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Few players have risen their profile this season as much as second-year Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, whose statistical averages — 7.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks over 23.7 mintues per game — belie his impact. The 7-1 Frenchman's emergence as an interior presence over the past few months has made expendable former third-overall pick Enes Kanter, turned the Jazz into one of the top defensive clubs in the NBA of late, and convinced a decent number of people that Utah can challenge for a playoff spot next season. "The Stifle Tower" is now something of a sensation among basketball fans with League Pass and figures to earn a reasonable number of votes for Most Improved Player this spring.
The excitement doesn't feel excessive, because Gobert keeps on impressing more and more with every passing game. He had his most complete statistical game of the year in Thursday's 109-91 victory over the Houston Rockets, putting up 19 points (8-of-11 FG), 22 rebounds (12 offensive), and four blocks with only two fouls in 36 minutes. Take a look at his highlights:
The victory over Houston gives Utah their first four-game winning streak of the season and stands as their 11th win in their last 14, good enough to get their record up to a respectable 28-36. While the Jazz are only alive for the playoffs in the realm of mathematical possibility, they would be just a single game out with the same record in the Eastern Conference.
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As our Dan Devine wrote last week after Utah's victory over the contending Memphis Grizzlies, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Jazz now and in the future. But the main one seems to be the interior combo of Gobert and Derrick Favors, who appear able to protect the rim at an elite level. It's not just a matter of potential, either — Gobert is the NBA's leader in block percentage by a significant margin over Anthony Davis. These guys are fun, exciting, and good enough to earn respect. Pay attention to them over the upcoming month, because they could play a much bigger role in the league landscape come next fall.
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