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On an early fall afternoon, Rudy Gobert sat at a table in an empty restaurant, discussing his troubles with one of the few other men in town who could understand them.
"Today is more of a guards' league," the 7-foot-1 Gobert told 7-foot-4 Mark Eaton, as they filmed a television package at one of the former Jazzman's restaurants. "The way the plays are called, the way the refs call the fouls, it's all in favor of the guards."
But in an era of trey-crazed, pace-and-space small-ball basketball, the Utah Jazz are betting big to the tune of $100 million on their biggest player.
And, so far, Gobert is proving his worth.
A quarter of the way through the season, Gobert is putting up career numbers: 11.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game for the 14-10 Jazz. He has 14 double-doubles on the season, the sixth most in the NBA, and has put up 20-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
"He's obviously known for defensively protecting us and saving our ass a lot of times. But he's been in the gym working and I think everyone can see his offensive game is getting better by the day," forward Joe Ingles said after Gobert went for 20 points and 17 rebounds in a loss to Golden State on Thursday. "He obviously got his nice new contract and hasn't taken a step back. He's still working really hard. And he's only  so he's got a long way to go. He can improve a hell of a lot more."
Gobert's offensive production has been encouraging for the Jazz, especially given how hard the team has been hit by injuries early this season, but Jazz coach Quin Snyder wants the Stifle Tower to remember he earns his paycheck on the defensive end of the floor.
After the Jazz beat the Rockets on Nov. 29, shooting guard Eric Gordon said Gobert was "so long he can guard two" players. "I think that he got to everybody," Sixers coach Brett Brown said after Gobert's three-block night in Philadelphia. And when former Jazzman Paul Millsap and the Atlanta Hawks came to Salt Lake City, they managed to convert just 10 of their 38 attempts in the restricted area.
"That's probably the worst layup display we've had for a while," Millsap said. "Good shot blockers do that."
Gobert has blocked 63 shots through the first 24 games of the season, the most in the NBA.
"I think I could get more blocks than I get, but I'm focused on doing the right thing, you know?" Gobert said. "Protect the rim, make them hit tough shots, and sometimes I'm not going to get the block, but if I don't get the block and I get the rebound, it's even better I think."
The Jazz defense, ninth best in the NBA, has actually struggled in recent weeks to matchup against quick guards as Utah has dealt with injury. Things would be worse if opponents weren't converting just 42.3 percent of their attempts at the rim with Gobert there to protect it.
"Those guys are invaluable," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has another one of the game's top shot blockers in center DeAndre Jordan. "The only reason the other teams don't have them is because they don't have them. All those teams that are playing the other ways, if they had D.J. and Gobert, they would take them tomorrow, today. Those guys are so valuable to your team. There just aren't a lot of guys that do what they do."
That's why Gobert is set, at least for the moment, to become the highest-paid player on the Jazz roster when his four-year, $102-million extension kicks in next season.
With that payday coming and an assurance that he'll be staying in Utah, the Frenchman has already been considering an investment with his money.
"You know I'm thinking about opening a restaurant probably pretty soon," Gobert told Eaton as they dined on scallops and risotto early last fall.
"You come talk to me before you do that, OK?" Eaton says. "I've been doing this for 20 years. I've learned a couple things."
Eaton counts himself among Gobert's biggest fans. A Jazzman for 11 seasons, Eaton blocked more than 3,000 shots, averaging an NBA record 5.6 swats per game during his 1984-85 campaign.
Gobert shook his head thinking of that number.
"It's crazy," the youngster said.
But Eaton believes Gobert can be even betterand worth every pennyeven in today's NBA.
"I love watching Rudy," Eaton said. "I love his athleticism around the rim. I wish I had some of that. … Even though the game's kind of changed since I played, somethings don't change. You have to be able to defend the paint."
Jazz vs. Kings
P At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Last meeting • First meeting of the season
About the Jazz • Gordon Hayward averaged 22 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4 assists per game last season against the Kings, but Utah managed only a 1-2 record in the season series. … Starters Hayward, Derrick Favors, George Hill and Rodney Hood all sat out Thursday's loss to the Golden State Warriors due to various injuries. … Rudy Gobert has recorded 14 double-doubles so far this season after recording 20 all of last season.
About the Kings • Center DeMarcus Cousins is averaging a career-best 28.8 points per game. … The Kings have been a bottom-10 defense so far this year, giving up an average of 105.7 points per 100 possessions. … Could have tired legs as they arrive late in Salt Lake City after hosting the New York Knicks on Friday night.
66.4 Field Goal Percentage • No. 1 in NBA
63 Total Blocks • No. 1 in NBA
2.6 Blocks Per Game • No. 2 in NBA
14 Double-Doubles • No. 6 in NBA
3.43 Real Plus-Minus • No. 22 in NBA