DALLAS -- For some inexplicable reason, none of the Dallas Mavericks players decided to put a body on Rudy Gobert following the second of two free throws he earned after grabbing a couple of offensive rebounds with 1:50 remaining in overtime Friday night.
“That was the plan,” Gobert said with a wry smile after the Jazz’s 112-107 overtime victory. “Coach called it. Nobody knew.”
That bungling of basketball basics certainly wasn’t the Mavs’ strategy. Then again, nothing they tried could keep Gobert from dominating the glass, which was the primary reason the Jazz pulled off the not-so-pretty win at the American Airlines Center.
Gobert grabbed a career-high 25 rebounds. Ten of those were on the offensive end, fueling his career-high 27-point performance.
“He’s a load in there,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said after being victimized by the first 25-25 performance in the NBA this season. “I thought we blocked him out well quite a few times, and he just still got one of those Inspector Gadget arms on the ball. A couple times, he just got it flatfooted and put it up.”
Utah believed Gobert could develop into one of the league’s premier rim protectors when the Jazz coughed up $3 million to buy the 27th pick in the 2013 draft. Gobert leads the league with 2.6 blocks per game and is widely considered a Defensive Player of the Year front-runner.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey can’t lie, though: He readily admits that he had no idea Gobert would become such a relentless rebounder.
Gobert’s 12.8 rebounds per game rank fifth in the league this season. And he keeps getting better. He averaged 10.9 rebounds in November, 13.1 in December and is up to 15.5 so far in January. His streak of double-digit rebounding games stands at 29 after his career night.
The 24-year-old Frenchman also is far from the liability he used to be on the offensive end. He is averaging a career-best 12.8 points per game while ranking second in the NBA in field goal percentage (66.4) and screen assists (5.8 per game, according to NBA.com stats).
Get a load of Gobert’s stats during Utah’s season-long, five-game winning streak: He has averaged 16.2 points, 17.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
“He’s building, that’s for sure,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Just one good game after the other and getting more consistent.”
Add it all up, with the Jazz’s 28-16 record putting them only one game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for fourth place in the Western Conference, and Gobert has a heck of a case to earn his first All-Star appearance. Just ask him.
“Yes, to be honest,” said Gobert, the anchor of a defense that allows the fewest points in the league (95.2) and ranks second in efficiency (101.3 points per 100 possessions). “I think the most important thing to judge about is winning and the way you help your team win. So I think I should be an All-Star.”
There is no debating Gobert's impact; the Jazz have jumped from perennial lottery team to being in the middle of the West playoff picture.
Gobert is the lone Utah starter to play every game this season, the one constant while the Jazz have endured extended absences of fellow All-Star candidate Gordon Hayward, point guard George Hill, power forward Derrick Favors and shooting guard Rodney Hood.
The Jazz outscore opponents by 8.4 points per 100 possessions when Gobert is on the court. When he sits, Utah gets outscored. It’s only by three-tenths of a point per 100 possessions, but Utah isn’t in the negative during the time that any other player is on the bench.
Utah is 13-1 when Hill and Hayward both play, a statistic that indicates just how dangerous the Jazz might be in the playoffs. Those two guys are the Jazz’s primary playmakers, the ones who have the ball in their hands most often.
But it sure helps to have Gobert protecting the paint, dominating the glass, setting solid screens and rolling hard to the rim. Utah’s two best plus-minus tandems: Gobert with Hayward (plus-190) and Gobert with Hill (plus-165).
“He’s a competitor and he wants to win,” said Hayward, who had 26 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in Friday night’s win. “That’s what I love about Rudy, is he’s trying to win the basketball game and he doesn’t like to lose. He’s got a fire inside of him, and it’s definitely something that you can feel when you’re out there.”