Rudy Gobert Swats Away Free Agency Plans


Written by Robby Lewis (@RLewis_NBA) on 05 November 2016   

On Monday, the Utah Jazz and their defensive centerpiece locked down a four-year extension worth up $102 million dollars. According to reports via the Vertical, the deal adds up to $90 million dollars guaranteed over the course of the four-year period, with an additional $3 million dollars per season entangled within incentive based language. The deal was announced on Monday afternoon, hours before the rookie contract extension deadline was set to expire. If Gobert had failed to sign the extension with the Jazz, he would have become a restricted free agent next summer.

The Jazz are no strangers to extension dilemmas, having faced a similar situation back in 2013 with Gordon Hayward. During that process the Jazz and Hayward broke off negotiations at the last hour, failing to establish a deal—resulting in restricted free agency for Hayward.

The Jazz, who've had the ability to develop young talent on cheaper contracts—are starting to feel the aftereffects of that Hayward contract quandary.

After Hayward had played out the 2013-2014 season, the Indianapolis native opted to sign an offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan's Hornets offered the former Butler Bulldog the maximum contract for a player with 0-6 years of experience — four years $63 million dollars. Before signing the deal, the Jazz reassured Hayward that any contract he opted to sign would be matched.

As the Jazz matched the offer sheet—a move that brought the 9th overall pick from the 2010 draft back to Salt Lake—they knew that they would not want to be put in a situation like that again. Negotiation processes are never easy, the familiar narrative that players, agents, and front offices often do not see eye-to-eye is real.

Luckily during that particular situation the Jazz were afforded the ability to match the offer for Hayward. Due to the framework of the deal (Charlotte included a fourth-year player option), the Jazz will face the reality that Hayward can walk away from Utah this summer. Early reports indicate Gordon Hayward is planning to opt out of his contract and will ending up testing the free agent market as an unrestricted free agent.

Tough economical decisions often shape who a franchise is and who they become. Ask Mark Cuban, who famously let his championship team disband the following summer. The Mavericks have not won a playoff series since.

It's no secret that the Jazz front office will be faced with some pressing financial obstacles this summer. As Dennis Lindsey and his staff believe that they've put themselves in a solid position to re-sign Hayward, ESPN's Zach Lowe has hinted on his Lowe Post Podcast that the Boston Celtics and Hayward's former college head coach Brad Stevens may be lurking.

As the Hayward contract dilemma looms, the Jazz accomplished the first order of business, extending Gobert. The Frenchman swatted away any doubt amongst the Jazz faithful about where he wants to play— it's in Utah. So let's dive in and investigate what kind of impact Gobert's extension will have on the Jazz.

Defensive Identity Remains Intact

Not many centers in the NBA are built like Rudy Gobert. Gobert possesses excellent height at 7'1", but the physical asset that stands out the most is his absurd wingspan which is listed at 7'8.5" according to Draft Express. With both of those particular athletic traits (height & reach), Gobert has managed to become the backbone of the Jazz's last line of defense—mopping up rebounds and blocking shots at an alarming rate.

Combining speed and reach with a unique timing ability often equates into superior rim protection. The ability to protect the rim has become an essential element to any center's game. Gobert has proven over the course of his young NBA career that he is no slouch when it comes to protecting the rim. Through five games this season, Gobert has held opponents to 34.2% shooting around the rim which would rank 2nd in the NBA with a minimum of defending 30 field goal attempts, per NBA.com/stats. His freakish physical characteristics compliment his athletic ability, allowing him to block any shot from any distance. Every player should think twice before entering Gobert's "space" out on the court. Gobert has great reactionary skills that allow him to make defensive plays like the one below. 

Having Gobert's size and speed is unteachable— Gobert does a fabulous job of being nimble on his feet during pick-n-roll coverage, often dropping back, baiting opponents into contested shots against his long reach. He blocks shots with the best of them, posting a 6.1% block percentage this year, ranking 5th in the NBA with a minimum of 100 minutes played, per Basketball Reference.

As clogged as the spacing is on offense, the Jazz are one of the most physically imposing teams when they decide to pair both Gobert and Derrick Favors together. After back to back seasons in which Gobert & Favors logged over 850 minutes together—posting a net rating of 4.2 & 4.7 respectively—the twin towers are off to a blistering start this season posting an impressive 24.7 net rating (119.6 OffRTG 94.9 DefRTG) while sharing the floor for 30 minutes this season per NBA.com/Stats.

Teams are trying to find weaknesses to this unique bully-ball pairing—typically teams tinker with the size of their lineups. Playing small with a lone center and a stretch forward is often the normal strategy. Forcing Favors or Gobert outside on the perimeter defensively is the key to negating their dominance in the paint. Both players would rather anchor down within the paint then be scampering out in pick-n-roll coverage.

As Favors continues to work his way back from an offseason injury to his knee, look for the Jazz to rely more heavily on Gobert to be the fulcrum of the team's defensive identity.

Incremental Offensive Improvement

Gobert still struggles with the ability to shoot or post up. His offensive game consists of high ball screens for guards or wings and aggressive rim rolls. Due to his excellent reach, Gobert has worked on keeping the ball high off the lob and simply laying the ball in or throwing it down for a slam. Slowly, Gobert has progressed into a Tyson Chandler like player for the Jazz. Gobert's superb mobility allows him to make multiple actions and finish above the rim. Watch on this play how Gobert aligns himself with a back screen on Exum's man then turns into open space — rolling to the rim for the dunk. 

Outside of not having the ability to shoot or post-up Gobert had to work on getting stronger. During training sessions this offseason at P3 performance, Gobert pushed himself to get his body more balanced. His lower-body strength had been a glaring weakness in his game, often getting pushed around due to his slight frame. The results are starting to show out on the court. He is physically more imposing and thanks to the newly acquired Boris Diaw, Gobert also improved his basketball IQ. Gobert now can make smart, timely cuts into open cracks of the defense.

Check out this video of Gobert moving without the ball and finding open space for the dunk:

With Hayward out of the lineup through the first five games, Gobert has asserted himself more aggressively on the offensive end. Gobert is currently averaging 6.8 free throw attempts 19th in the NBA— up from his 4.8 average last season. Increasing free throw attempts with a subtle improvement in his percentage (currently 62%) should correlate to an uptick in points per game. If Gobert stays out of foul trouble— he is now tied for 12th in the NBA in fouls committed, per Basketball Reference—he will have the ability to gain more and more experience as the season continues to churn. He is currently hovering around 31 minutes per game, if Quin Snyder decides to notch him up to 33-34 minutes per game, Gobert could average a double-double.

It's evident that Gobert has made major strides both offensively and defensively since entering the league. He was rewarded with a near maximum contract that will pay him top 10 money for the center position.  Gobert was the first order of business for the Jazz front office— who will be next?


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