As he stands tall in the paint, Rudy watches the action unfold around him. After another 35 foot miss by Jordan Clarkson, back to defense he goes. Mitchell, once again taken straight to the rim by Reggie Jackson, is no help on this side of the ball. Rudy sighs, before he goes up and blocks Jacksons shot. But before he even reaches the ground, Nic Batum snakes to the paint, taking advantage of Joe and Conley ball watching, and grabs an offensive rebound, which he easily tips back in. Rudy looks at the bench, and once again, makes the lonely jog back up the court.
Rudy Gobert is not perfect. This Jazz team however, has some imperfections of their own. Game 6 was a very hard night for everyone involved, but the narratives that I have seen about that game have to be quenched. We will first go through the issues that Rudy Gobert has, as a player. Then, the issues that this Jazz team has, and finally how those issues impacted the public perception of Rudy Gobert.
First, lets start with the good of Rudy. He is still the best defender in the league, the numbers and the educated eye test back that up. A historic rim protector, a legendary pick and roll defender, and quite possibly the best pick and roller to ever live. While he isn't switchable like Bam, when the opportunity presents itself, he has no problem going out to check up the guard. However, flaws do exist, and they were presented in the Clippers series. Primarily, they are found on the offensive side of the ball. Gobert is a very dependent offensive player. Think of him like a computer. By itself, it is just a hunk of wires and plastic. But when you give that computer a user, it can do things that others can only dream of. This is Gobert and his offense. His rolling to the rim is unparalleled. However, he needs a good pick and roll ball handler to unlock his capabilities. Conley was injured for the majority of this series. Joe Ingles couldn't pick up the slack, which caused some real issues for Goberts offensive efficiency. When his rolling goes away, he is left with the post up. That facet of his game is practically nonexistant. This was Goberts flaw in this series. Not his defense, but his inability to punish on the offensive end. HOWEVER, THIS IS NOT WHERE THE CONSENSUS ATTACKS ON RUDY ARE COMING FROM. They are coming from a completely unwarranted and unearned perspective, and they should be focused on a different entity.
The 2021 Utah Jazz were a very good basketball team. Perhaps the best shooting team in the history of the league, with a plethora of solid creators, a team overflowing with basketball IQ. However, the flaws that were clear from the beginning, reared their ugly head in the playoffs. Let's start, with the defense.
By my evaluations, the Jazz have 2 average or above defenders on the roster; Royce O'neale, and Rudy Gobert. Royces defense may be a bit overstated by the consensus, but he is solid on that end of the floor, and he always gives fight. Gobert is Gobert. However, the rest of the team doesn't meet the cut. Conley, while having good defensive instincts, is too small to really do anything, and his effort was off and on. Mitchell, while in the regular season was poor, in the playoffs was a liability. This was partly due to his defense but is noteworthy nonetheless. Ingles, Bogdanovic, and Niang are all slow and fat, which neutralizes their defensive IQ. Clarkson is completely lost on that end, and Favors is a 29 year old in a 40 year olds body. All of these players have one thing in common. A lack of effort, or a lack of way to use that motor. Constantly I was found yelling at my screen, "do they not realize its a 5 point elimination game?" because the guys simply were not trying. Not hustling back on defense, guarding no one once they were inevitably beat off the dribble, not crashing the glass, the whole shebang. They were trained that, because we have the most dominant defensive force of a generation behind us, that gives us free reign to simply... not try. To be fair most of these players are too unathletic to have trying mean anything but heart really could've switched that series.
Next, the athleticism. By my count, we have 3 plus athletes on the roster; Mitchell, Royce, and Gobert. Mitchell was a firm negative by the time the second round had started however. Chalk it up to athleticism, chalk it up to heart, but the Jazz did not stay in front of their man at the perimeter in this series. Everytime down he court, be it Reggie Jackson, Paul George, or even Luke Kennard, it was a cakewalk to the paint. Whenever the Clippers got the ball, me as a fan was thinking "this possession starts once they get to the paint." Because it did! They waltzed past the defense, and once Gobert had swung into the paint to stop the layup, the play truly began.
Finally, the coaching. I love Quin Snyder and his scheme. He brings a ferocity to the bench that is matched by no one else in the game. However, his defensive scheme in this series was basketball malpractice. Let me show you how it went. Conley gets blown by almost instantaneously by George. George is about to go up for a layup, but he sees the open Terrence Mann in the corner. He passes it to Terrence Mann and he makes the shot. What could be done differently? In a word, rotations. What pass is harder, the one to the open corner, something that is one pass away, OR, a pass to man behind you that you cannot even see? Obviously, the ladder. Perhaps this flaw could be chalked up to poor hustle and athleticism on the players, but there was no rotations in that series. Everyone has to scoot down a man and pick up the dude in the short corner, or else nothing is going to work. However, instead they had Rudy Gobert guard the two most efficient shots in basketball; the layup and corner three. Instead of adjusting, Snyder let it go, basically lining Rudy up to be attacked both on and off the court.
As for the people that are getting mad about Goberts switching, I am not sure what to say. He wasn't asked to switch this series, as there were practically no pick and rolls called on the clippers side. The only place this argument comes from is ignorance, as someone clearly didn't watch the game.
Rudy Gobert was given a defensive job that can be done by no player in NBA history, all while playing the first half on a noticeable limp. Guarding every spot inside the 3 point line, as well as the short corner three, it cannot be done. However, slander is still thrown at every chance available. It comes down to simple math. Everytime the Clippers get into the paint, Gobert has two options and only 2 options; guard the paint, or guard the three. If Rudy guards the paint, Terrence Mann is shooting a three pointer. In the playoffs, Mann shot an astounding 43% from three. That equates to about 1.29 points per possession, a gaudy number. You can even raise that number if you would like, accounting for him making more threes open than contested (although most all Manns threes were open.) However, if Rudy guards the three, that leaves the rim open for a free attack. Logically it makes sense to assume the Clippers shoot close to 100% at the rim, but lets say that they shoot 60% on open layups. They would still be making more points per possession than if Rudy guarded the three pointer, at 1.3 ppp. Everytime down the court, Rudy was making the right decision in an impossible game of Chess.
The Impossible Task
Paul George is staring Gobert right in the eye as he is barreling towards the rim. It's almost as if George is in on a joke, he realizes how funny it is that Rudy is put through this same play time and time again. Dutifully, Gobert goes up to block Georges shot. Expectedly, the ball flies out to the corner. Rudy makes his attempt to close out, but the ball falls through the net nonetheless. As his shoulders slump as the clock is winding down, he moves his thoughts on. I was given an impossible task, he thinks to himself. But perhaps, he ponders, it won't be impossible next year
Rudy Gobert will see you in 2022.
And he WILL be stronger.