Las Vegas • Disgusted by a call made by the official, Rudy Gobert grabbed the basketball and gave it an immediate headache by slamming it hard onto the floor.
Spalding didn’t have a chance, bouncing high off the Thomas & Mack Center playing surface, and earning Gobert a technical foul in the process.
» Spent most of the off-season hiking in Salt Lake City and working out
» Had an emergency appendectomy in June
» Scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Saturday’s summer league debut against Philadelphia
Saturday was just a Summer League game, one where the Philadelphia 76ers would pull off a close win against the Utah Jazz. But Gobert’s display of emotion — along with his newfound aggression when play actually matters — had to have been a positive sign for the Jazz.
In stretches, Gobert dominated the lane for Utah. Yes, he committed five fouls in his debut. Yes, he struggled with his free-throw shooting, missing six of nine from the line. Yes, he sometimes had issues catching the ball, much like he did in his rookie season.
But Gobert was a man defensively in the lane. He blocked shots, he altered others. He went up strong, and looked like he’s made strides in his first offseason as an NBA player.
"I wanted to get bigger and I wanted to work on my game this summer," Gobert said. "I feel way better on the floor now. I know my teammates better and I know the league. I feel good about where I am right now."
A 2013 first-round pick, Gobert now looks the part of an NBA player, after a season of frustration where he looked raw as sushi and struggled to gain significant playing time. Like many of his teammates, Gobert is embracing the fresh start and the coaching switch from Ty Corbin to Quin Snyder. He has also set lofty goals for the upcoming year.
He wants to be a starter in the middle, citing his competitiveness as a player in trying to climb that mountain. That probably won’t happen, but it’s realistic to think he can be a factor in Snyder’s rotation. Snyder has said as much from the beginning of the Summer League mini-camp.
"I think he’s someone who has a chance to help us," Snyder said. "He has the chance to be successful if he does the things that we set out for him to do. He’s someone who can protect the rim, and we need that."
This has been an interesting summer for Gobert. He’s been in Salt Lake City since the middle of June. He’s undergone an appendectomy. He’s hiked, and forged a strong friendship with Brazilian point guard Raul Neto. He’s recovered from his surgery and spent extra time working out in the Jazz practice facility.
He’s also developed a mean streak, which was apparent on Saturday night. He’s always been able to block shots with his 7-foot-1 height and amazing wingspan. But he’s attacking rebounds with a vigor that hasn’t previously been seen. He’s clearly made progress offensively, even if he probably won’t ever be a main option on that end. His ability to create foul trouble for Philadelphia on Saturday was a bright spot for the Jazz.
He finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. He knows that he has to work on his free-throw shooting, that 3 of 9 at the stripe won’t cut it. But, if one game is an indication, it’s evident that he’s made strides in his time off. And the Jazz have to be encouraged by that.
"I like to play physical," Gobert said. "I realized that Saturday was the first game, and I think everyone will be better in the second game. Last year, I think the game was too fast for me. It was hard to make the right play. The game has slowed down for me right now, and I’m better at it. That’s a good thing."
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