SALT LAKE CITY — Like an NFL wideout, Rudy Gobert reached his hands high, snagged a pass from Mike Conley through two defenders in traffic and softly laid it in. At least, that’s how Quin Snyder saw it.
“I don’t think he would know who Julio Jones is,” the Jazz head coach said, "but that’s what he looked like.”
Gobert’s layup, with 1:31 left in the game Tuesday, was one of the key plays down the stretch in Utah’s 119-114 win over Brooklyn. But, according to Gobert, his late go-ahead bucket might have looked a little more difficult than it was.
“That wasn’t a tough pass,” Gobert said. “That was a great pass. Actually, that might be one of the easiest passes I got. It was just right there.”
Gobert then lifted his arms and motioned putting the ball into the hoop.
“I just did this,” he said.
The thing is, Jones often makes the difficult look routine. Is Gobert just getting to that point, too?
You don’t have to watch many Utah possessions to realize how important Gobert is to the Jazz offense. Heck, Snyder has even called for a change in the normal box score to include screen assists so Gobert’s contributions could be more universally recognized (Gobert currently leads the league with 8.3 screen assists leading to 18.4 points per game).
Screens will always be Gobert's greatest strength on the offensive end, but he's showing an expanding game in helping Utah out to an 8-3 start to the season. And the Jazz are showing some added trust in him on the offensive end, too.
The late pass from Conley was a trust play. When Donovan Mitchell drove in and kicked it out to the point guard in the right corner, Conley was open. It was a tie game and an open corner 3-pointer is a shot the Jazz want — but a layup is better.
Gobert called for the ball, Conley found him, and the big center delivered. Conley doesn't make that pass in that situation if he doesn't have a pretty good idea that Gobert is going to make that catch.
And that play was far from an isolated incident.
In the first half, Joe Ingles bounced a pass to Gobert, who was standing at the top of the key without a clear lane to the hoop. In the past, this wasn’t a situation the Jazz would have wanted to put Gobert in. But it was one that is becoming surprisingly common. On Tuesday alone, Gobert was given the ball away from the basket on four of his shot attempts. He converted layups on three of those.
After he caught the pass from Ingles, Gobert dribbled twice, spun to his left and then did a quick step through to get around Jarrett Allen for an open layup.
Earlier in the game, Gobert caught the ball in the middle of the paint and pirouetted around Jordan for a layup. Then in the second half, he caught a bounce pass from Emmanuel Mudiay at the free-throw line, dribbled in and scored around Allen.
“It’s hard to guard me when I’m aggressive like that, so I’m going to keep doing that,” Gobert said.
The night before that game against the Warriors, Mitchell delivered a bounce pass to Gobert when he was standing beyond the free-throw line. Both times resulted in Gobert driving inside and getting a bucket at the rim.
“I'm getting more and more comfortable because I felt like it was in my head,” Gobert said. “I know I'm capable of doing those things. I just gotta have the mindset of attacking and just read the defense and play instinctively; not think too much. All the great players miss a lot of shots, they turn the ball over a lot, commit a lot of offensive fouls.”
But they make a lot of shots, too. And when Gobert is capable of going 11-of-12 and 8-of-10 from the field in back-to-back games while being aggressive with the ball in his hands, why not continue to do it?
Before Tuesday’s game, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said that Gobert was already in the discussion of being one the all-time greatest defensive centers.
“That’s where I am with it,” Atkinson said. “He’s one of the best that I’ve seen. He’s fantastic. He not only can guard the rim but now he’s going out on the perimeter and guarding guys. It’s really impressive.”
Gobert, though, has his eyes set on being more.
“Hopefully, at the end of my career, I'm known as the best, or one of the best defensive players of all time — and one of the best players, period, of all time,” Gobert said. “The goal is to keep getting better, keep winning, hopefully, win one or many championships.”