Utah Jazz: Can they make Rudy Gobert-Donovan Mitchell work?

Utah Jazz duo (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz duo (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports) /

The dynamic duo of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell has had little success in the postseason. In what could be viewed as a make-or-break year, can the Utah Jazz make it all work? 

As whispers continue to grow, it’s natural for there to be some focus on the future of Donovan Mitchell, who has been the offensive engine for the Utah Jazz since he broke into the league. However, the Jazz’s recent success is almost equally due to the defensive dominance by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

It’s Gobert’s 7-foot-1 frame and a 7-foot-9 wingspan that allows the Jazz to be above-average on that end of the floor.

His intimidation alone causes most attackers to turn into facilitators around the paint. This allows the Jazz to have subpar perimeter defenders knowing they have the Stifle Tower as backline defense.

Outside of Royce O’Neil and maybe an engaged Mike Conley, the perimeter defense is made of turnstiles. Gobert has earned a 101.3 defensive rating for the 21-22 NBA season. For comparison, Draymond Green’s defensive rating is 100.9, Giannis’ defensive rating is 105, and Joel Embiid’s defensive rating is 104.5. The lower the rating the better the defense, and with Draymond being out with injury, it is Gobert’s title to lose.

Adding a 4th DPOY to his cabinet is nice, a nice pat on the back if you will, but it is not going to help sell Mitchell on the long-term prospects of the team.

Mitchell may already have an eye for a bigger market than Utah and he has earned it averaging 25.7 points per game. A 0.7 drop from last season when the Jazz earned the No. 1 seed in the tough Western Conference. If the Jazz is subjected to another early playoff exit, the whispers are only going to grow louder. That’s just the nature of the player-empowerment era in the NBA.

But scoring guards are more plentiful than defensive pillars. The position of “big” is easily replaceable, but finding a defensive stud, ala Gobert, is harder to find. There are levels to big defense: shot-blocking, post-defense, footwork, hand placement, and the list goes on. But the final piece of defense ends with intimidation. Gobert has all of the above.

The Jazz’s defensive rating without Gobert this season is 115.3, but with him, their rating is 108.6. An almost 7-point drop without him. Mitchell has led the Jazz to 115.2 points per game, and 108.1 without him, a little over a seven-point difference. The Jazz has a 5-7 record without Mitchell, and a 6-8 record without Gobert.

Yes, Gobert has his limitations on offense, and, yes, an offensively gifted center may “expose” him, but most of the schedule is catered for Gobert. Only Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns have the makings of a mismatch. That’s it.

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Too thin the play center and too short to play guard, the Jazz have turned these oddities into cornerstones. They hide each other’s weaknesses and accentuate each other’s strengths. As unfortunate and disgruntled as the pairing may be, they sadly need each other, at least on the basketball court that is.