Jazz

Gobert-Mitchell Era Ends in Familiar Misfortune

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Utah’s success in the NBA has always revolved around a memorable on-court duo.

Stockton and Malone. Williams and Boozer. Dantley and Griffith.

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These talented, star-studded pairings all have the same things in common: statistically productive, wildly competitive, and excellent in the regular season. 

But when it came to championship contention, Utah’s best teams constantly peaked at the wrong time and failed to maximize their title window at the right time.

Now, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are joining the Jazz’s long list of star teammates that nearly made it over the hill only to fall back down to Earth.

After nine seasons with Utah, Gobert was traded to Minnesota for a massive haul of draft picks and young prospects. Recently, Mitchell has been in trade rumors as the Jazz potentially look to pivot to a full-on rebuild:

Regardless of what happens, the Gobert-Mitchell era in Utah is officially over. 

Historically, the Gobert-Mitchell Jazz will be remembered as a team that possessed tremendous upside, but ultimately never reached the level of championship contention they were capable of.

Building Something From Nothing

The future of Jazz basketball looked bleak before Gobert and Mitchell arrived.

After getting swept in the 2010 WCSF, All-NBA second team guard Deron Williams was traded to New Jersey in a blockbuster move. All-Star Carlos Boozer was dealt to the Bulls. Long-time coach Jerry Sloan suddenly resigned.

Between 2011 and 2016, Utah won between 25 and 43 games per season, with just two seasons above .500 and one playoff appearance. 

By 2017, the Jazz’s fortunes changed with the arrival of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

Gobert was drafted 27th overall by Denver in the 2013 NBA Draft. Utah traded the 46th pick and cash to acquire the right to select Gobert.

Gobert developed into an elite two-way force for the Jazz. In 2017, Gobert achieved then-career highs in points, rebounds, free-throw attempts and percentage, blocks and efficiency.

Rudy Gobert Career Statistics (2013-2017)

  • First three seasons (2014-2016): 7.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 58% FG
  • Fourth season (2017): 14.0 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 66% FG

Gobert’s best statistical season to date coincided with Utah’s first 50-win season since 2010. The Jazz beat the Clippers in a classic seven-game series before getting swept by the Warriors.

All-Star Gordon Hayward signed a lucrative contract with Boston in the 2017 offseason. The Jazz were looking for a new perimeter threat to replace Hayward.

The Jazz moved up in the draft (again in a trade with the Nuggets), acquiring the rights to select Mitchell in exchange for Trey Lyles and the 24th pick.

Instantly, Mitchell proved to be a devastating offensive creator. By his second season, he was already producing at an All-Star level.

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Now, Utah was set to make some noise in the playoffs.

Early Struggles

Unfortunately for the Jazz, their path to contention was doomed from the early start.

A year before Utah traded for Mitchell, Gobert and the Jazz won over 50 games and finished as the fifth seed in the West. However, the team ran into the superteam Warriors with Kevin Durant and Steph Curry in the middle of their primes.

In 2018 and 2019, the Jazz won 48 and 50 games, respectively. Despite losing Hayward, Mitchell shined to start his career and Gobert trended upward as the NBA’s best defensive player. 

But yet again, Utah peaked at the wrong time.

In back-to-back playoff series, the Jazz matched up against the small-ball, three-point specialist Houston Rockets. James Harden torched Utah in both matchups.

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The formula for contention was there for the Jazz. The team had two borderline All-NBA players and one of the league’s best defenses.

On the one hand, the Jazz faced unfortunate matchups: the Warriors at the peak of the KD-Curry Era and the Rockets in the midst of Harden’s MVP campaign

However, it’s been proven time and time again that the best teams usually win. Those teams own at least one of the NBA’s top-five to top-10 players in the league. Gobert and Mitchell have never been better than fringe top-15 players.

In the playoffs, Gobert was taken advantage of by teams that can go small and space the floor. Additionally, his offensive limitations make his impact minimized against the NBA’s best.

Mitchell, for all his offensive talents and excellent playoff numbers, has yet to make a real impact in the postseason. His lack of size and defensive effort makes him a target on defense. 

But, despite the on-court limitations, the Gobert-Mitchell Jazz had multiple opportunities to make a deep playoff run.

What Went Wrong?

Between 2020 and 2022, the Jazz were heartbroken in three-straight playoffs. 

In 2020, Utah had its best regular-season winning percentage with Gobert and Mitchell. But in the competitive Western Conference, Utah finished as the sixth seed in the NBA Bubble.

The Jazz were up three games to one against the Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray-led Nuggets. But instead of finishing up business, Utah blew a 3-1 lead, which included a heartbreaking loss in Game 7 against Denver.

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Although plagued by a disappointing playoff exit and lingering chemistry issues, the Jazz were not going down without a fight.

In 2021, Utah had its best season in the Gobert-Mitchell era.

The Jazz (52-20) had the best record in the entire league. Utah finished with their best regular-season win percentage since 1999. The team finished top-four in PPG, opponent PPG, offensive and defensive rating. Mitchell had his best scoring season ever. Gobert won DPOY and made an All-NBA team.

And, for the first time in the Gobert-Mitchell era, the Western Conference was completely wide open.

The defending champion Lakers dealt with injuries and inconsistency. The Warriors didn’t have Klay Thompson or much depth. The Nuggets, Clippers and Mavs all dealt with injuries. The Grizzlies and Pelicans hadn’t taken off yet. The Suns were the only real team that had a shot to advance to the Finals besides the Jazz.

Yet, in devastating fashion, the Clippers beat the Jazz after being down 25 points at the half and without their best player, Kawhi Leonard.

Even with the best record in the league and a favorable playoff matchup, Utah failed to capitalize on their best chance at a title.

What’s Next

Throughout this past season, the seeds were planted for the beginning of the end of the Gobert-Mitchell era in Utah.

Gobert and Mitchell feuded constantly with each other. The Jazz relied too much upon Gobert to keep the defense afloat. The team was missing a legitimate wing defender or any perimeter defense for that matter.

Things came to a boil when the Jazz lost in six games to the Mavs this postseason, with MVP candidate Luka Doncic missing half the series. Up 1-0 and with Luka injured, the Jazz allowed Jalen Brunson to score 41 points and let the Mavs steal a game. With the series tied 2-2, Dallas scorched Utah 102-77 in Game 5. 

Again, three-straight heartbreaking playoff series, each worse than the last.

Now, the Jazz are entering a new stage for their franchise.

Gobert will be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future. Mitchell could be traded within the upcoming weeks. Utah is looking to shop their veterans for prospects and draft picks. With the West getting tougher, it is all but certain that the Jazz will pivot to a full rebuild.

Yet, it’s crazy to think how entertaining but ultimately disappointing the Gobert-Mitchell era was for Utah.

More likely than not, the Gobert-Mitchell Jazz might not be remembered in NBA history. If they are, they will be considered a good team that ultimately couldn’t get over the hump.

As the saying goes: close, but no cigar.

About Dominic Chiappone

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