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Gobert is having a historic start, Mitchell not so much

It’s a tale of two stars. One dominating, the other trying to get up to speed

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Utah Jazz Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The two stars for the Utah Jazz — Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell — are on two very different trajectories to start the season. Gobert had his best start to a season ever while Mitchell is struggling to find his shot.

Through three games, Gobert has 56 points and 57 rebounds, good for averages of 18.7 points and 19 rebounds even. The only other player in the 3-point era to have at least 55/55 through the first three games of the season is Moses Malone (81/56 in 1983-84).

Such a start maybe shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Beginning with a standout performance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer and then a statistically dominant preseason, the signs were there.

“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,” Mitchell said of Gobert (via NBA.com).

Gobert’s preseason averages of 13.0 points and 12.0 rebounds don’t stand out until you realize that’s what he did in just 20 minutes per contest. Adjusting those to Gobert’s current minutes average this year and you get 20.6 points and 19.0 rebounds, pretty close to what we’re seeing now.

An increasingly statistically dominant Gobert is very welcome but that excitement been dampened by the lack of dominance from Utah’s other star in Mitchell. His first three games have him posting career-lows in just about everything. Field goal percentage (38.7 percent), 3-point shooting (30.3), turnovers (3.7 per game) and points (21.7) are the most concerning of his stats.

Mitchell’s slow start shouldn’t be too alarming though. Looking back on his career, Mitchell seems to have made a habit of starting off a season with really poor shooting. The 2019-20 season is the only time Mitchell posted better shooting in his first three games than he did over the course of the full year. In every other year, he’s posted sub-40 percent shooting and often sub-30 shooting from three.

Donovan Mitchell points/shooting percentages in first three games of each season

Season Points FG% 3P% FT%
Season Points FG% 3P% FT%
2017-18 4.7 20.0 0.0 80.0
2018-19 19.0 34.4 27.6 70.0
2019-20 21.2 58.7 50.0 92.9
2020-21 20.3 32.3 27.6 76.5
2021-22 21.7 38.7 30.3 87.5

The Jazz deserve credit for winning despite the inefficiency of Mitchell, but it’s something that must (and is very likely to) change. For now, this slow start is just another installment of what has been an annual tradition. If it continues beyond four or five games, then it’s time to begin speculating about things that might be holding Mitchell back.

Expecting Mitchell to bounce back does bring with it the obvious possibility that Gobert will also be subject to the law of averages. Over the last several seasons, Gobert has settled around averaging roughly 15 points and 13 rebounds. If the Jazz are going to take the next step (getting beyond the second round in the playoffs), the improvement in scoring at least is something Gobert will have to keep up.