It’s a just-for-fun question, a no-harm-no-foul question, the kind of question we haven’t been able to ask around here for a couple of decades now, not since Karl Malone and John Stockton were doubling up to do their business for the Jazz.
It’s a question not meant to divide or to start a food or fist fight over the dinner table or launch any kind of war, rather a question to celebrate peace, the peace that comes from having two players who are good enough, young enough, promising enough to spur such healthy discussion/debate.
Question is: Who is more important, more valuable to and for the Jazz’s success right now and moving forward … Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert?
Before you jump to answer, stop and think about that for a minute.
It’s like picking between your children.
Mitchell might be the popular choice because … well, he’s popular. He’s gregarious and outgoing and connects with fans via a personality as big as Mount Olympus. He gives his shoes away at the end of games, he joins in at random neighborhood pool parties, he signs autographs, he hugs your kids, he feeds the poor, he blesses the community.
And he can score.
He can handle and move and spin and pop and drop and twist and soar and give you more, more than you expected. He can lift you out of your seat and stir guttural sounds you didn’t know were anywhere inside you.
As presently constituted, even with Mitchell, scoring is the Jazz’s biggest need. Consider what Quin Snyder might have done for points this past season without Mitchell and his contributions, minus his offensive prowess. Just pondering that is like a sledgehammer to the head.
Who would be the Jazz’s offensive leader without Donovan?
Gobert? Joe Ingles? Jae Crowder? Derrick Favors? Royce O’Neale?
The Jazz averaged 111 points this past season, and Mitchell got 23.8 of them. He scored exactly 1,829 points, which was 545 more than any other Jazz player, even though he missed five games. (Gobert was second with 1,284.)
Gobert averaged 15.9 points, mostly on feeds from an assortment of guards and wing players. Ingles got 12.1 on a variety of shots. Ricky Rubio scored 12.7. Crowder averaged 11.9 on 39 percent shooting. And Favors went for 11.8.
There were nights when Mitchell’s scoring kept the Jazz afloat.
He started the season slow, having to figure out how to handle opposing defenses whose primary goal was slamming the door on his drives to the basket and jamming him on the perimeter. But as he came to terms with that new emphasis, MItchell and his team commenced a steady climb to qualification for the playoffs.
WHO YA GOT?
• Donovan Mitchell averaged 23.8 points, 4.2 assists, 1.4 steals. He shot 43 percent, 36 percent from deep. He made up a greater percentage of the Jazz offense than any other player, by a substantial margin.
• Rudy Gobert averaged 15.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.3 blocks. He shot 67 percent, and led the NBA in dunks. He was the foundation upon which the Jazz resistance was built. And was named to the All-NBA third team.
Scoring should have come easier for everyone else on account of the crowds around the guard. He averaged 4.2 assists, a stat that should — needs to — improve as Mitchell’s vision, his court awareness, becomes more savvy and seasoned.
Defensively, Mitchell led the team in steals, with 1.4 per game, but his overall performance at that end is not yet top drawer.
There isn’t much mystery to Gobert’s prowess.
He’s the best defensive player on Adam Silver’s green earth, the foundation upon which the Jazz resistance is built, having had the NBA’s second-best team rating. The Jazz call on Gobert on nearly every defensive stand to be two places at once — to step up to cut off charging wings after they’ve shaken off their primary defender, and to fall back to cover his original assignment, usually a big ready to receive a pass and dunk.
Anybody who thinks that’s readily doable hasn’t ever tried it.
Due mostly to that ability — to block and alter shots, to block and alter entire offensive strategies — and to rebound (he averaged 12.9 boards), Gobert was named to the All-NBA third team this season, a heady achievement. Previously, Gobert had made the All-NBA second team.
Although he averaged 2.3 blocks, that number has become nearly insignificant, considering opponents have reached the point where they often don’t even try to take the ball into Gobert. It’s comparable to those days when Deion Sanders, the All-Pro cornerback, didn’t get interceptions because he shut down half the field by his mere presence, dissuading quarterbacks from even attempting to throw in his direction.
Gobert led the league in dunks and made a ridiculous 67 percent of his shots — those two achievements obviously hitched — becoming an integral part of Snyder’s attack that prioritized shots at the basket and deep balls. He also averaged two assists.
On the other hand, does much of that get downgraded a notch because the Jazz also have Favors? In evaluating individual importance, relativity becomes a factor. Without Gobert, would Favors step in and get the job done better than replacing Mitchell with Ingles or O’Neale?
You already know the criticism of Gobert — he has yet to develop a consistent back-to-the-basket move. There is no real evidence of a comfortable short jumper or, say, a Jabbar-esque sky-hook. If the Jazz big could ever manage and master that, he could become an all-time great.
He’s shown small bits of improvement around the basket, and enough touch and coordination to improve his form at the free-throw line, so there is some hope that there might be more. But that’s for future seasons to reveal.
Improvement for Mitchell and Gobert, as great as they currently are, is hugely important for the Jazz because in the seasons ahead each of them will demand stacks of gold that will push the team’s resources to their limits — and maybe beyond.
And when that happens, when a team has two stars that must be paid maximum amounts, it and they had best be good enough to get that team to the NBA Finals, or else it is doomed to be an also-ran, an outfit with its money spent and its product not quite where it needs to be.
So … with all of that in mind, who you got?
Who is most valuable, most important, to the Jazz … Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert? Who has the most room for improvement, room that actually will be filled?
Is it Stockton or Malone?
Mitchell or Gobert?
Right now, it’s … hold onto your hat, your shorts, your replica jerseys …
Who will it be two years from now? That’s the real question.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.