How high are tensions between Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell?
Rudy Gobert once described his dynamic with Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell as, “I’m the a–hole.”
Good luck convincing anyone Mitchell disagrees lately.
Just 10 months ago, Mitchell and Gobert were touting their friendship after their 2020 coronavirus diagnoses caused a chasm. Both players had just gotten big contract extensions, and Utah was in first place.
But the Jazz lost to the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers in the second round last season. Mitchell and Gobert have settled into their high salaries. Gobert’s tiresome habits became more grating once again.
Especially when Gobert spoke up following his recent five-game absence (mostly due to coronavirus).
Utah went just 1-4 – including a loss to the lowly Pistons – while allowing 120.3 points per 100 possessions (which would rank last in the NBA over the full season).
For perspective, Utah has allowed just 102.8 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor (which would rank second behind the Warriors over the full season).
Upon his return, Gobert gave a scathing assessment of the Jazz, saying they lacked the winning habits of the Suns and Warriors.
Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune:
“Stopping their man” stands out like a sore thumb. Utah plays weak perimeter defense, leaving Gobert to cover for many mistakes in front of him. He does a great job in that role, but it can be thankless. Sometimes, he gets faulted for not doing even more. That has to be frustrating.
Mentioning Devin Booker looks particularly biting. Young scoring guards, Mitchell and Booker have been frequently compared during their careers.
Mitchell (and Jordan Clarkson) liked Walden’s tweet, which again, was captioned “Rudy Gobert subtweet?” If Mitchell wanted to downplay liking the tweet, he sure didn’t.
Donovan Mitchell, on why he liked the tweet with Rudy's quote: "We just gotta win tomorrow. That's it."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) January 15, 2022
Don, on Rudy seeming to call the team out publicly: "We all as a group hold each other accountable. That's his way, I guess. I'm not too concerned about it. His just happened this way. Cool."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) January 15, 2022
Everyone sounds annoyed with each other. Both sides should be more understanding.
Gobert ought to realize his elite rim protection allows the Jazz to play more talented offensive players at guard and forward, even if they have defensive shortcomings. Gobert isn’t creating any offense for himself or others. Utah needs those skilled players on the court. Gobert prevents them from being completely exposed defensively. (Gobert could also realize how he comes across and maybe try not to be the “a–hole.” But in this case, maybe Mitchell and co. need an a–hole to call them out.)
Mitchell ought to realize his – and most of his teammates’ – defense has been subpar. They can defend better. Maybe not perfectly, especially considering Mitchell’s heavy offensive burden. But the Booker comparison is apt. Among the reasons Phoenix reached the NBA Finals last season: Booker improved his once-lacking winning habits to match his elite talent, defending harder while still scoring plenty. It’s not easy, but winning at the highest level is not easy. The Jazz are unquestionably a good team. They’re trying to do even more right so they advance deeper in the playoffs.
Winning cures most ills. After the Jazz blew out the Nuggets yesterday, Gobert brought up Mitchell and Clarkson.
Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune:
Rudy Gobert shouts out the defense and rebounding of Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson in tonight's postgame press conference.— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) January 17, 2022
Of course, Utah won’t win every game. More hurdles lie ahead. In those moments, how will the Jazz react?
Maybe this latest back-and-forth will just be a blip – or better yet, ultimately productive. These comments and Twitter likes shouldn’t cause panic.
But it’s worth noting, when facing adversity, Gobert and Mitchell seemingly sniped at each other.