Rudy Gobert emerged from the Utah Jazz locker room — all 7-foot-1 of him — with the annual rookie right of passage in tow.
The pink backpack fought to cling to his left shoulder, a product of his long stride. Minnie Mouse protruded from one of the openings. His confident smile indicated that his adjustment to the pro game will come along with time for the French native.
As the second of Utah’s first round draft picks, Gobert hasn’t yet made much of an impact on the court. But he is unique, with a condor-like wingspan that caused NBA scouts to often utter the word “upside” a few months before the draft.
“The adjustment hasn’t been a big issue,” Gobert said. “People are nicer over here. Not that they weren’t nice in France. I think I’m doing well. I’m starting to catch on to things a little quicker than I have been. I’m ready to contribute in any way I can.”
Gobert is just the latest in a recent influx of players from France to the NBA. Many know about Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs’ veteran and one of the best point guards in the league. But people such as Nic Batum, Kevin Seraphin, and Boris Diaw have made quite an impact over the years. Gobert grew up hearing about and playing with those guys. He speaks to them often. For him, it’s just a small sign that he’s not alone.
“It’s nice to be able to talk to them about things,” Gobert said.
The Jazz organization is pleased that he has been as independent as he’s turned out to be. Upon arriving, he immediately secured his drivers license. He bought furniture. He found an apartment, all largely on his own.
Gobert is more mature than the organization anticipated. He’s acted like a grown-up — not a slam dunk for 21-year-olds.
In his short time with the Jazz, Gobert’s found a good friend in fellow rookie Ian Clark, the shooter out of Belmont. Clark found himself drawn to Gobert’s sense of humor. They have helped each other. Gobert has assisted with Clark’s transition of being in Utah by himself. Clark has helped with some of the basics on American life.
“I think the big thing is just kind of helping him with being on time,” Clark said. “That’s one thing he struggled with early. And helping with the plays early, help him understand where to go and where to be. He catches on pretty quick.”
When Utah traded for Gobert — the Denver Nuggets selected him with the 27th pick — it did so knowing that he wouldn’t be fully ready to make an immediate impact. His length and athleticism, however, are pretty rare, even for a man his size.
He played well in the Orlando summer league, showing the ability to protect the rim and finish in traffic. He hasn’t played much in the preseason, and some of that has to do with a shoulder injury that has held him back.
But progress is being made. He’s picking up play calls on both ends. He’s hitting the weight room seriously for the first time, and that is leading to increased strength. The overall speed of the NBA game will take time for him to get used to.
“He’s growing,” Corbin said. “It’s going to take awhile. It’s a huge adjustment for guys coming from overseas, the nuances of the game, the speed, the different calls on the floor. But he’s making good progress.”
Rudy Gobert file
Age • 21
Vitals • 7-1, 235 pounds
• Originally drafted by the Denver Nuggets and traded to the Utah Jazz on draft night
• Is a native of France