The Utah Jazz gambled in the 2013 draft in trading for a relatively unknown center from France in Rudy Gobert. Since then, though, they’ve reaped the benefits as he has become one of the top defensive forces in the NBA.
Here are 10 things to know about the Utah center and his interesting path to the NBA.
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Opportunity knocks: Erick Green was the No. 46 pick in the 2013 draft. Enes Kanter went No. 3 in the 2011 draft. Both played a key role in Gobert’s rise to stardom. The Utah Jazz dealt Green on Draft night 2013 to the Denver Nuggets for the rights to Gobert (No. 27 pick, 2013). As for Kanter? His time as the Jazz’s top center prospect was on the clock shortly after Gobert came aboard. By the 2014-15 season — Gobert’s second in the NBA — the Jazz were at their best on defense with Gobert on the court. Utah dealt Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 19, 2015 to free up more minutes for Gobert. Save for finishing 13th in 2019-20, Utah has never ranked worse than seventh in Defensive Rating in a season since making the Kanter trade.
The long arm of the law: The NBA Draft Combine has been taking stock of Draft prospect measurables since 2000. Gobert set a new mark in 2013-14 when his wingspan clocked in at 7 feet, 8 1/2 inches to set a Draft Combine record. That mark stood until the 2019 Draft Combine, when future Orlando Magic big man Mo Bamba broke it with a 7-foot, 10-inch wingspan.
Speaking of reach …: Gobert has a standing reach of 9 feet, 9 inches, which would make him a pretty intimidating guy to face in the boxing ring. Ironically enough, Gobert has been a fan of boxing for most of his life and made headlines in 2018 when he posted a video on social media of him going through a boxing workout to train for the season. As he worked out to prepare for the season restart in 2020, Gobert used boxing to help get himself up to speed after suffering coronavirus. “I was boxing before I started basketball, and then when I really started to focus on basketball, I got away from boxing for a long time, but for the last three or four years, I’ve got back on track and I get better every summer,” Gobert told The Deseret News in 2018.
Stop and get help: Getting teammates open and contesting shots are at the root of success at practically every level of basketball. Those notions are not lost on Gobert. Since the NBA began tracking screen assists and contested shots in 2016-17, he has ranked among the best in both departments. In 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, he led the NBA in total screen assists with 478, 471 and 434 of them, respectively, while never finishing lower than fourth in that category since 2016-17. Gobert has also finished second in total contested shots in four of the last five seasons.
A place in NBA history: Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19, which took place on March 11 before the Jazz vs. Thunder game. His Jazz teammate, Donovan Mitchell, tested positive a day later. Gobert recovered from the virus (although he did experience some loss of his sense of smell) and took some flak inside the locker room and outside of it because some inaccurately felt he caused the season hiatus. He showed remorse for his actions, donating $200,000 to help those who work part-time at Jazz games who lost income because of cancelled games. He also gave $310,000 to families in Utah, Oklahoma City and France.
Family connection to the NBA: Rudy Gobert’s father, Rudy Bourgarel, played at Marist College from 1985-88. Bourgarel’s teammate there was Rik Smits, the future No. 2 overall pick of the 1988 draft who spent his entire 12-season career with the Indiana Pacers. The 7-foot Bourgarel emerged as a starter in 1987-88, averaging 10.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks alongside Smits. However, Bourgarel never was drafted and eventually ended up playing a decade of professional basketball in Europe. Gobert said his father — who had a brief cameo in the movie “Coming To America” — never pressured him to play basketball. “When I started, my father just tell me, ‘Don’t play basketball because I play basketball. Just do what you want.’ When I was young he just told me to have fun,” Gobert told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Malone, Eaton and … Gobert?: Jazz fans revere former MVP winner and Hall of Famer Karl Malone for his standout performance in 18 seasons with Utah. Former center Mark Eaton has his No. 53 retired and won two Defensive Player of the Year Awards in Salt Lake City. Gobert hasn’t amassed all those accolades yet, but he has something in common with both players. In the 2017-18 season, Gobert made the All-Defensive first team, becoming the third Jazz player behind Malone (1997, ’98, ’99) and Eaton (’85, ’86, ’89) to earn multiple All-Defensive team recognitions in their Utah careers.
What’s in a (nick)name?: Gobert is known for his ability to block shots, yes. But he might also be better known for his nickname, the “Stifle Tower” that he earned just a few weeks into his NBA career. The moniker was first coined by Jody Genessy of the Deseret News in July of 2013, roughly two weeks after he was drafted. Although he wasn’t initially a fan of the nickname (per a Rolling Stone interview in 2014), a year later he had warmed up to it. “I like ‘Stifle Tower. I like ‘Gobzilla.’ There’s a lot of nicknames that are pretty cool,” Gobert told NBA.com in 2015.
He’s a marketable guy: The H-E-B grocery store chain in Texas is well known for incorporating players from the San Antonio Spurs into their commercials. The Jazz have done likewise with Vivint Smart Home, the title sponsor of Utah’s stadium (Vivint Smart Home Arena) and Gobert has been a breakout star in some of those ads. So far, he’s been “cloned”, he’s impersonated Donovan Mitchell, learned he’s not the only one great at defense and showed off his voice talents.
Legendary company: In the 2018-19 season, Gobert took home his second consecutive Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award. Doing so put him on a list with a select group of players who won two or more consecutive DPOYs in their career. There are Hall of Famers (Sidney Moncrief, 1982-84; Michael Jordan, 1986-88; Dennis Rodman, 1989-91; Hakeem Olajuwon, 1992-94; Dikembe Mutombo, 1996-98, Alonzo Mourning, 1999-2000) in that mix, one likely future HOFer (Ben Wallace, 2001-03 & ’04-06) as well as Gobert’s contemporaries Kawhi Leonard (2014-16) and Dwight Howard (2008-11). Gobert earned his third DPOY award for the 2020-21 season.