VIDEO: Rudy Gobert talks after his first start following his injury
By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com
Rudy Gobert is back on the court for the Utah Jazz, and for a team with playoff aspirations, his return is a godsend.
After a Grade 2 MCL sprain in Gobert’s left knee sidelined him for 18 games, he made his return on Jan. 7 – a 103-94 loss to the Houston Rockets in which he played 15 minutes. In two games since (both wins), Gobert averaged 9.5 points, 5.0 and 3.5 blocks in 58 total minutes.
All told, the Jazz are 7-13 when “The Stifle Tower” doesn’t play and 10-7 when he does. He’s a huge part of Utah’s identity, particularly on defense.
Utah’s opponents are scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions this season when Gobert is on the bench. But when he’s patrolling the paint, that mark dips to 103 points per 100 possessions.
Although he doesn’t qualify for the leaderboard due to time missed, Gobert ranks second in the league among all players with 2.6 blocks per game – behind only the Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside.
Gobert uses his 7-foot-1 frame, lengthy wingspan and 9-foot-7 standing reach to not only to block shots, but also to alter many high-percentage shots close to the rim. According to NBA.com, Gobert holds opponents to an unfathomably low 37 percent shooting at the rim. That mark is significantly more impressive than those of defensive-minded big men like Andrew Bogut (41.6 percent), Anthony Davis (43.5 percent) and DeAndre Jordan (45.3 percent).
And yet, oddly enough, Gobert has had an even greater influence offense.
Utah scores nearly seven additional points per 100 possessions when Gobert is in the lineup, a striking stat considering his limited offensive skills (virtually all of Gobert’s shot attempts come from within the restricted area).
To be fair, backup Jeff Withey performed admirably in Gobert’s absence. Even in the midst of Gobert’s return, Withey is averaging 8.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks through six January games. But Gobert finished fifth in Kia Defensive Player of the Year voting last season despite starting only 37 games. He remains the best defensive option for Utah when healthy.
If that “when healthy” qualifier proves inconsequential the rest of the season, Utah should end its three season-long (and counting) playoff absence.
Following his return, Gobert said, “I jumped higher than I was jumping before the injury. I feel great,” per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News.
After weathering the storm brought on by Gobert’s absence, Utah is in position to get hot heading into the All-Star break.
Note: All stats used in this article are accurate as of Jan. 11, prior to games played.
Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.