Rudy Gobert Talks Pick-And-Roll Defense And How This Regular Season Has Prepared The Jazz For The Playoffs

Rudy Gobert saw the court for just 434 minutes on a 25-win team and spent a duration of his time in the G League when he was a rookie with the Utah Jazz. That first season didn’t necessarily indicate what would come in the future: four All-NBA appearances, three All-Star berths, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, and three playoff series victories over a five-season span.

But the summer following his rookie year, Gobert represented France in the FIBA World Cup and helped his country to a third-place finish, a run he pinpoints as the turning point of his career. During the quarterfinals against Spain — which rostered Pau and Marc Gasol, among other luminaries — Gobert came off the bench to notch five points, 13 rebounds, one steal, and one block in a 65-52 win.

Alongside Team USA, Spain was dubbed one of the tournament favorites. Despite star guard Tony Parker not participating that year, France emerged victorious, led in part by Gobert’s efforts crashing the glass and limiting the services of the Gasol brothers’ multi-pronged attack.

I think that’s really when the whole world started to gain respect for what I could do and how I could impact the game,” he tells Dime.

Nearly eight years later, Gobert has solidified himself as a historically great defender, preeminent lob threat, and cornerstone of a playoff linchpin for the past half-decade. Many of the traits he displayed in the surprise win over Spain have helped establish him as one of the league’s best centers.

On behalf of Cognac Frapin, DIME recently caught up with Gobert to discuss his appreciation for brandy, how he approaches defense, what’s different about the Jazz this year and more.

What appeals so much to you about Cognac Frapin?

I didn’t know a lot about Cognac until the last few years, when I really got to learn about the process, thanks to Frapin. They really showed me and told me a lot about it. I knew some brands. Like, I knew of the most mainstream brands. When I got the chance to go to the Cognac region in France and to really see the process, the precision and the quality of the product, and the fact that it was a family business for more than 500 years, it was really fascinating to me. I’m someone who enjoys quality over quantity. The fact that they make it very carefully — which grapes they use and making sure that they did keep a full eye on everything that they do and all the barrels. It was clear to me that this was a brand that really cares about quality and precision.

Are you making a cocktail with it or drinking it straight? How are you drinking it?

I think you can do both, a cocktail or drinking it on the rocks. For myself, obviously, I’m an NBA player, so I don’t drink a lot. But when I do have a drink, I really like to drink it on the rocks because it’s much easier and I don’t add any more sugar or anything else. I’ve tried some of the cocktails and they really taste amazing. It’s just not for me. When I drink, I’d rather have it on the rocks than mix it.

When’s the optimal time of the year that you’re drinking some Frapin? Off-season, off-day, what are we talking?

I don’t drink any liquor during the season. During the season, I just drink a little red wine. In the off-season or when I have a break, I can sometimes enjoy it. The good thing to me is when I have a break, I can sometimes enjoy having a drink. When I really saw the process and all the things I didn’t know, it really made me want to go try it. And then, I tried it. I compared with different brands and I was like, “this is night and day.” You can really feel the flavor. You can really feel the difference. And even for someone like me that didn’t know much about Cognac, like, I could really feel it.

Shifting into some basketball talk, what’s behind the art of pick-and-roll defense and handling all of its nuances?

I think, obviously, it comes with experience, IQ and, obviously, a combination of my length and my athletic ability. So, it’s pretty much a mix of everything. But really, for me, it’s more difficult to understand, like the different personnel. Guys have different strengths and different weaknesses. I try to make them uncomfortable and put them in a position where they’re uncomfortable in basketball. And also, dissuade them and try to put the fear back into them and cause them to either turn passive or hold them to a shot they’re not comfortable making. If they’re gonna try to go at me, just block the shot. So, it’s really about playing that mind game and try to be as disruptive as possible and also about being able to impact multiple players at a time. That’s really something that is rather difficult to realize and understand because you don’t really look at the stat sheet and see, “Oh, Rudy Gobert disrupted three guys.”

Do you feel you all have been more open to experimentation in the regular season this year to possibly better prepare you for the playoffs?

A hundred percent. And also, this year, we’ve had a lot of injuries. Obviously, myself, Donovan (Mitchell). We really got to see different lineups and even my backup, Hassan Whiteside, has missed some games, too. So, yeah, we’ve tried out different lineups and lot of different coverages. … We want to win every night, but at the same time, we realize that when the playoffs come, we want to be the best team we can be and if we build good habits, we’ll be all right.

It feels like maybe there’s been a little more emphasis on your behalf to kind of be able to create with the ball in your hands and stretch your range a little bit outside of maybe the dunks and the finishing around the rim. Is that a fair assessment. If so, where does that emphasis come from for you this season?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the years and I really feel like I can create for my team. I can find my teammates when they’re open, and I can also be aggressive and create some problems for the other teams. For me, it’s really about keep building that relationship with my teammates and keep building the trust and then, make sure that I’m being put in position that I can really help my team.

Does expanding your own offensive game somewhat come from an aim to neutralize some of the small-ball defenses that teams have thrown at you during the playoffs over the years?

Yeah, definitely. Once again, I think, for us, it’s really to keep growing as a team and try to have that balance between attacking from the perimeter, but also, putting the ball inside and trust our game to be able to use that size advantage to get something easy, whether it’s kicking out for a three or finishing inside. I think for us to have that balance will be really key for us to take another step. I think this year, we’ve been able to do it very well. We are getting better and better.

When the organization trades a mainstay like Joe Ingles, who was crucial to so much of your team’s success in recent years, what are the challenges from a human perspective you have to navigate after a move like that?

Obviously, it was tough. Someone that’s such a huge part of the team’s foundation, leaving the team. With Joe, for me … we spent eight years together. Joe was a huge part of our progression and our success as a team. When Joe got here, we had won 25 games the year before. It was really cool to be able to share that journey with him and I think he made me better as a player over the years. We got to know each other, obviously, year after year. He’s someone I have a lot of respect for, him and his family. … I really just tried to show my support as much as I could. I hope he is gonna be able to back when he can. But it’s funny. When you get used to playing with someone, you kinda take it for granted and you don’t realize that could end any time. It’s tough, whether it’s injury or trade or someone retiring, it’s always a difficult adjustment.