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Over the course of one summer, the narrative around Rudy Gobert has changed.
Thanks to his breakout performance for France in the recent World Cup, the Jazz's spidery 7-foot-2 center has chucked the 'project' label and evolved perhaps into a player who could contribute to Utah in a meaningful way this season.
Gone is the gangly youngster. In his place is a sometimes snarling shot-blocker, a serious deterrent to guards and forwards with the audacity to drive into the paint.
Will the Jazz benefit from their young center's seeming improvement? Gobert certainly thinks so.
"I feel way more confident than I did last season," he said. "I feel like I can help my team win. I feel like I can make a defensive impact, and help the team maintain. I was motivated to play in the World Cup. We had a good run and we finished high. I'm proud of what we accomplished."
Gobert was dominant defensively in Spain, swatting shots, grabbing rebounds, erasing mistakes made by his guards. He made life easy for countrymen such as Boris Diaw and Nic Batum. He rattled home dunks and finished with flair as much as he could around the rim. The result? Gobert is itching to get started when the Jazz open training camp on Monday. Gone is the wide-eyed rookie from last season who professed that he was unsure he could hack it in the NBA. He's been replaced by a guy who knows that he belongs.
"We've been really pleased with Rudy and his development," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said earlier in the summer. "He's worked hard on his game, and I think he realizes that he can be good. We like his shot-blocking. But we're also really impressed with his ability to rebound the ball at a high rate. He has a long way to go. But he has come a long way."
The world has taken notice. France upset Spain in historic fashion in the World Cup semifinals. Matched up with Spain's Pau and Marc Gasol, Gobert more than held his own, scoring five points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocked a shot. All coming off the bench.Much of the battle with Gobert has been from the neck up. His rookie season was a rough one, being a first-year guy far from home. He was and still is raw offensively, appearing to be a player who might be years away from really contributing. He rarely got off the Jazz bench.
However, a turning point of sorts came late in the season, as the Jazz faded from playoff contention and then-coach Tyrone Corbin began emptying his bench in a bid to get the younger players minutes. Those games proved instrumental to Gobert, who came away from them convinced he could play at the NBA level.
"It was important to me," he said. "It gave me confidence, and I went into the offseason determined to get better. I used to feel like I could help the team down the line. Now I feel like I can help the team right now. Playing at the end of last season was big for me."
Gobert used that limited success as a slingshot into the offseason. He was widely considered the best player for the Jazz in the Las Vegas Summer League, even earning second team all-tournament honors. But with many writing that performance off as simply summer league, Gobert's success at the World Cup opened many more eyes.
Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey called Gobert a "rotational" player this past summer. At the very least, it appears Gobert can carve himself a role off the bench for Utah this season. ESPN's Grantland.com compared Gobert to a young Tyson Chandler.
A key for Gobert this season will be his ability to improve offensively. He will probably never average 20 points per game, but could become a reliable post presence. Defensively, with his height and enormous wingspan, his potential is vast.
But the biggest signe of Gobert's emergence is this: people are now paying attention to him. That's a big step up from where he was a year ago.
Rudy Gobert file
Vitals • Age 22. 7-foot-2, 238 pounds
From • Saint-Quentin, France
• Played in 45 games for the Jazz last season, averaging 9.6 minutes per game.
• Helped France to the World Cup Final Four.
• Had five points and 13 rebounds in quarterfinal win over Spain.