With Gobert's return, big man duo with Jeff Withey emerges for Utah
The Jazz played to a 7-11 record without Gobert, and center Jeff Withey stepped in and attempted to fill the void left by the Frenchman. During the 18 games Gobert missed, Withey posted two double-doubles and averaged 1.6 blocks per game.
With the return of Gobert Thursday night, Utah now has a twin-tower defensive threat that will allow the Jazz to win the paint nearly every night. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder now has a viable backup center to fill minutes with Gobert on the bench.
Gobert is the glue of the Utah defense that holds everything together in the middle. By protecting the rim, Gobert allows the rest of the defense to extend outside of the painted area and defend the perimeter.
When Gobert went down with a knee injury, Utah knew there would be a void in the middle, and it looked like the time without Gobert would be a brutal defensive struggle. Enter Jeff Withey.
Though the third-year center had only appeared in a total of 10 games in a Jazz uniform before Gobert went down, Withey immediately became an integral part of Utah’s rotation.
It took 13 games, but Withey finally made his presence felt by posting a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Withey scored in double figures in four of the final five games in Gobert’s absence.
With Gobert’s return to the lineup, the Jazz now have a strong presence in the key for nearly 48 minutes of every game. As a team that sits 27th in the league in scoring and fifth in points allowed, Utah depends heavily on their defense to win games.
In just five games in January, the Jazz are already allowing 2.9 points per game less than what they allowed on average through the month of December. Even so, the defensive play of Utah becomes increasingly important with the offense output decreasing by an average of 3.5 points per game.
As a team looking to take the next step into playoff competition, Gobert’s injury appeared to be the worst-case scenario in what has been an injury-riddled season for Utah.
No, the Jazz have not made many strides on the injury front. Currently, three players on Utah’s roster are missing time with day-to-day injuries, while point guard Dante Exum is missing the season with a torn ACL. But if the Jazz had come across this unfortunate spell in March, any playoff hopes would be dashed.
With players falling to injury now, it allows for role players to grow into contributors and injured players to get healthy for a late-season playoff push.
Gobert’s injury was timed perfectly to allow Withey to develop into the perfect backup to the Frenchman.
The establishment of Gobert and Withey in the center of Utah’s defense sets them up to make a run at a berth in the Western Conference Playoffs. With a team this young, a playoff experience will be incredibly valuable, even if the result is a brief four-game appearance against the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors.
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