Posted Jun 24, 2013 11:20 PM
"Can you go like this?"
Rudy Gobert gets the question often.
"Very often," he says.
A reporter has asked "Can you go like this?" Gobert politely fulfills the request. He gently pushes his chair back from the table, uncoils his arms side-to-side... and keeps uncoiling them.
The man who moments earlier had been tossing questions snaps a picture, thanks Gobert and walks away with documentation. Maybe it's for the story, maybe just a keepsake. Gobert, unfazed at the interest, gives a quick nod of acknowledgement.
This is his calling card, his signature move, and Gobert knows it as well as anyone. Well, Gobert and the NBA know it. He is just over 7-foot in socks, 7-2 in shoes and 240 pounds. His size, defensive potential and mobility makes him intriguing in advance of the June 27 draft, but it is the 7-8 ½ wingspan that truly makes him an object of attention.
According to data compiled by DraftExpress.com, only three players in the draft since 1992 have had bigger wingspans -- Mamadou Ndiaye at 8-1 and John Riek and Alexis Ajinca at 7-8 ¾ -- while another, Saer Sene, had the same 7-8 ½ as Gobert. Shaquille O'Neal was 7-7, Alonzo Mourning 7-6 ½ and Shawn Bradley 7-5.
Years of buildup to Gobert finally reaching the NBA, initially as a potential top-five pick in 2013 before a disappointing season in his native France dropped him to the current projection of mid-teens to early-20s, that the wingspan is generally the first thing anyone asks about. It certainly is one of the things he constantly gets asked about, apparently still able to answer without a heavy sigh or eye roll.
"Of course it's exciting for the teams: a guy with a big wingspan and defense and is developing offense to get the ball," he said. "Of course it's useful."
With his height and his reach, Gobert can stand flat-footed and get within five inches of touching the rim. So, yes, it's useful. It's just not everything.
He is big and long and a paint presence on defense, but Gobert is also going backwards. His stock was higher last year, to where it would have been nearly inconceivable to say a year ago he might not hit the mid-teens in a weak draft. His 2012-13 in France was either, depending on the NBA evaluator, a potential leveling-off or even regression.
And so the list of draft prospects with the best wingspan may become more relevant than before. Ndiaye. John Riek. Ajinca. Sene. Michael Olowokandi and Boban Marjanovic at 7-8. Not exactly a roll call at the Hall of Fame. Barely a roll call of players who got drafted.
"It's a list of largest arm span, not a list of All-Stars," one executive said. "It's a list of guys with long arms. It doesn't mean you're going to be good. It's what you do with those arms."
Plus, there is the France factor. Or as Gobert put it when asked about his conversations with teams: "They want to know if I'm ready to work and ready to improve my game because there are French who disappointed before me. They are scared of this.... They are scared because they think I am going be like maybe the players before me, the French who came here and didn't work and came back to France to be players."
Tony Parker seems to have managed, and Boris Diaw has had a long career. Nicolas Batum is well on his way, not to mention Mickael Pietrus, Ian Mahinmi and players who first went through U.S. colleges (Joakim Noah, Ronny Turiaf and others).
"I don't know about this misconception around the league," a different executive said. "But there is a perception out there that French players are not the toughest."
Even Gobert's formidable wingspan can't wrap up all the issues he must supposedly confront, especially if he now must pay for the ways of Frederic Weis and Jerome Moiso. Gobert has enough that actually belong to him -- limited offense, needing to get stronger, not being in great shape for his first team visits on the audition tour.
The long arms, those belong to him too, and those are among the positives. Teams just can't believe they are the primary positive, because then it gets into the draft list and the possibility that people won't have long to ask him to pose.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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