How the Utah Jazz will have to make do in Rudy Gobert's absence

That right leg is going to keep Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert sidelined for a significant period of time. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Utah Jazz are spiraling after losing four of their last five and their descent may have developed a steeper angle after Rudy Gobert’s right knee contusion was rediagnosed as a bone bruise. As a result, the Jazz will be without their interior security guard for the next four-to-six weeks. Gobert’s injury stems from a collision with Dion Waiters, or rather, Waiters crashing into Gobert’s parked knees in the third quarter as Waiters lost his balance trying to corral a loose ball on Friday night.

Gobert was able to re-enter the game, but sat out Saturday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets with what was believed to be a minor injury. For his part, Gobert seems skeptical that Waiters’ collision was unintentional, per the Deseret News.

“He just dove right into my knee,” Gobert described. “Kind of like the same thing that happened before on my MCL so my knee just went inside and kind of popped inside and back out.”

“It feels better than it looked on the video,” Gobert said. “I think it was a dirty play, but no matter what the most important thing is to keep getting better and to win tomorrow.”

Gobert also used his Twitter platform to passive-aggressively lob another insinuation toward Waiters.

Waiters’ intentions are impossible to decipher, but Gobert has a personal excuse to lash out. He has a history of knee injuries, having hyperextended his knee during last season’s playoffs and spraining his MCL two years ago.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, his absence extends beyond the impact it will have on the Jazz’s paint defense. Gobert’s incentive-laden contract is brimming with provisions that are dependent on his availability:

The Rudy Gobert injury could see the center lose $500,000 in bonus money. Gobert has two sets of statistical (defensive rating and rebounds) bonuses worth $250,000 each where the center must appear in 67 games. Gobert is set to miss 4-6 weeks with a right knee injury.

The Jazz will long for Gobert’s ADT protection in the middle while he recuperates, almost as much as Gobert will miss the $500,000 he’ll never see deposited into his account. Overall, the Jazz rank third in defensive rating and points allowed in the paint. Gobert anchors that defensive coverage. Among centers, Gobert is currently third in block percentage and among the league leaders in defensive rating.

Offensively, Gobert’s rim running is a crucial component of Utah’s relatively staid offense. Prior to his injury, Gobert ranked second in dunks to Houston’s Clint Capela. Gobert inhabits a supersized version of the role Capela plays in Houston’s offense.

As was the case on Sunday, when the Jazz shifted small forward Thabo Sefolosha into the starting lineup to take advantage of his defensive aptitude, while Derrick Favors anchored the frontcourt and cleaned the glass, Utah tends to deploy a smaller lineup when Gobert sits due to their paucity of depth behind him.

If the Jazz find themselves pining for a more traditional rim protector to squat in Gobert’s position for short spells, Quin Snyder may eventually be enticed by seeing what they have in 20-year-old rookie Tony Bradley. Bradley, who scored 20 points in his G League debut last week, could join the ranks of standout rooks from this stellar 2017 class if he looks anything like the freshman who averaged 19 points, 13.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes for national champion North Carolina.

Any options Utah settles on will only be stop-gaps, but every game matters in the Western Conference playoff race.

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