The Utah Jazz are Getting Their Mojo Back Just In Time For An NBA Playoff Run

Updated: March 1, 2019
rudy gobert donovan mitchell pic

After a rocky start during the first part of the season, mainly thanks to a tough schedule, it seems that the Utah Jazz have rediscovered the same type of groove that helped them make a surge in the second half of the 2017-2018 season. Since the new year, the Jazz collected 14 wins in a 21- game span, a run which has helped propel them back into a race for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The man who helped make this stretch possible is second-year shooting guard Donovan Mitchell.

Following a sophomore slump that Mitchell had to start the season (which was another reason why the Jazz struggled), as the calendar year flipped to 2019, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner up has been on an absolute tear. In those 21 games, Mitchell is averaging a freakish 26.8 points, 5 dimes and 4.5 rebounds per contest. The efficiency, something that he has been crucified for, is still at a below average level, but the 53.2 true shooting percentage is a much better mark than the 50.1 percent it was before the calendar year switched.

It’s no accident that Utah has performed much better once Mitchell caught fire. The team is very reliant on him, as Mitchell is essentially the only player that can consistently create a shot for himself on the Jazz roster. If Mitchell gets it going, the Jazz are extremely difficult to beat, but there are few other offensive weapons available to pick up the slack if Mitchell is struggling.

Mitchell is a very important figure in Utah’s success, some have claimed of him being the best player on this Utah squad. However, I believe the better and more impactful player is Rudy Gobert, and, in my opinion, it’s not even close.

For starters, it’s not hard to see why basketball fans would tend to undervalue Gobert. He can’t create offense for himself, he struggles to defend in space, and the part of the game in which he makes his mark isn’t a flashy one. His numbers aren’t all that great, but a lot of fans tend to value the traditional box score metrics too much instead of digging deeper into the advanced statistics. That’s understandable; nobody likes to do extra work, especially on a player who doesn’t have that glamorous of a play style. However, the same fans that are only observing his box score statistics are the same ones who will never be able to fully capture the impact that the “Stifle Tower” has on the game of basketball once he’s on the hardwood.

When discussing the Frenchman, everything starts with rim protection on the defensive end. Gobert is an absolute physical specimen, standing at 7’1” with a 7’9” wingspan and a 9’7” standing reach. Alongside the unheard-of length, Gobert possesses a knack for utilizing timing and understanding of angles when it comes to contesting shots

Opposing players shoot 53.8percent in the restricted area against Gobert, which is 8.7 percent below their usual marks. Those two numbers are very good by itself, but for an elite rim protector like Gobert, they could be better, especially considering that in the prior years both of those figures were considerably lower. It’s crazy to think that for any other center, those numbers would be considered great, but it’s considered a down year for Gobert.

Away from the rim, disorganizing opposing pick and rolls is something that Gobert has developed. When he first entered the league, the language barrier caused some issues both on and off the court. The Frenchman had trouble communicating with his teammates, something that is a must for any good center. Now, that’s no longer a concern and he’s a much better communicator, something that has allowed him to perfect the art of defending the pick and roll as a big man. Rudy’s insane length, solid mobility, and great IQ on the defensive end makes him a great pick and roll defender. Sometimes he’s even able to stop 2-on-1 situations just with his monstrous reach.

Some might be reading this and point to the fact that Houston abused Rudy during the 2018 playoffs. The Rockets were able to exploit him once he got switched onto isolation artists Chris Paul and James Harden. But there aren’t many traditional centers in the NBA that could’ve dealt with that star-studded backcourt. Al Horford is most likely the first name that comes to mind, and the list probably ends there. Gobert did a fine job that series, the most that he could have done as the main defensive anchor against the team Houston had.

There is a misconception about Rudy Gobert as an offensive player. Granted, he definitely has his flaws:  Gobert isn’t a floor spacer (something that is important for today’s centers), he’s incapable of creating offense by himself, he isn’t that threatening as a post-up option, and he’s not someone who a coach would be comfortable in dumping the ball to in order to create a scoring opportunity

What Rudy can do, however, are things that he does extremely well. I believe he’s among the best in the league regarding the usage of his offensive strengths, skills, and instincts.

The type of gravity that Gobert has once he’s rolling to the rim is something that only a handful of players in the league are capable of matching. Once he sets a hard screen and decides to make a beeline to the basket, he’s going to force a defender to come help. or the play is going to result in an easy dunk, something that Gobert is extremely capable of doing (he’s second in the league with 204 dunks, only trailing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 211 flushes).

Gobert roll gravity[ConvGif]

 When the basketball is lobbed into the air, because of his great length, Gobert can extend and reach to areas that most other centers can’t, and once the ball is located, it’s most likely a guaranteed 2 points.

Passing is also an underrated aspect of Gobert’s game. Clint Capela has garnered a lot of praise for being able to make a quick decision and find the open shooter on the perimeter after receiving the ball in screen and roll situations, but Gobert is fully capable of doing that as well. He’s 10th among centers in averaging 2.2 assists per game. Those are good numbers, but it probably doesn’t fully do justice to his skills in that aspect of the game. Utah’s spacing isn’t ideal, so it makes it more difficult for the Jazz to properly make use of the great passing skills that the 2018 NBA Defensive Player of the Year possesses, but from time to time, there will be those moments which will surprise and impress the fans.

Gobert has also been the league leader in both screen assists per game and points created off of screen assists for two straight years now, and is on the verge of a threepeat. A player receives a screen assist when he sets a screen for a teammate that directly lead to a made field goal by that teammate. The seven-footer records 6 screen assists per game and 13.9 point per game off of screen assists. While Utah runs a lot of off screen, hand off actions, which definitely helps boost the numbers of that statistic. One of the reasons why that offensive tactic is valuable and productive is because Gobert is a fantastic screen setter. If that weren’t the case, coach Quin Snyder’s offense would look much different than what it is right now.

Despite not having the stat lines, the marketability, or the flashiness in his game to be considered a top-tier NBA star, the impact that Rudy Gobert has on the game once he’s on the floor is undeniable. He’s doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional star, but he sure as hell is one, and consistent strong play from teammate Donovan Mitchell could make this a powerful one-two punch when the playoffs roll around.




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