This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Only a few people watched as some of the most encouraging plays of the night were made.
The 7-footer caught the ball in the paint, jumped off both feet and laid the ball in the hoop. Then he did it again, this time pushing off on with his left leg, the one with the knee brace. Finally he dribbled, handed the ball off to the assistant coach helping him with his workout. That's when the player stopped, turned, caught a bounce pass and rose into the air for a one-handed dunk.
The sound of the pop against the rim was a nice reminder.
Coming soon in 2016: Rudy Gobert.
"We can definitely use him right now," Jazz forward Trevor Booker said. "He's a big part of our team. As soon as he gets back, the better it is for us."
It has been a month now since Gobert injured his left knee during practice and the Jazz center appears to be on track for his return in the next couple of weeks, though no official timetable is in place. Even so, the sight of his progress has been heartening for a team hit hard by injuries of late.
"I think it's always hard to gauge where [he is in his recovery], but just seeing him out on the court" is meaningful, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said on Thursday. "It's hard right now without [Gobert and forward Derrick Favors] and without [shooting guard Alec Burks] now. So anything that can give our team some sense of, 'Hey, let's keep grinding.'"
The Jazz were still trying to find their groove and recapture some of the success they tasted at the end of last season, when Gobert went down. The last game he played was a hard-fought loss to the reigning champions Golden State, and the Jazz's play that night had Gobert confident "that we can be great. Not good great."
But at practice on Dec. 2, Gobert was standing underneath the basket when a teammate fell into his legs. Gobert was diagnosed with a grade-2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, an injury that wouldn't require surgery but would likely sideline him for the next six to eight weeks.
A full month has passed, and indications at present point to Gobert being at the shorter end of that timeline.
The 15 games he has missed to date, meanwhile, have helped crystalize how important the defensive-minded center is to the Jazz's success. The Jazz were 8-8 when Gobert went down with his knee injury. They have gone 6-9 since. In December, the Jazz were the fifth-worst defense in the league, according to NBA.com.
"In a lot of ways, he was who gave them their defensive identity," Portland coach Terry Stotts said prior to tipoff between the Jazz and the Trail Blazers on New Year's Eve. "That's where they made their mark at the end of last season, was being an excellent defensive team and he was a part of that. I'm not saying they aren't now, but he certainly was a big part of that."
Throughout his rehabilitation, Gobert has remained an active participant to the extent that he can. He's worked on his shooting. He's traveled to every away game. He sits behind the bench and offers advice to his backup.
Whenever Gobert does finally return, the Jazz expect a readjustment period as the center, who will likely have to play in a knee brace for most if not the remainder of the season, finds his rhythm and his fitness.
But having him on the court is better than the alternative.
"I think everybody can't wait until Rudy comes back," point guard Raul Neto said. "But he's just got to take his time. He doesn't have to hurry up and come back early and get injured again. Now it's about when he feels comfortable to come back."
On Thursday, when the Jazz handily beat Portland at home, Snyder praised his squad's fight despite the absence of Gobert, saying he didn't want his team to think "we're just going to wait around until Rudy gets back. This team hasn't done that."
"At the same time," he added, "it will be good to see Rudy back in uniform when it happens."
Jazz vs. Grizzlies
P At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
About the Jazz • Tied a franchise record with 15 made 3-pointers in a New Year's Eve win over the Trail Blazers. … Forward Derrick Favors has missed four straight games with back spasms. His status for Saturday is unknown. … Point guard Trey Burke has been hot of late, having scored 50 points over his past six quarters of basketball.
About the Grizzlies • At 18-16, they sit at sixth-place in the West, 2.5 games up on eighth-place Utah. … Center Marc Gasol is averaging 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. … Recently waived guard Russ Smith and added big man Ryan Hollins to the roster.