SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert was fouled from behind when he had a clear path to the basket. Joe Ingles threw a lob pass that was even too high for the big center to get. And a Gobert-led fast break ended up with him back at the free throw line.
There were multiple times early in Utah’s win over Phoenix that Gobert looked like he was going to set a new NBA record for dunks in a season only to be denied. But eventually, the moment came. And it was on the exact type of play that has resulted in Gobert getting so many easy buckets this season.
Donovan Mitchell threw up a lob to Gobert, who caught it near the rim and flushed it down for his record-breaking 270th dunk of the season (dunks have only been recorded since 2000). He then went on to add his 271st, 272nd 273rd, 274th and 275th dunks in the game, showing, once again, just how dominant he has been in the paint on the offensive end.
And those dunks haven’t come by accident. There’s a reason Gobert has set the mark this season — it’s because of something the Jazz coaching staff noticed in the summer.
“We felt that we could get Rudy and Fave (Derrick Favors) more high passes,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “And those guys usually turn those into dunks. Some film study around that and some comps with different guys in the league, and we found that there was room there.”
So he told his bigs to work on their hands and finishes. He told his guards to begin to work on their floaters — something that could not only be used as a shot, but also a pass. And then he brought them together to master the art of the high pass.
Most of the Jazz’s player development revolves around individual work and one-on-one sessions with coaches. But this needed to be a little different; the guards and bigs needed to develop chemistry with each other.
“We started doing more combination work,” Snyder said. “It’s one thing to throw a pass and another for a big to work on something — something that requires that level of connectivity, they need to do it together. Our guys embraced it. I think they recognized it was something that could help our team.”
And it’s not just one guard that is willing to throw the lob. Mitchell does it. Ricky Rubio does it. Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale, etc. It’s become a staple of the Jazz’s improving offense (the Jazz have the fifth best offensive rating since the All-Star break).
And it’s something that Gobert, who is often thought of more as a defensive menace than an offensive threat, obviously has enjoyed.
“I can get the ball where really no one else can get it,” Gobert said. “It’s a pretty smart play. It’s an efficient play. They (the Jazz guards) put the work in, I put the work in, and it’s been paying off.”
It’s also a play that has the approval of Jazz legend John Stockton. Earlier this year, Snyder and Stockton were joking around about the lob pass when Snyder recalls Stockton saying: “I have a great idea — throw it up where only Rudy can get it.”
“We were kind of kidding,” Snyder said. “But it’s actually pretty true. It’s a reason he’s had a few assists.”
And a reason Gobert has more than a few dunks.