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Utah Jazz: The Stifle Tower? French center Rudy Gobert making a big first impression

By Jody Genessy, Deseret News

Published: Tue, July 9 9:45 p.m. MDT

 Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert, center, of France, takes a shot as Houston Rockets' B.J. Young (15) looks on during an NBA summer league basketball game, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert, center, of France, takes a shot as Houston Rockets' B.J. Young (15) looks on during an NBA summer league basketball game, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(John Raoux, AP)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Alec Burks smiled when he was asked what it was like to shoot over or around his new teammate, Rudy Gobert, during Utah Jazz scrimmages at summer league.

"I've been on the same team," Burks said. With a chuckle, he added, "But I will get the chance and I'll let you know."

That explains why Burks was able to grin about the question.

Two games into his Jazz career, it's become apparent that not many people will be able to put on a happy face after facing Gobert in the paint. The way the 7-foot-1 French center has been smacking things away, The Stifle Tower might just swat the smile off their face.

"He makes you second-guess your shot when he goes to the lane — just a defensive presence," Burks said after the Jazz's 85-71 loss to Houston on Tuesday in the Orlando Pro Summer League. "He's all over the floor, it looks like, with that wingspan."

Ah, that wingspan.

When Gobert spreads his arms out, his 7-foot-9 reach is wider than most Peugeot cars in France.

More useful in the NBA realm, the rookie can defend space in nearly half of the 16-foot-wide key without moving an inch.

The coaches from Swat Lake City, Utah, are pleased with what they've seen so far from Gobert, who came to the Jazz in a draft-day trade with Denver after being selected 27th overall.

"He's so long in there he's able to come over and if he doesn't block the shot, he can alter that shot," said Jazz assistant Sidney Lowe, who drew the media-duties straw for summer league play.

"Even today, you saw where he got a couple of rebounds out of his area. He didn't have to move his feet — he just reached over. So, he's going to be big for us."

After two summer league games, Gobert is averaging six points, four rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots.

Those might not be dazzling statistics, but he's shown he can be both agile and aggressive. Gobert is also doing small things that coaches pay attention to, Lowe pointed out, including rotating on defense, making smart choices on pick-and-roll plays, and being active with his hands.

"One thing is he's not going to shy away from the contact," Lowe said. "He tries to get in there and get rebounds and come away with blocked shots."

This whole process is all a big transition for this 21-year-old, who grew up in Saint-Quentin, a city that's about two hours northeast of Paris.

Gobert would likely have been drafted eventually in 2012, but he opted to remain with his French team, Cholet Basket, to continue developing his game in Europe before heading overseas.

To play for Utah, Gobert had to do a buyout with his old team, but he said that was "100 percent" the plan all along and went smoothly.

Since playing in his new league, Gobert has had to get used to NBA rules, especially goaltending. Last week, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin laughed when reporting that the international player had to be reminded that he can't swipe the ball off the rim.

"Goaltending, sometimes it's tough because you're in the air and you say, 'No, no. Don't take the ball.' I just get used to it," Gobert said. "I feel good. I get the rules quickly, so I know I've just got to get to know my teammates and keep playing hard."

The last part of that quote is what excites the Jazz the most — well, aside from how he's nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower. After trading the No. 46 pick and cash for Gobert, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said Utah would be impressed by how hard the young big man works.

"He's going to continue to learn and continue to grow," Lowe said. "What I love about Rudy is he's a serious young man. He's serious about the game and he wants to do the right thing."

Burks also likes that about his new teammate, who'll have playing opportunities this season behind Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Andris Biedrins now that starting big men Al Jefferson (Charlotte) and Paul Millsap (Atlanta) have gone elsewhere.

"I like his work ethic a lot," he said Tuesday. "He comes in and works hard and don’t say nothing."

That's not because he's busy thumbing through a French-to-English dictionary. For a year and a half, Gobert has been taking English lessons so he could communicate without problems from the get-go of his NBA career. While his English has a charming French accent, the 21-year-old already has a solid grasp on the language.

Like everything he's experiencing right now, there's room for improvement, bien sur. Gobert said he also wants to work on improving his physical strength, becoming more effective offensively — he did have a nice catch-and-dunk play Tuesday — and learning his spots on the floor.

"Now, he's just got to get a little more comfortable with the offense, knowing where he's going to get his shots and things of that nature," Lowe said. "But we've been very pleased with the short period of time just with his progression."

Gobert is committed to continuing that past his first week of work with the Jazz.

"Just play and get better — work and I'm going to be good."

EMAIL: jody@desnews.com

TWITTER: DJJazzyJody

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1. scalman
Temecula, CA,
July 9, 2013

It's early, but this is a very encouraging article. I think it's going to be fun watching big Rudy develop. I don't like the "Stifle Tower" nickname, though. Let's see what his teammates come up with.

2. Kakashi
Tokyo, Japan,
July 9, 2013

it would be fun to just chant rudy...rudy...like that guy from the fighting irish....

3. JBQ
Saint Louis, MO,
July 10, 2013

Can't wait to see what Karl does with him. Once he bulks up, he could be a "monster of the midway".

4. jazzfanincali
Corona, CA,
July 10, 2013

I watched some of the summer league action and he looks solid. The guy really moves well for a 7'1 guy, there were times he was chasing and trapping guards out on the perimeter. He also, has pretty good timing when it comes to blocking shots. At 27 this was a great draft pick for the Jazz. I could see him getting playing time this year.

5. BlameItOnTheOfficials
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
July 10, 2013

I feel sorry for the guy... I remember another giant in a Jazz uniform that was a shot blocking and altering nightmare for the opposition. His name was Mark Eaton and he got no respect from many of the fans because his wasn't a scoring threat. For me, blocking and altering shoots are a great asset to the teams defensive strategy. But I'm afraid that many will criticize him for a lack of scoring.

Bring in Mark Easton to help train him. I still miss the big guy.