Coming into the Orlando bubble, the Utah Jazz had one of the biggest question marks the league. The four months since the Jazz game versus the Thunder have felt like ages. But in the short time they’ve been in the bubble, the Jazz have started answering the question of whether Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert could play together with chemistry.
After their performance against the Miami Heat, the Jazz can say tentatively that yes, they can!
In Orlando the team’s focus is obviously to advance as far as possible in the playoffs, but the most important thing for the Jazz front office is to see how well Mitchell and Gobert coexist in Orlando. With important extension deadlines looming for both players, Utah has to see if Gobert and Mitchell can coexist off the court and play with chemistry while on it.
The first game back against the Suns showed some of the same signs as before the pandemic. Floater after floater and a disappointing effort on defense. Even more disappointing was the lack of shots for Rudy Gobert who ended the game with a total of three field goal attempts.
That’s not enough.
Gobert doesn’t need to be the teams leading scorer but one of the most efficient pick and roll big men in the league needs to get more than three shots in a game if the Jazz want to win. If they don’t, they’ll find themselves losing necessary games like they did in the opener against the Suns.
To Quin Snyder’s credit, and the players, adjustments were made and the team looked a lot different in game two against the Heat.
Gobert had a monster night. In 23 minutes Gobert scored 21 points. A lob from Mike Conley early in the game started it off and then was followed by multiple lobs from Donovan Mitchell Gobert time after time. On a night when Mitchell’s shot wasn’t falling at a high clip it allowed him to still impact the game in a huge way.
That’s probably the most exciting part. Donovan Mitchell is going to carry a huge burden of the offense and the way to make that easier is for him is to make the right passes. If Mitchell can show game after game that the lob to Gobert is a legitimate threat from him, it will open up lanes to the rim even more. And Mitchell wasn’t just finding Gobert, multiple he drove to the hoop and then made kickout passes to the three-point shooters. That’s the type of offense that will take the Jazz far and can make the decision even easier to give a max to Mitchell.
Right before the pandemic, when the chemistry issues were at their worst, Mitchell showed very little signs that he was wanting to make a lot of passes to the Jazz’s star big man. That made guarding the Jazz much easier. Why guard Gobert if you know what Mitchell will do? But when Mitchell shows that the lob is something he’ll do consistently, opposing bigs will have to respect it and Mitchell can then explode to the rim more. It’ll take time and reps, but Mitchell can get to the rim almost at will and so it makes the Gobert/Mitchell pick and roll potentially lethal.
Obviously it’s just two exhibition games, and the Heat were without Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, but Utah has to be pleased with what they saw in that second game. Now, it’s up to the players to keep it up throughout the rest of the season. And if they do that, it’s very likely we see Gobert and Mitchell in a Jazz uniform together for a long time.