Rudy Gobert's return is key for the Utah Jazz
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, five rebounds and 3.5 blocks in 58 total minutes.
All told, the Jazz have gone 7-13 when "The Stifle Tower" doesn't play. They are 10-7 when he does. He's a huge part of Utah's identity, particularly on the defensive end.
Utah's opponents are scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions this season when Gobert is on the bench. When he's out on the court defending, that mark dips to 103 points per 100 possessions. That's primarily a result of Gobert's influence protecting the basket.
Though he doesn't qualify for the leaderboard due to time missed, Gobert ranks second in the NBA among all players with 2.6 blocks per game — behind only Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat.
Of course, Gobert uses his 7'1" frame and lengthy wingspan not only to block shots, but also to alter what would otherwise be high-percentage looks right at the cylinder. According to NBA.com, "The French Rejection" holds opponents to an unfathomably low 37 percent shooting at the rim. That mark is significantly more impressive than defensive-minded big men 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 on the offensive end.
Utah scores nearly seven additional points per 100 possessions when Gobert's in the lineup. That's striking when you account for his limited offensive repertoire (virtually all of his 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, seven rebounds and two blocks during the month of January (six games played). But Gobert finished fifth in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year despite starting only 37 games. He remains the best option for Utah when healthy.
If the "when healthy" qualifier proves to be inconsequential for the rest of the season, Utah should qualify for the playoffs in the significantly weakened Western Conference. The Jazz currently sit No. 8 in the West, but would be tied with Charlotte for No. 11 in the Eastern Conference.
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.
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