Monson: Sacre bleu! Rudy Gobert’s climb is just beginning

First Published      Last Updated Mar 12 2017 05:16 pm

There is no ending to Rudy Gobert's story. Not yet. And that's what makes it so intriguing. Many pages have yet to be turned, yet to be written.

He remains what he's been for the past few years — a rocket riding higher, an ascending presence for the Jazz, suggesting to anybody who pays attention to his progress — including himself — that the remarkable thing is well short of its apex.

"I have a lot of ambition," he said after the Jazz's win Monday night. "I mean, I'm only 24 years old. I'm improving, but I know I can get a lot better."

His upward arc includes more than just the way he plays. It's the way he's taking on the mantle of leadership, becoming more verbal, more vocal, more complimentary, more critical of himself and his teammates through the vicissitudes of a season hurtling toward the playoffs.

That was hard to miss last week, when the 40-24 Jazz played like dogs in a 27-point loss at home to Minnesota. Afterward, Gobert voiced his disgust by taking a two-by-four of truth to the side of his team's melon: "We're soft, everybody playing [with his] head down. We get our ass kicked and nobody reacts. It's frustrating, for sure."

Sacre bleu, Rudy.

"When things go wrong, you've got to say it," he said, acknowledging his new role. "I hope my teammates listen to me. I think they do."

It seems like just yesterday, the 7-foot Frenchman was an afterthought on a team badly in need of exactly what he already has become. He was shuttling back and forth from the Jazz to the D-League's Bakersfield Jam. And now he's at the center of Utah's climb.

There was one rough stretch last year when Gobert hurt his knee and struggled to maintain his momentum. But that's as much in the past as the judgments of now-red-faced NBA scouts who once viewed him as some kind of freak to kick aside, to punt into the project pile. They could measure his height and his wingspan, and everybody liked those measurables. What they couldn't measure was his brain and his drive and his pride, his desire to get better.

How are you supposed to size up that before it happens?

That thought came to mind, again, on the last play of overtime Sunday at Sacramento, when Gobert reached up and redirected George Hill's missed jumper straight into the basket a nanosecond before the final buzzer, giving the Jazz one more win that they otherwise would not have had, one more chunk of evidence that focusing in on Gobert, and acquiring him when few others believed, was one helluva great idea.

"He's competitive," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "He makes important plays and he's not afraid. He's not afraid of the moment, so he's not going to shy away from it. His competitiveness and his gusto, his verve, whatever you want to call it, he's got it."

He's got it and nobody knew it.

"If we knew he was going to be this good, we would have done more to get him earlier," Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey said.

But that's what makes Gobert's tale so captivating: There was no need.

Nobody was gnawing to get him.

On draft day in 2013, the Jazz simply traded Erick Green and cash for Gobert, who initially was taken with the 27th pick by the Denver Nuggets. Four seasons later, they are being, and already have been, richly rewarded for that bit of acumen. Turns out, sometimes you really can be smarter than everybody else.

And teams around the NBA have grown weary of kicking themselves for that collective ignorance. Think about some of the guys who were taken before Gobert in that draft: Anthony Bennett … Cody Zeller … Alex Len … Ben McLemore … Kentavious Caldwell-Pope … Kelly Olynyk … Lucas Nogueira … Shane Larkin … Tony Snell ….

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