Four of Ricky Rubio’s nine assists Tuesday night were to Rudy Gobert. They all were dunks.
Raise your hand if you gave up a little early on that pairing. And be honest.
After an initial awkward dance between the Jazz’s star center and their new point guard, there seems to be a rhythm finally developing. On no play was it more clear than a second-quarter assist that Rubio threw from across the lane to a waiting Gobert. Something’s changed for the better there.
Quin Snyder had a lot of thoughts on that, which are expanded upon later in this newsletter. But a quick summary? Oh ye of little faith.
“You just gotta give them a chance,” Snyder said. “They’re gonna have bad games, too. We want to have conclusions about things so quickly. Life’s not like that. The game’s not like that. You have to try, fail, learn — and that’s how you get better.”
Something is cooking: Rubio has thrown 10 assists to Gobert in the past five games. And that relationship, which fans have discussed excitedly since the Jazz traded for Rubio, finally is looking as if it might be developing. If it can become a consistent weapon, akin to the pick-and-roll the Jazz run with Joe Ingles and Gobert, then Utah’s offense might get some needed juice as they continue to scrap for the postseason.
Here’s the best of the week in Jazz coverage:
1. What does it take to get out of 10th place? The Jazz finally did it this week, climbing into a tie for eighth. And if you compare Utah’s schedule with the rest of the playoff pack, it’s definitely an easier road. Come to think of it, you don’t need to compare yourself — we did it for you. [Trib]
2. While everyone can see what Donovan Mitchell is doing, fellow first-round pick Tony Bradley is toiling away in the G League. We checked in on his progress, talking with Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, Salt Lake City Stars coach Martin Schiller and the rookie center himself. [Trib]
3. Speaking of big-man skills: Rudy Gobert has one that goes almost totally underappreciated. We took a look at why the best shot-blocker in the NBA also might be the best screen-setter in the NBA — Rudy certainly thinks so, anyway. [Trib]
4. It’s a tough time for Louisville basketball right now. The Cardinals have been rocked by scandal all season, and they opted out of the postseason after missing the NCAA Tournament. But they do have one bright spot: Donovan Mitchell. Eric Woodyard drove out to Kentucky to learn more. [DNews]
5. I’ve been waiting literally all week to share this in the newsletter: After cashing in on a contract with the Jazz, Carlos Boozer bought a house in Los Angeles. Almost immediately, he had an offer for a long-term renter. That renter was Prince. The story only gets more amazing from there. [Sports Illustrated]
Aaron Falk brushed the kimchi off his shoulder to return to podcast hosting duties with Tony. They talked about how the Jazz defense has been mashing, whether Utah has an opportunity to actually win a series in the playoffs and how we deal (or sometimes don’t deal) with the ire of players and coaches in interviews.
IN THE ROTATION
• In Tony’s most recent mailbag, he handles your burning questions: Would this year’s Jazz team beat last year’s Jazz team in a seven-game series? [Trib]
• Former ref and new NBA officiating czar Monty McCutchen is making his rounds through the league to try to improve player and ref relations — he spoke to me about it. [Trib]
• Kurt Kragthorpe says whether the Jazz make or miss the playoffs doesn’t matter in one important sense: This year’s team already has brightened the future of the franchise. [Trib]
• Andy Larsen took a closer look at why the Donovan Mitchell City Edition jersey has been so in demand — and so hard to find. [KSL.com]
• Eric Woodyard also took a fun look inside the Jazz locker room about teammate wagers on NCAA games. Even the NBA loves March Madness. [DNews]
• Bob Evans did a sit-down interview with Rudy Gobert that was notable for one particular clip: Gobert told him that Gordon Hayward didn’t communicate with him about his big free agency decision. The clip is at 5:45, if you want to cut ahead. [Fox 13]
Here’s the rest of the Quin Snyder quote on the relationship between Ricky and Rudy, and a focus on Ricky’s drive to mesh into the Jazz organization:
“Some of it is Ricky. Some of it is Rudy. Some of it is our team, just the guys becoming more cohesive. It’s been important to Ricky, and that’s the main thing — his wanting to get better and get better with Rudy. So whether it’s him working on a lob pass in practice in a 5-on-0 drill or working on his finishing, which ends up impacting his connection with Rudy, working on his midrange pull-up when people drop below Rudy and the pass isn’t there. I just think there’s a progression that players go through when they get in a new environment. That’s what we’re seeing.
“[Jazz assistant] Igor [Kokoskov] has done an unbelievable job with him. There’s very specific routines that he goes through with a lot of the skill development. When you have a talented player, they’re able to learn more quickly. In Ricky’s case, he’s had to learn on the fly. The biggest thing is … he’s been angry, but he’s never been discouraged. He’s been frustrated, but the way he is, he just holds himself to a really high standard. And eventually if you do that and you’re working on the right things and you care, you break through. And I think the same thing is true of his relationship with Rudy on the court. It just takes time.
“I would hesitate to say it’s finished all of a sudden. I think Ricky and Rudy would agree. … You just gotta keep getting better. That’s what this team is about.”
ODDS TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
I’m checking a few sites this week:
FiveThirtyEight • 93 percent (fifth-best odds in the West)
Basketball Reference • 83 percent (sixth)
ESPN BPI • 86.6 percent (sixth)
A homestand rife with tanking teams awaits the Jazz. They play the Suns, Kings and Hawks in the next week before heading out on the final multigame road trip of the regular season. Things are softening up indeed.