebounds in three of his last 10.
This young team has been rebuilding after falling off the last few seasons. Many people remember the recent glory days in Salt Lake City when they had the services of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer led by the coaching acumen of Jerry Sloan, but those days are long gone.
Back in 2012-13, the Jazz fought for a playoff spot until the final days of the regular season with a Lakers team that had just lost Kobe Bryant to a season-ending Achilles injury. After finishing 43-39 and missing out on the playoffs, they lost their two leading scorers in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to free agency, and last season featured a bunch of losses.
At 30-37 this season, the Jazz’s overall record isn’t impressive, but a league-best 11-3 record since the All-Star break has this team oozing with a large degree of confidence. Utah has been the best defensive team in the NBA since the break, and having Gobert anchor the paint is the biggest (literally) reason why. He’s a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate at this point.
Generating offense remains a struggle, as the Jazz rank a woeful 26th in the NBA by scoring just 95.0 points per game. Playing into that is the fact that they struggle taking care of the basketball, ranking 26th in turnovers as well.
But if you’re a fan of this team, there’s reason to be encouraged about the future. Gordon Hayward has emerged as their best scorer after inking a max extension last offseason. You always wonder how young players will respond to getting their money, but he has certainly earned it with the level of production he has displayed this season.
You can also look at players like Derrick Favors, Trey Burke and rookie Dante Exum, who have all shown excellent promise in this new era of Jazz basketball. Even Alec Burks, who went down for the season with a shoulder injury, has shown flashes of potential on the wing.
Although the Washington Wizards ended Utah’s six-game winning streak with an 88-84 win on Wednesday night, Hayward led all scorers with 26 points and contributed four rebounds and four assists. Gobert added nine points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots. The core of this team exuberates confidence at this point, and the team is hoping for better results in the win column next season.
Since the Jazz are more than likely going to miss the playoffs, all signs point to them receiving the benefit of a lottery pick. Who knows, maybe Utah can win big at the draft to add to this fine collection of talent they have in place. And with the league’s salary cap increasing, the Jazz can look at the free-agent market for some veteran leadership to add to a roster ripe with young talent.