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SALT LAKE CITY — You could forgive the Utah Jazz for being a little overconfident during overtime in their streak-snapping loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Thursday night.
If the season has shown anything, it’s that the Jazz can win in such moments. They entered Thursday having played 18 games where the score was within one possession in the final two minutes — and had won 14 of them.
There are plenty of reasons for this: Donovan Mitchell is ninth in the league in fourth-quarter scoring and eighth in the NBA in clutch moments; Bojan Bogdanovic has proven he can hit the big shot; Jazz head coach Quin Snyder has credited his team’s willingness to play together down the stretch. But, as Thursday proved, one reason stands out a bit more than the others: Rudy Gobert.
With 1:19 left in overtime, and the Jazz clinging to a 2-point lead, Gobert was whistled for his sixth and final foul. After an unsuccessful challenge from Snyder, Gobert was forced to watch the last 79 seconds from the bench.
How did that last minute-plus go? The Pelicans outscored Utah 8-0 to get the win.
“It was definitely tough,” Mitchell said of having to play out the game without Gobert. But that probably shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise. Gobert has been one of the best performers down the stretch this season.
With the score within three points in the final two minutes, Gobert had an eye-popping net rating of 63.9 — the best in the league by a wide margin — while holding opponents to an offensive rating of just 63.9.
“The last five minutes of the game, I don’t care if Rudy gets a basket,” Snyder said. “If the other team doesn’t get a basket, that’s pretty good. And he’s usually at the center of that.”
But Snyder wants to make it clear: Gobert is much more than that, too.
With the All-Star starters being revealed on Jan. 23, and the reserves being announced a week later, it’s officially campaign season for the Jazz. After Gobert was shockingly left out last year, Snyder and the Jazz want to make sure the All-NBA center finally gets his due.
Snyder has championed the screen assist metric (the number of screens a player sets that directly results in points) to try and explain the impact Gobert has on the offensive end of the court. Gobert leads the league in screen assists at 8.0 per game, resulting in 18.2 points.
It’s not a perfect stat, but that’s not the point either; it’s an attempt to draw attention to how important Gobert is to the Jazz's offense. Snyder’s system, in many ways, is built around Gobert.
The screens help guards get into the paint to start the "blender," or help create an immediate open look. His rolling to the basket helps keep the floor spaced and forces rotations that open up shots from the perimeter, and his impact is seen in Utah's numbers. The Jazz’s offense is 9 points better when Gobert is on the court.
With the Jazz having had the best offense in the league for more than a month, it would be willfully ignorant to not give Gobert plenty of the credit.
“He’s really made a commitment, offensively, to expand his impact,” Snyder said.
Snyder mentioned Gobert's dribble handoffs, his timing, and his increased effectiveness with his left hand. He talked about how Gobert is now using ball fakes, his attention to detail of where he is putting the ball, and his footwork. He even joked after a recent win that Gobert’s outlet passes are starting to remind him of Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.
“If you dig a little deeper, you look at someone like Rudy — who might not be averaging as many points as someone else, but the points that he impacts for the team, that shows itself in a lot of ways,” Snyder said. “That shows itself in advanced metrics that really aren’t that hard to find — NBA.com has them. Then it also shows itself with the team and winning.”
The Jazz are currently fourth in the West and have won 15 of their last 17 games — that’s a lot of wins.
“He wants to win, most importantly,” Mitchell said on ESPN’s Hoop Streams. “We all know what happened last year. I think we all know that he was snubbed of an All-Star. So for us, it’s just trying to find ways to get him. We really want him in. We really want him in, and I think he wants to be in. He won’t say it, so I’ll say it for him, but he deserves to be an All-Star and I think he will.”