Heading into this season, the major storyline surrounding the Utah Jazz was how they would deal with the loss of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, who decided to join the Boston Celtics in free agency over the summer.
So far, they’re experiencing some growing pains.
After embarrassingly falling to the Phoenix Suns by the score of 97-86 on Wednesday night, Utah fell to 2-3 on the young season and it’s obvious that their offensive struggles might become an unfortunate trend, as no one has stepped up in a primary scoring role.
In their two wins (against the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder), the Jazz scored 106 and 96 points respectively, but in their losses, they’ve put up 97, 84 and 88.
While Utah prides itself on their stout defense, unlike virtually every other NBA team, their below-average play on offense could end up being disastrous as the season rolls along.
Although the franchise might need to make a personnel change or two, one man has been vastly overlooked on the offensive end of the floor: Rudy Gobert.
Apparently, the 7’1”, 245-pound center has been easy to forget about.
On the surface, it appears as though Gobert is having a great year, averaging 14.4 points, 11.4 rebounds in 33.6 minutes while posting four double-doubles in five games and swatting away an elite 11 shots in the process.
No one can debate Gobert’s elite rim protecting ability on defense, but his utilization on offense has been a bit concerning. He has taken double-digit field goal attempts in just three of the team’s five games and didn’t attempt a single free throw in two of the five games.
Last season, the Jazz went 12-6 in the regular season when Gobert took double-digit shot attempts and 7-3 when the big man scored 20-plus points. Although this year’s team is a bit different, Utah had better outcomes last season when Gobert had big individual offensive games.
The big man sat down with Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype before the season began and couldn’t help hide his excitement about playing alongside pass-first point guard Ricky Rubio.
“I’m very excited,” he exclaimed. “He’s one of the best passers in the league and he’s a very unselfish guy. I really like the way he plays and he’s going to get you open looks. I know if I’m open or if I get good positioning under the rim, I have someone who’s going to find me.”
Since the Jazz love to keep the pace of the game as slow as possible based on their personnel and style of play, if Rubio and Gobert can establish a viable pick-and-roll chemistry, it could be a very fruitful endeavor.
Not only can Gobert score around the rim, but he also has shown off some surprising range when shooting the ball. Here’s what he did in a regular-season game this season after being being utterly disrespected by the opposing defender:
He also has developed a real ability to Eurostep when needed. Check out this nifty play from earlier in the season:
In the first year of a four-year, $102 million contract extension, Gobert was very clear about what Utah’s goal is this season and every season in which he’s on the team.
"When you see the young guys and Ricky joining us, I'm very excited," Gobert told reporters before the season. "We might end up being better than last year. Who knows? I think we're going to keep getting better every year. The goal is to keep getting better and keep competing. The goal is still the same: win a championship in the close future.”
”Watching summer league, watching the guys, I'm very confident,” he continued. “I'm excited for our team. Obviously, we lost Gordon, but we are still a very good team. We're going to show people that we're a good team.”
Unless he can help fill some of the scoring void that Hayward left when he bolted town, the Jazz might be in dire trouble for the rest of this season.
Gobert and Utah's next chance will be on Saturday when the Los Angeles Lakers travel to Salt Lake City.