The Elusive All-Star Selection for Rudy Gobert
Updated: Nov 21, 2018
Rudy Gobert has been a fringe All-Star member the last two years. What will it take to make Rudy a 2018-19 NBA All-Star?
For the past two seasons, Rudy Gobert has fallen short of an NBA All-Star team selection. He has remained on the bubble, unable to get over the hump and secure the necessary votes. Looking back on each season’s context gives us a better idea of what happened.
During the 2016-17 season, Rudy Gobert came out of the gates slow. His first 15 games yielded single digit points (9.9) and barely double digit rebounds (10.5). His other stats looked respectable, but the volume wasn’t there.
Much of this slow start can be contributed to playing with a new PG. George Hill joined the Jazz in the offseason and had better chemistry with Gordon Hayward (the Utah Jazz’s only All-Star that year) to begin the season.
Rudy, however, figured things out and closed the year averaging 18.1 points and 13.1 rebounds over the last 15 games, all while improving his assist and block numbers from earlier in the year. Needless to say, had these been his stats going into All-Star voting, he would have secured a spot on an All-Star roster.
The 2017-18 season also began with a new point guard and yet, he didn’t have a slow start to the year. He averaged 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds to begin the year. He unfortunately, did not make it to 15 games played as a knee injury hit him in game #12.
Despite this stint with injury, and another different injury coming six games after his return from the first, Rudy finished the season nearly as he began with 13.5 points and 11.1 rebounds over his final 15 games.
Rudy’s stats by the close of All-Star voting each year were the following:
A few pieces stand out at first glance:
The games played this last season didn’t qualify Rudy for a selection, understandably
Despite the lack of games played, his point and block totals were almost identical
Rudy’s rebounding was way down, likely due to the injury struggles
The Utah Jazz weren’t winning at this point during the 17-18 season. Team win % is an important factor for a player who, like Rudy, isn’t a volume scorer or rebounder
The conclusion? The best recipe for a Rudy Gobert All-Star selection is continuity at the PG position and luck with injuries. Fortunately for Rudy and the Utah Jazz, Ricky Rubio is under contract for another year and also finished the season in stellar fashion. In addition, Rudy followed up his MCL injury two years ago playing 81 games the 2016-17 season.
Continuity? CHECK. Injury luck? HOPEFULLY...knock on wood…
Rudy is enough of a star NBA player that his nature development and season to season improvement could be enough to become an All-Star next year. However, there are some key ingredients where, if added to the recipe, could ensure an All-Star team selection.
As was alluded to above in his stats per year at the close of All-Star voting, the following key factors will propel Rudy to make his first All-Star team in the 2018-19 season.
Scoring with Intelligence
Rudy’s best shot at improvement worthy of an All-Star selection is on the offensive end. Now before you start envisioning Rudy practicing post moves or an outside jump shot, let’s understand what he does well and what he doesn’t.
Rudy excels at the rim. Although he’d like to develop a jump shot to stretch the defense, the returns on investing time into that skill won’t be very high. Rudy shot 84.6% of his shots within 3 feet of the basket during his best statistical season (2016-17). He shot less within 3 ft. this year, only taking 75.7%.
Why is this a problem? His ability to make a shot within 3 ft. is 73%; everywhere else is around 30%. Since both shots only give you two points, Rudy is hurting himself by taking shots further than 3 ft. away from the basket. He is elite with his ability to score at the rim, but as we just explained, Rudy needs to get back to taking 80% or more of his shots righ at the rim.
Within 3 feet of the basket, there are two possible shots: a layup or a dunk. Which one does Rudy shoot better? Dunks: 92%, Layups: 49%. So he should be taking more dunks, right? Ironically, he shot the same amount of dunks as layups last year.
Obviously not every shot can be a dunk, so layups are necessary at times. How does he convert on layups at a higher rate? The key will be to develop and use a pump fake.
A pump fake won’t directly correlate to better layup conversion but it will correlate to improved layup quality over time. Pump fakes, especially against defenders protecting the rim, are effective at eliciting a jump from the defender, thus giving Rudy, or the offensive player, an advantage.
In the short term, this gives Rudy an advantage to convert a layup by aligning his attack to the rim with the defender’s downward trajectory. He can also leverage this advantage by drawing fouls and increasing his free throw rate (we’ll talk about free throws later).
In the long run, using a pump fake will force defenders to guess whether or not Rudy will be attempting a shot or using the fake. Rudy will will be able to react accordingly and get uncontested layup and dunk attempts. It won’t work every time, nothing ever does, but it’s a simple tool he can develop, practice, and implement during an offseason that will yield immediate returns.
Getting to the Free Throw Line
The next point of development that will contribute to his scoring and leverage years of practice on Rudy’s part is getting to the free throw line. This past year Rudy set a personal best by shooting 68% at the free throw line. His passion for improving this area gives us good reason to predict he’ll reach the 70% threshold next season.
However, shooting the free throw well is irrelevant if you never get attempts. Rodney Hood is a great example. During his time with the Utah Jazz this past season, Rodney made 87.6% of his free throws. However, he only went to the free throw line 17.6% of his possessions. The result is the same as if he went to the line most ever possession (87.6%) but could only make one out of every five (17.6%).
Fortunately, Rudy’s rate is much higher than Rodney’s. However, his rate of going to the free throw line dropped nearly ten percentage points in the 2017-18 season. He couldn’t get to the line as much and therefore, despite his improvement at the line (up 3% from the previous season), he couldn’t get the volume.
This is an area where the pump fake tactic we discussed could help him. By compromising the defender’s position with the fake, Rudy can leverage the situation by forcing contact to be made while he is in the shooting motion. This will draw a foul and will send him to the line where he can maximize his improvement at making foul shots.
Dominate the Defense
Part of Rudy’s decline in getting to the free throw line is, in part, due to his injuries. Rudy uses his athleticism and long frame to get up and around defenders. When that athleticism is weakened, he has a hard time forcing defenders into and capitalizing on potential contact resulting in a foul.
The opposite is also true on the defensive side. Rudy’s quickness and athleticism allows him to alter/block shots and secure the defensive rebounds. Without those skills, he no longer has a superior advantage over the opposing player or his teammates.
Rudy had his worst statistical rebounding season this past year. Based on all potential defensive rebounds available, Rudy was only able to secure 27.0% of them. His best rebounding season was 2016-17, where he gathered 29.5% of all defensive rebounds. His offensive rebounding was also down this season from last by 3.2%, although this may be due to a stylistic or schematic change from the coaching staff.
Rudy also had his second worst season accumulating blocked shots. He blocked just 6.0% of shots compared to his best season (albeit his first in the league) where he blocked 7.4% of all shots. This decline could very well be due to his improvement on the defensive end of picking and choosing the correct shots to block, but I believe it was primarily due to his weakened knees from his two injuries.
Rudy’s calling card is the defense. Having just been voted as the Defensive Player of the Year equivalent (Locksmith Award) by his fellow league players, he is very much in every player’s head as they break the paint. With a healthy year ahead of him (again...knock wood), Rudy can return to be in players’ grills, not just their heads.
Having discussed these keys, let’s make some realistic assumptions about Rudy’s play next year, keeping in mind the development we just outlined, and we’ll predict Rudy Gobert’s results:
Rudy gets 600 plus shot attempts (during the 2016-17 season he recorded 625).
Rudy Gobert raises his free throw rate to 78% (just slightly higher than the 16-17 season: 76.2%)
Rudy Gobert hits 70% FT%
Rudy Gobert continues to convert on dunks at a 92-95% rate
Rudy improves his layup FG% to 60% (6% better than the 16-17 season)
Rudy continues his shooting
Rudy plays 75 games or more
Rudy returns to his block and rebound performance from the 2016-17 season
Some of these assumptions are bold and others are very conservative. In order for Rudy to receive an All-Star selection, he’s going to need a career year. This coming season is the best opportunity for him to have a career year.
If the Jazz are not able bring back Derrick Favors, Rudy will have 34 minutes a night with space to score, rebound, and block. He’ll be back with his first consistent, starting point guard. He’ll have rehabbed for a full offseason.
The stage may be perfect for Rudy’s career year. Let’s take a look at what his numbers (given the assumptions) would look like at the close of All-Star Voting compared to the close of All-Star Voting the last two years:
Some of these are projections and others are guesses, but everything listed is very attainable. The Utah Jazz may very well win 60% or more games by All-Star voting close with a point differential half of what it was post injury for Rudy (Jan. 19 - Apr. 4).
Rudy was already close to an All-Star bid with the numbers he posted and the team’s performance in the 2016-17 season. Rudy will be 2019-19 NBA All-Star and an All NBA Second Team Selection with a season long performance like what we projected.
With a few tweaks to his game, some offensive discipline, and improved health, the NBA All-Star selection that has eluded Rudy Gobert may finally come to an end.