By Bobby Kirschenbaum
“RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!” is the famous chant from the historic football movie about Daniel Ruettiger, a football player at Notre Dame. However, the true Athlete on the Rise for this week is Rudy Gobert, the center for the Utah Jazz. Standing at 7’1”, Gobert is a superb athlete and creates a huge presence in the paint, causing extreme difficulty for all opponents are forced to guard him. On February 20th, Enes Kanter was traded from the Jazz to the Oklahoma City Thunder, leaving the starting role at center open for Gobert to snatch. It is certainly a fair statement to say that Gobert has wasted no time in fulfilling his duties, and has done everything in his power to prove why he is worth the spot at the 5. Prior to the game that took place on February 23th between the Jazz and the Spurs, the first since the trade deadline, Gobert had only played 11 games all season where he played 30+ minutes. Since then, he has cracked the 30 minute mark in every game. Efficiency? Certainly the word Gobert represents whenever he takes the floor. In all but one game since the deadline, Gobert has cracked double-digit rebounds and has had at least 1 block.
It is fair to say Rudy has taken the league by storm during the month of March. He is averaging 11 points, 2 assists, 2.3 blocks, 1 steal, and an electrifying 17.3 rebounds per game in just over 36 minutes a game. These numbers are absolutely incredible and he exemplifies the true force that the Jazz have been searching for. More important than stats, of course, is winning. And since Gobert has taken over at center, that is exactly what the Jazz have been doing, The Jazz are on fire, with a 9-2 record since the deadline, and currently riding on a 5 game winning streak.
On March 3rd, just the 5th game for Gobert in his rise as a starting center, he was truly put to the task, as he was going up against one of the toughest frontcourts in the league in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in a game against the Grizzlies in Memphis. With Memphis currently riding a 2 seed in the difficult Western Conference, this game would surely give fans an indication of how incredible Gobert really is. And he certainly delivered, reeling in a surreal 24 rebounds with 15 points and 2 assists, in an impressive 93-82 win.
While the playoff race is on in the West, and MVP talk has certainly dominated discussions, the Defensive Player of the Year is just as important of an award, and Gobert might just take it home this year. He makes a very compelling case; Gobert is currently 2nd in the league in blocks with 151, 7th in offensive rebounds with 193, and 4th in defensive rating with a 98.3%. For somebody who didn’t even start more than half the season and recently took over at center, these numbers are very impressive.
Currently, the Jazz stand at a below average record of 29-36 in an incredibly difficult Western Conference. However, with Gobzilla, as many refer to him, standing at the 5, hoisting a bright future ahead of him, the Jazz could soon be a force to be reckoned with. In addition, Gobert can very well become the face of the French Olympic team, as one can only question how many more solid years he has in him. So for this week, Rudy Gobert is my Athlete on the Rise.