The Triple Team: Rudy Gobert stands out in return; are the Rockets’ the Jazz’s biggest franchise rival?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks in the first half as the Utah Jazz host the Houston Rockets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 135-101 win over the Houston Rockets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Rudy Gobert dominated a stretch of this game

In his first seven minutes on the court, Rudy Gobert had a +25 plus-minus. Holy cow.

I’ve sort of enjoyed the frustrating Hassan Whiteside/Udoka Azubuike experience just for variety’s sake, but there just is such a tangible difference between the All-Star, All-NBA, and DPOY center compared to his backups. The way Gobert changes a game is just phenomenal.

I’m going to start with his first play of the game, because it’s something I haven’t seen before from Gobert... a ball fake layup to dunk!

It’s probably an easy finish either way, but I do enjoy flair plays — and I think Gobert embracing some trickery around the hoop might make some of his finishes a little easier against stiffer competition.

The most enjoyable thing Gobert does is just wildly shift what opponents think they’re capable of around the rim. He stops this fast break, and Christian Wood just throws up a meek floater:

And Dennis Schroder’s layup here is really low quality... just nearly hits the side of the backboard and doesn’t have a real prayer of going in.

There’s a bell curve of approach for teams: if you attack Gobert too much, he’s just gonna block or bother a huge percentage of your shots. But if you attack him too little, he’ll change your entire shot chart, making it nearly impossible for you to have an efficient night on offense.

An important graph.

Anyway, Rudy Gobert is good. Everyone knew this already, but it’s nice to see it again.

2. Danuel House’s defense

Let’s zoom in on Danuel House’s defense.

This possession impressed me so much. Look at how strenuously House is making the effort to get over this screen and stay attached to Eric Gordon, famously good shooter and scorer. He squeezes his way over the top of that, using his skinny frame and high energy level.

Then he switches on to Schroder, a bad shooter, goes under that screen, and stays in front. Schroder takes the bad shot. Well done by House!

It’s not all roses, though. Here’s the very next Rockets shot:

This time, off ball, he’s a little bit more lackadaisical, giving Gordon room. When Gordon cuts, he’s caught a little off balance, and the result is that he is successfully screened and Gordon gets an open look.

And then it’s times like this where you’re just confused. Why is House doing this?

Obviously, this game was against the Rockets, where House made his name in the NBA. And so it was interesting to talk to their beat writers about him. One said, “He’ll break your heart.” Essentially, House shows these beautiful flashes, but really never found a way to consistently play his best in a Rockets uniform. There was a reason the Rockets moved on, and that he was available to the entire league to pick up on a 10-day contract.

Will House find more consistency in Utah? I think it could, but it’s not a given. And yet, those positive flashes are at a higher level than nearly anyone else in a Jazz uniform, and so he’s worth giving a significant shot to.

3. Are the Rockets or the Nuggets the biggest Jazz rival?

170 Jazz fans polled on the Jazz’s subreddit answered the question: “Who is your biggest rival in the NBA?”

Polling Jazz fans on Reddit. (https://drive.google.com/file/d/14SUrq-QJsV7AU2AGgslr9ToFmQPnkI8s/view)

52% said the Denver Nuggets, while 30.6% said the Houston Rockets. Fully 8.2% said the Phoenix Suns, which, well, I don’t know.

Look, the Jazz and Nuggets had one of the best playoff series of all time in the bubble two years ago, there’s no doubt about it. Their matchups, right now, are significantly more compelling than the Jazz and Rockets’ — the franchises are just in vastly different places.

But over the course of the franchise’s history? There’s no question: it’s the Houston Rockets. Western Conference Final matchups, the Jazz’s first-round series wins in the 2000s, and the Rockets’ series wins in the mid-to-late 2010s simply provide a richer history of hatred.

Do Jazz fans really hate anyone on the Nuggets, anyway? Or anyone who has ever played a key role for the Nuggets? I don’t know, Nikola Jokic is pretty likable, with one of the most enjoyable play styles in the NBA. Nobody hates Jamal Murray. Michael Porter Jr. can be annoying, I guess? But not in a particularly combative way.

Meanwhile, James Harden and Chris Paul was a backcourt menace, and those Rockets/Jazz series of the past could get pretty nasty through history. I just think that there’s no question that the Rockets and Jazz have built up more rivalry cred than the Nuggets and Jazz have even approached — even if the two teams are closer in talent now.

In smaller polls, Nuggets fans also picked the Jazz as their biggest rival, while the Rockets picked the Warriors. Huh.

Polling Nuggets fans on Reddit. (https://drive.google.com/file/d/14SUrq-QJsV7AU2AGgslr9ToFmQPnkI8s/view)

Polling Rockets fans on Reddit. (https://drive.google.com/file/d/14SUrq-QJsV7AU2AGgslr9ToFmQPnkI8s/view)