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Rudy Gobert believes he's NBA's best center — and he's playing like it

OAKLAND, Calif. — Quin Snyder heaped praise on an international big man Sunday, saying the dominating post presence has been much more than simply the best center in the NBA in recent games.

“Well,” the Jazz coach said, “I think he’s been literally the best player in the NBA in the last 10 games. He’s been terrific.”

That player, by the way, was crushed in the most recent matchup with another European player.

While Marc Gasol got more descriptive accolades from Snyder before and after Sunday's 82-73 win at Memphis, Rudy Gobert got everything else on this day. More points. More rebounds. More blocks. More efficiency. More domination. More in the win column.

Snyder was purposely more reserved in complimenting Gobert even on a day when The Stifle Tower overpowered his Spanish foe.

After saying Gasol was the best player du jour in the NBA, the third-year Jazz coach said Utah was fortunate to “catch a guy on a tough night.”

But what about Gobert’s play?

“He was solid tonight,” Snyder said.

Whoa. Easy on the compliments, coach.

The understated expression of admiration was a shrewd calculation. Snyder doesn’t want his guy to get an overinflated ego even though Gobert is playing as well if not better than any center in the world right now.

Snyder smiled when pressed about simply calling Gobert’s play solid. The French athlete did compile 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots in the latest of a string of something-more-than-solid outings, after all.

And Gasol?

The then-Western Conference player of the week missed 18 of 22 shots and scored only eight points with seven rebounds and zero blocks. It was a far cry from his 22-point game against Utah and a foul-plagued Gobert in the Grizzlies’ win in Utah last month.

And Gobert was just ... solid?

“That’s rock solid. How’s that?” Snyder said, cracking a grin. “I was looking around to see if (Gobert) was around the corner."

Snyder dug up some more nice things to say about Gobert, the NBA’s leading shooter who’s hit 70 percent of his shots while limiting opposing centers to a ridiculously low 41 percent in December games.

“Rudy, he’s been terrific," Snyder said. "The thing about that is Rudy doesn’t need any more motivation or inspiration. If anything he just needs to be focused and solid. I don’t want to say too much about him. I want him to let his play keep talking and that’s what he’s doing.”

Knowing how well Gasol had been playing and how poorly he played against him in the November loss, Gobert took Sunday’s matchup as a personal challenge.

“Every night is a challenge,” Gobert said. “But obviously he’s the best center in the league right now.”

Gobert hesitated after dishing out that compliment.

“I mean, one of the best right now,” he added, “so it was a challenge to play against him.”

A moment later, Gobert did something his coach wouldn’t consider at this point. He ranked himself as the best center in the NBA.

“To be honest, right now, I think it’s me,” Gobert told ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon. “But it’s a long season. I just try to take every game as a challenge. The hardest thing is to do it the full season.”

So far, so good.

Gobert, who’s had seven straight double-doubles, is averaging 12.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. He leads the league in field-goal percentage (69.4 percent) thanks to vast improvement with his interior scoring, hand work, confidence and strength. He’s second in swats per game and sixth in rebounding.

In nine December games, the 7-foot-1 center has averaged 15.0 points, 12.7 boards and 3.1 blocks. As the ESPN article pointed out, the Jazz have outscored opponents by 130 points with Gobert on the court during their current 11-2 stretch.

According to the 24-year-old, there’s more to come. The Jazz would love that, especially considering his four-year, $102 million contract extension kicks in next season.

“I feel like I can get a lot better,” Gobert said. “But I feel like I’m getting better. I feel confident. I feel great.”

His French teammate agrees.

“He’s doing good. He keeps getting better and focusing on exactly what we ask from him,” Jazz power forward Boris Diaw said. “He’s doing a good job at that and not trying or overdoing stuff he’s not comfortable with. He’s staying with his principles and simple things that he’s good at and he’s been doing a great job.”

Though his coach needed to be coaxed to call Gobert rock solid, a female fan behind the Memphis scorer’s table screamed out the ultimate compliment you can get from an opposing crowd.

“Gobert! Go home!”

But first comes another challenge for Gobert and his teammates: Tuesday's road game against the Golden State Warriors.

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