Ever since Rudy Gobert became known as a defensive force in the spring of 2015, there’s been a great deal of discussion concerning how much he and starting power forward Derrick Favors should play together for the Utah Jazz.
Both are great defenders, which helps give the Jazz an identity as one of the toughest defenses in the NBA, but neither are great floor-spacers in a modern league that favors pace and space.
Combining the emergence of skilled second-year forward Trey Lyles last year and the offseason acquisitions of Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, Utah’s frontline is much more versatile offensively this season. All three can hit perimeter shots, and Johnson can be featured as a small power forward.
As such, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder has already closed a number of tight contests this season with four shooters surrounding one of the starting big men, giving Utah plenty of players who can space the floor down the stretch while also keeping one of the defensive cogs in the game to help get stops.
On Monday night as the Jazz took on the Memphis Grizzlies, neither was in the game at the end. The reason for Favors’ absence was clear. He was pulled late in the third quarter when it was obvious his knee was bothering him to the point that he couldn’t run, jump or shoot very well.
But where was Gobert?
The 7-foot-1 Frenchman picked up his fifth foul with 10:14 to play with Utah down by two, but Snyder never put him back in the game.
With Lyles and Diaw manning the paint, the Jazz got roasted inside, particularly on the boards. In the final minutes without Gobert, Utah was outrebounded 14-7. More particularly damaging, the Grizzlies scored six second-chance points in that span, and that wound up being the difference in the 102-96 Jazz loss.
To be sure, the lineup Snyder employed down the stretch played well offensively, as the contest was tied at 88 with 2:55 remaining. Furthermore, Gobert hadn’t played very well throughout the night, logging six points and just five rebounds, and Snyder was sure to point that out after the game.
Still, one has to wonder how his presence alone might have affected the outcome of the contest.
Moving forward, it seems logical that Monday was a bit of an aberration and that Snyder will play Gobert down the stretch of most games with four shooters surrounding him. There are too many reasons not to do that, notably the fact that the center is one of the NBA’s best rim protectors, and it’s not the best look if your new $100-million man is riding the pine when it matters most.
There undoubtedly are some unknowns surrounding Favors, however. The most pressing is his health. He simply was not himself Monday, calling into question how a Utah organization that is typically very cautious with injuries will treat the latest setback.
Secondarily, it will be interesting to watch how Snyder uses him once he’s healthy in concert with both Gobert as well as the other Jazz players who have skills that fit the modern NBA better.
Ryan McDonald is a sports reporter at DeseretNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanwmcdonald.