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Can the Jazz survive when Rudy Gobert sits?

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks against New Orleans Pelicans' Jonas Valanciunas in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks against New Orleans Pelicans' Jonas Valanciunas in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert walked into his postgame press conference Monday sporting a fuchsia velour tracksuit.

You wear something like that for one reason: to be seen (or, maybe, as Gobert said jokingly, "It's starting to get cold").

Just like his outfit, Gobert's preseason debut in Utah's 127-96 rout of New Orleans at Vivint Arena commanded attention.

He finished with 19 points (87% shooting from the field), 19 rebounds, two blocks and two assists. Oh, and the Jazz outscored the Pelicans by a ridiculous 37 points in his 23 minutes.

He did everything you'd expect him to do: block shots, dunk, run the paint and set screens; and there were other things you may not have expected: make difficult catches on rolls to the rim and a look-away bounce pass that Bojan Bogdanovic, unfortunately, couldn't finish.

It was performance that showed Gobert was fully ready for the season, but it was the minutes he sat that demonstrated the Jazz as a whole may not be.

Gobert is arguably the best screener in the game, and Jazz coach Quin Snyder has built a system that relies fully on that skill.

If Gobert sets a screen for Mike Conley, the point guard will get an open floater; if he sets one for Donovan Mitchell, he'll get an open pull-up 3-pointer; if he's partnering with Joe Ingles, there will suddenly be a free lane to the hoop. The list goes on for anyone on the team. Gobert has taken the time and effort to understand just what each teammate wants in a screen.

It's a unique skill simply because not a lot of players have put that kind of effort into something that is pretty thankless — even if the Jazz have campaigned to have "screen assists" become more mainstream.

While it may be thankless, it no doubt creates good offense. In Gobert's 23 minutes on Monday, the Jazz were extremely good and finished with an offensive rating of 135.

"More than anything, he cares," Snyder said of Gobert's screens. "He's gotten really good at changing angles and changing locations on the screen. He knows when to set, he knows when to get out; it's a skill. It's something that he's really worked on. Not a lot of guys see that as a skill."

But like shooting, rebounding, dribbling or anything else, it can be learned. And the Jazz need Hassan Whiteside to get a little more accustomed to the art of setting a pick if their second unit is to thrive this season.

When Whiteside was in, the offense bottled up — and that's putting it nicely. He was unable to consistently free up enough space for Jordan Clarkson and Mitchell to operate; and without space, the Jazz offense isn't very good. In the 13 minutes Whiteside was on the floor, Utah's offensive rating was 93.1 and the Jazz were outscored by 2 points.

The good news? The backup center knows he needs to get used to running screen plays with his new teammates.

"Really for him, it's being able to run pick and roll, especially the communication," Gobert said. "Knowing what to say to the guards — cause the guards need to hear us — knowing what to say, and positioning where to be to make it a little bit easier on them and make that a habit."

During some stoppages of play Monday, Gobert was in Whiteside's ear talking about "a lot of stuff," as Gobert put it. One of those things, though, was where to be on the floor and how he should be playing within the system. In essence, Gobert's serving as another coach to help the big man get up to speed.

"It's been a focal point for him," Snyder said. "And just like you work on your shooting or your ball handling, those situations require practice. That's something that we work on pretty consistently."

But with the Jazz's first regular season game just over a week away, will Whiteside be comfortable by then? Or will Utah spend more time playing a small-ball lineup, that it experimented with again with some success on Monday?

Or maybe Gobert's impact will continue to be as striking as his bright velour tracksuit.


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