Following Wednesday night’s loss to visiting Cleveland, all-star point guard Donovan Mitchell sat in the media room with his hand on his head, looking at his phone and processing what had just taken place at Vivint Arena.
The ordinarily cheerful and smiling Mitchell was somber as he diligently answered questions following the 111-91 defeat. He said all the right things, providing insight and analysis into how the shorthanded Jazz suffered their fourth consecutive loss.
But all of a sudden, Mitchell’s mood changed. He was no longer somber. He was perturbed — and for a good reason.
While the question was harmless in nature, it was about his teammate Rudy Gobert and whether or not Gobert’s recent absence had proven to the Jazz how important he is to their success.
Mitchell was quick and precise in his response.
“It’s no secret, I don’t think we underappreciate him,” Mitchell said of his teammate. “I don’t think anyone in this locker room undervalues his presence. He’s the three-time defensive player of the year for a reason. … We all value him. Externally it may be looked at a certain way but no, we know his value and his worth.”
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) December 28, 2021
Having that sort of support from who’s perceived as the team’s best player is an essential validation for Gobert as he looks to make his third straight all-star team.
But Gobert’s reputation extends further than the words reigned down upon him from his supporters.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 1, 2022
As arguably the best defensive player in the game, Gobert has continued to dominate on that end of the court as he seeks a record-tying fourth defensive player of the year award.
“When I’m out there, I’m not guarding one guy. I’m guarding the whole team,” Gobert said. “It’s hard to understand for some guys. … They get used to just being able to impact one guy at a time. I’m trying to guard a whole team.”
Gobert’s absence on both ends of the court during Utah’s longest losing streak of the season has loomed significant as the Jazz are built defensively around the reigning defensive player of the year.
Just a week and a half ago, the Jazz had the league’s 5th defensive rating with him in the lineup. The guards are aggressive on the perimeter, knowing Gobert turns away almost any shot at the rim. His ability to defend the pick-and-roll is unprecedented, as well as his help-side defense and communication.
But following four straight losses, all without Gobert and against offenses ranked in the bottom half of the rankings, the Jazz defensive rating has fallen to 14th in the league.
“Well, there’s a guy named Rudy Gobert that wasn’t out there,” head coach Quin Snyder said postgame against Detroit on Monday. “I don’t think there’s any mystery in that if the defensive player of the year is not on the floor, you’re not going to be as good defensively,”
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 1, 2021
While knowing what he brings to the team defensively, Gobert’s offensive evolution this season has been sensational.
He’s added an array of skills on the offensive side of the ball. From a eurostep to a mini jumper and the ability to play under control and find the open man, Gobert has proven that he’s somebody defenses need to account for on that end of the court as well.
He leads the NBA with 31 double-doubles on the year, averaging 15.5 points and a league-leading 15.1 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 70.6% from the floor and 68.3% from the free throw line, both of which are career-highs.
“He did it in the preseason, he did it in training camp, and now I think that’s the level we’re going to see out of him the rest of the year,” Mitchell said.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 25, 2021
While those numbers are impressive, exactly how far has Gobert come offensively?
In 71 games last season, he scored 20 or more points nine times. In the 37 games he’s played this season, he’s scored 20 or more points 11 times. He grabbed 15 or more rebounds 27 times last season — and has already done so 19 times this year.
“If you’re the best in the world at something, people become insecure and try to discredit you,” Gobert said. “People are going to try to discredit what I do, what we do as a team. … It’s been the same my whole career. I’m just going to keep winning awards, winning trophies, and hopefully help my team win something bigger than that.”
It’s clear that Gobert deserves to be — and will be — an all-star this season. But the real question — and a true validation of his greatness — will come if he’s chosen as a starter. While it may seem inconsequential, it’s an honor that Gobert not only deserves, but has earned.
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— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 7, 2022