The Jazz and the 200 million question: Now what about Rudy Gobert?

The Jazz end with a bitter taste a season in which they marveled. Gobert is once again at the center of many debates.

The-Jazz-and-the-200-million-question:-Now-what-about-Rudy-Gobert?

There is a cheap joke that circulates on social networks: Rudy Gobert does not have a photoshopped image with the Lakers jersey. Angeleno fans, spoiled by concept, smell big game every time a great free agent hits the market; every time a star gets angry or disappointed with his franchise, every time he is eliminated prematurely or crashes in public a great player… or a not so great one. So the images on networks of the best in the NBA with the Lakers jersey became so common that they ended up proliferating as a joke, sometimes a matter of simple irony. But still, many, seriously: that's why hobbies like the Utah Jazz hate the Lakers (there is also a cultural conflict, different value systems). And that's why it is so striking that with Rudy Gobert it never happened: there was no montage with the Lakers jersey. He is not an overly appreciated or overly loved player. No general and as soon as you set foot outside of Salt Lake City.

Nor has he always lost with good humor, he is not the friendliest in the neighborhood, he cried before the microphones for not being chosen for the 2019 All Star in plan the world is not fair and he covered himself with glory at the beginning of the pandemic. It was the positive for coronavirus that stopped everything (something that was about to happen in any case and was absolutely inevitable) ... after having joked about it by touching (before knowing that he had contracted the virus) the microphones of the journalists to ironically about the first and still timid measures of social distance that the NBA was beginning to adopt. His attitude provoked a feint of divorce with the young star of his team. Or just the star, actually: Donovan Mitchell. And many are burdened by constant debates about how good it is, how influential it is, how important it is, and whether it is overrated or underrated. Jazz fans have brought the concept of screen assists to the big stage, in order to show his face, the concept of screen assists: the baskets that their teammates achieve directly to the shooting situation they achieve thanks to Gobert's blocks.

What is good: Rudy Gobert is good. Let's not talk nonsense just to imply that it's not that good. He is 28 years old and has been in the NBA for eight. He was number 27 in the draft in 2013, a bet by the Jazz for his 2.16 and his terrifying 2.26 of wingspan that went as well as bad for having given the number 3 in 2011 to Enes Kanter. By February 2015 Kanter was in the Thunder. The Turk was eaten by Gobert, third in the 2014-15 Most Improved Player vote (behind, no less, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green) and the Jazz's new defensive anchor for the medium and long-term future. In October 2016, he signed a four-year, $ 102 million rookie contract extension. Before this season, he signed a new extension. An outrage: 205 million for five years that will begin to count from next season. In the 2024-25 season, Gobert will collect $ 43.2 million. And for 2025-26 it has a player option of 45.9. Dennis Lindey, the sports vice president and strongman of the Jazz offices, was as happy as ever with Gobert after the elimination: "He is one of the best players in the NBA and we are very happy to have him on our team." You better be telling the truth, because it will go a long way.When nothing is going as well as it seemed

After his tears in 2019, Rudy Gobert has been an all star in 2019 and 2020. He has already entered the All NBA Teams (the quintets of the season) four times. And, of course, he is three times Best Defender (2018, 2019, 2021), five times a member of the Best Defensive Quintet and a player who last season averaged 14.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. And he had the best +/- of the regular season (+728) by far. The Jazz were the team with the most victories (52-20, projected to be around 60 in a normal regular season) and had the best net rating (+9, almost three points above the Phoenix Suns) with the fourth best attack and the third best defense.

It's to be very happy, right?

Well, no. The Jazz blew a 2-0 loss against the Clippers, who: 1) chose that side of the draw, so they preferred to face them en route to the first West Final; 2) They have become the first team to come back from 2-0 twice in the playoffs and 3) They did not have Serge Ibaka in the entire series and they were without Kawhi Leonard in the last two games.

It was a year to make the leap forward. In 2020, the Nuggets beat them 3-1 in the first round ... but Bojan Bogdanovic was not there, injured. Since the arrival of Quin Snyder in 2014, it's been five years in a row in the playoffs but no Western finals. This year, injuries and distress across the league map had thrown open the doors for teams like the Utah Jazz. But it could not be. After 72.2% wins in the Regular Season, the Jazz say goodbye with four losses in a row in the second round. Not knowing what would have happened if Mike Conley had not been injured and Donovan Mitchell was depleted (or also injured, actually). And with the first doubts haunting Snyder although, of course, it has given more the feeling that he did not have to test alternatives than that he did not want to.

And the Jazz are in a strange limbo: when they took over Mike Conley in the summer of 2019 (by Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and a first round with various protections) they opened a two-year competitive window that was has closed bitterly. Conley will be a free agent, 34 when he starts next season and a delicate injury history but with enormous value in a market where he will seek at least $ 20 million a year. And the Jazz, before sitting down to talk to him, have committed about $ 134 million. Almost any move involves getting fully into the luxury tax when, in addition, it is not just about Conley: it seems obvious that the profile of secondary must be changed and that the rotation must be lengthened. It is a difficult position materially ... and emotionally: there is nothing worse than raising doubts when the extensions of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are about to be pulled. The escort, with the absolute scent of a superstar, will take about 163 million for five years. And that by not entering the All NBA Teams (press vote) has not accessed the super maximum of 195. They have been almost 33 million by the way. Gobert will have his 205x5.

You have to gain depth, muscle, defense on the wings (without losing shot) and versatility. And all while trying to retain Mike Conley and not pay an extra millionaire for a team that, right now, has no way to escape the sanmbenito that is great in Regular Season ... and correct, or well, in the playoffs. What would have happened to healthy Conley and Mitchell? We don't know, neither with the two of them and Ibaka and Kawhi also on the track. But in these five years, four times the rivals (Warriors, Clippers and two Rockets) have beaten the Jazz with very small quintets and small ball at all costs. There is a pattern. There is an Achilles heel and the Clippers pounded on it until it popped.

The Jazz have been a cowardly group, trusting to their talent, finesse and shooting. During the regular season they were the best team of three the NBA has seen, by volume and accuracy. But, even in the age of the triple revolution, living or dying on the line of three is bad business. Because the Warriors and company, who are always used, did not do that: they made triples and did many other things. In playoffs, rivals scratch you positions, plays, percentages. The legs are exhausted and the nerves emerge. It's not just about what defenses that go where in Regular Season do or even try. It's that sometimes you just fail a lot. In the fifth game, on their court and without Kawhi in front, the Jazz missed 17 triples in a row in a second half that condemned them. A memory to the 27 of the Rockets in the seventh game, also at their court, of the 2018 West final.A good defense ... for the Regular Season

The Jazz controlled the first part of the fifth game but did not escape because their defense conceded too much. And in the sixth, in a collapse for history, they let slip a 25-point lead after the break. They failed to stop a reaction led by Paul George ... but propelled by Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson. The Clippers scored 81 points in the second half. In the four games in a row that have given them a pass to their first Western final, they averaged 125. In two, I repeat for the last time, without Kawhi Leonard. That's against the third best defender of the season and this year's Best Defender and three of the last four. How is it possible?

Again due to injuries, yes, but above all because the Jazz only have one plan and the NBA in 2021 does not consist of having a plan and taking it to perfection, which seems to be the central idea in the construction of these Jazz, but in know how to adapt, hit back, have alternatives to different party ideas. Solve problems. In an age where offense has become fueled by a constant stream of rhythm and action-reaction plays - space, passing, shooting - defense has to be based on the same principles. Have a base from which to acquire a thousand forms or completely different faces depending on what the rival throws at you. That's how the best Warriors were, that's what the Lakers were like last season.

That's how some Clippers have tried everything (zones, double markings and constant adjustments, drop coverage) until they hit the key. Until they have driven some Jazz crazy who ended up chasing shadows, out of place. As soon as Tyronn Lue played with five wide players, all shooters and with no inside reference, the Jazz's plan A fell apart. And there was no plan B. Yes, Mann had to light up in an amazing way. And he had to make 22 points and 10 assists Jackson in the second half alone. But the Jazz didn't know how to react. And neither spiritually: they have barely returned any of the blows that the Clippers have thrown at them. Harder, more expert, more physical, more intense: better.

At this point the focus is definitely on Rudy Gobert. Ay, Gobert. That in previous years ended up looking like a negative factor in the playoffs, out of place and against style. Of whose extension of 205 million Shaquille O'Neal ridiculed in an absolutely bloody way. Along with Mitchell, I also remember the last two chosen in the All Star selection made by the captains, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Another hit with bitter derision for a Jazz obsessed with being legitimate. With Belonging.

The mountain that collapses in the playoffs

In the series against the Clippers, Gobert averaged 35.7 minutes on the court, 12.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Its incidence diminished as Lue perfected his hunting plan. His +/- total in the series was positive, but in the sixth game he ended up being the worst of the Jazz, -24. In the last two games he did not put a stopper, something that had not happened to him in consecutive nights since ... the 2020 playoffs against the Denver Nuggets. And his normally imposing figure ended up being almost comical; chasing players who were no longer there, clumsy at the line of three, slow to recover and sold at the rim, his dominance. The Jazz defended just as poorly against the Grizzlies, unable to keep Ja Morant out of the zone. But the Tennessee players didn't have the volume or the stability of the outside shot to take advantage of it.

The Clippers do. Five open shooters, against defenders unable to protect the front line in one-on-one (Reggie Jackson, for example, abused Jordan Clarkson, Best Sixth Man of the Year), entered the zone and awaited the movements of a distraught Gobert, like a tentetieso, to react and punish: if he was late they were easy points near the rim, if he recovered in time he would leave a shooter released, usually in a corner. In that sixth game, the Jazz made 12/16 shooting with Gobert directly on the defender. In the second half, a 15/19 (79%) with the French as the directing defender or the scorer's closest man. It was not all Gobert's fault, of course. Snyder's plan fell apart and he overwhelmed the lack of dexterity (counting, for the umpteenth time, injuries) of the Jazz exteriors. But Gobert is the Defender of the Year and again he couldn't be a decisive influence (not for the better). Something is wrong. The best in the current NBA, surely, when it comes to protecting the rim, is not elite in the rest of the sections. And that is paid in the playoffs. That opens doors for rivals. That cannot be consented if you are going to have a contract of 205 million starting this summer.

Because, in addition, Gobert has no shot but also no solvent movements in the post. He cannot punish the opponent for playing without centers, he cannot be Snyder's counteroffensive to force the opposing coach back to a standard format. And that, his limitations in attack, is a problem just as big as the fact that he is a really decisive defender only in a game plan. In total, some things with others, Gobert ends up becoming (in that scheme, with those colleagues) the perfect victim. It does not command, it does not dominate, it does not impose, it makes waters. It happened again and it became extraordinarily evident again.

There have always been scorers in the NBA who score a lot but they are considered worse than another good batch of players because they lack a lot of other things. Likewise, an elite bully can't be considered an elite playoff defender for that alone. Draymond Green, the antithesis of Gobert, put it this way. And in the Bucks-Nets, in parallel, Brook Lopez found ways to produce, contribute, spend many minutes on the court despite the rival's ultra-small quintets. Lopez has more points: he has a shot, he has movements to the post, he passes ... and he plays with teammates who stop their pairings beyond the line of three and send attackers into tunnels that he can protect. The series ended on the track ... and with a decisive block to Kevin Durant. It was impossible not to remember (at least a little) Gobert, Snyder, the Jazz.

Of the 39 points Mann scored in the game of his life, out of 30 Gobert could be considered his defender, whether he was on top of him or not. Snyder tried to balance spaces and give time to the French's aids, freeing Mann, the worst of the five shooters, in theory, that Lue had on the track. When Mann started scoring non-stop, the Jazz panicked: There was no alternative. And sitting Gobert ends up not being an option when it comes to a player with that contract and, above all, when there are no alternatives on the bench and there are no optimal players for that liquid, physical and expansive style with which Lue won the tie.

The Jazz had little experience, little physicality, little depth, disastrous injuries and the habit of playing traveling in a buggy. In Regular Season they almost always won, often by crushing. In fact, they had a negative record in matches resolved on the wire. Without the habit of suffering, they are not a team prepared for the trenches of the playoffs, an ecosystem radically different from that of the regular phase, where there are so many blank nights, so many games against much worse rivals, very disinterested or both at the same time.

Done in the furnaces of advanced analytics, the Jazz defend under the mandate of the Expected Value, the theoretical value of possessions. Some accounts that, with their specific deformations, end up profitable in the regular phase: how much statistically a triple from a bad pitcher is worth, an action in which you force the opponent to shoot from where you want ... that is more risky in the playoffs, where many times a more warlike style is needed: finally, it is not enough to try to reduce the efficiency of the rival; You have to silence him, subdue him, force him not to score, put plugs, force consummate possessions without a prize ...

The Jazz lack hunting dogs on the outside, players who really go after the opponent who handles the ball and creates the plays, what the coaches call POA (point of attack) defenders and that in an ideal system combine with the chasers , the ones who chase and dry the shooters. With other profiles abroad, Gobert would suffer less. But he would continue to have limitations against small and mobile centers and would continue to contribute little in attack. The rivals, in the playoffs and in the current situation, can make him just another player, one without great influence on the game. Even in one who would be better off on the bench. That is a terrible problem for his team given the contract he has signed. And while with Mitchell there is very little reason to doubt and plenty to be satisfied with the security of his future in Salt Lake City, can the bet on Gobert be a mistake? To what extent does it penalize that its market value, which is what it was, does not coincide with its real sporting value at the decisive moments of the season? Can the Jazz remake themselves without transforming or will we see one more year of this block and then a radical third change? That's a lot of awkward questions in a year that seemed destined to end otherwise. To a much sweeter ending. One that almost never comes even though it never seems too far away in the (complicated) state of Utah.



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