In an odd quirk of analytics this season, the numbers say the Jazz have a higher offensive rating and a lower defensive rating when Rudy Gobert is off the floor. The numbers say opponents outscore Jazz lineups with the 7-foot-1 center, and lineups without him tend to outscore the competition.
These splits were mentioned to Quin Snyder shortly before the Jazz took the floor against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He politely dismissed them.
“Whatever the splits have been with Rudy off the floor,” he said, “we’d rather have him on the floor.”
The game later that night illustrated why numbers can’t always be trusted without context. The Jazz simply were outmatched in a 109-98 loss that only became remotely competitive in the last quarter.
Whatever optimism the Jazz may have inspired with a win over the Brooklyn Nets two nights before was stripped. And here’s the stark reality of Gobert’s absence with a bone bruise for the next four weeks: The Jazz (6-8) have to improve quickly and play a much more coordinated game if they hope to stay competitive until their franchise cornerstone can return.
Speaking to media Monday night, Gobert confidently stated that making the playoffs is still the Jazz’s goal this season. It’s going to take discipline to achieve that in a tough Western Conference.
“We know that other people got to step up when you have one of the best defensive players in the league out,” Jonas Jerebko said. “Other people got to step up.”
The place where Gobert’s loss is most felt is on defense. As the NBA’s reigning block leader, the Frenchman has an ability to clean up the mistakes of perimeter defenders. When a driver slips past his man, he still has to find a way to finish against a center with 9-foot-9 standing reach and a knack for smacking shots into the bleachers.
That intimidating presence is both tangible (with the blocks Gobert racks up) and intangible (with players passing up shot attempts in the paint). The Jazz perimeter players are more exposed without him. The Jazz found some success switching against the Nets, but Snyder said that won’t necessarily be par for the course, particular against bigger foes.
Snyder said good defensive players who are new to the team — Thabo Sefolosha, Ricky Rubio and Ekpe Udoh — often have done good things but gamble too frequently. That worked against the Nets, when Utah gathered 16 steals, but it didn’t work against the Timberwolves, who shot 53 percent inside the arc. The Jazz are averaging nearly six blocks per game but only have had 7 total in the last two games.
“That rim protection is something that we factor into a lot of things we do,” Snyder said. “It’s gotta come from more of the guys on the perimeter than Rudy. If he’s not back there, it’s more painfully obvious that somebody got beat because [the opponent] scored.”
The Utah offense as a whole has been messy this season. But Gobert’s influence (13.9 ppg) as a long, athletic roller is missed as well. One shooting area where the Jazz have been around league average is in the 5-foot radius of the rim — Gobert’s sweet spot. When he gets the ball there, he’s as close to automatic as it gets. His 62 percent field goal percentage is fifth in the NBA.
While Gobert’s role on defense is irreplaceable, his role on offense has been covered in one sense by Derrick Favors, who now is able to roll as he once did rather than provide floor spacing at power forward. He was devastatingly effective (24 points) against the Nets, who deployed a smaller lineup. He was limited (9 points) against the Timberwolves, who fielded 7-footer Karl-Anthony Towns.
Part of that is out of Favors’ control — the perimeter players did him no favors by shooting cold and allowing the defense to collapse on him. That will be a nightly battle if the Jazz’s first 14 games are any indication.
Rubio, who was 1 of 7 against the Timberwolves, had a mea culpa in the locker room postgame, saying he gambled too much on defense and couldn’t find a rhythm on offense. But he’s had a steep learning curve for his role with the Jazz since coming in this summer, and now it’s changing again with Gobert out.
“When you have a lot of guys coming from other teams, you have to learn different roles,” he said. “And now with Rudy out, you’ve got to kind of relearn that. It’s just kind of tough.”
By the way, when it comes to splits, Utah’s on the road aren’t good. The Jazz are 0-4 away from Vivint — the only team in the NBA without a road win — and opponents average 12 points higher in road games than home games.
But the Jazz hope those numbers can change with context, too. Facing their longest road trip of the season, they’ll be looking to spend the most time they’ve yet spent with one another. It could help build rapport on a team that’s missing a few key pieces.
“I guess that’s a good time to build some chemistry — go to the movies together or go out or something,” Favors said. “We gotta stick together. We gotta be a team.”
JAZZ AT KNICKS
Madison Square Garden, New York
Tipoff • 5:30 p.m. MST Wednesday
TV • AT&T Sports Network
Radio • 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone
Records • Utah (6-8); New York (7-6)
Last meeting • Utah won 1908-101 on March 22, 2017 in Salt Lake
About the Jazz • Utah has lost five of its last six games and is the only team without a road win in the NBA. … Rookie Donovan Mitchell is averaging 20 ppg during November, making him the highest-scoring rookie in the NBA this month so far. ...The Jazz announced Tuesday that Joe Johnson will miss at least two more weeks with wrist tendon instability after visiting with a hand specialist.
About the Knicks • New York is coming off a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in which it led by 23 points. … Kristaps Porzingis is the third-leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 29.5 ppg while also averaging 2.2 blocks. … Center Joakim Noah is coming off a 20-game suspension but sat out Monday against the Cavaliers in his first eligible game.