This column isn’t so much about whether Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell will be NBA All-Stars in another month or so. It is more about whether they should be.
On the first matter, what would help them get there is if the Jazz keep winning. If they end up nearing the break among the top two teams in the West — there are four teams, including the Jazz, within one game of second place, behind the Lakers — they have justification for a double-dose of representation in said game.
Neither will be voted in by the fans. That’s no big deal because, as everyone knows, the majority of those voters aren’t casting with their brains, only with their hearts. And many of them are idiots who adore — sarcastically or otherwise — Alex Caruso.
Making the team, though, is important to the players, not because participating in the game itself proves anything — hard to even imagine Gobert’s role in a score-fest that features peer pressure not to get in the way of the show — rather because being held in that kind of esteem, being numbered and acknowledged as one of the world’s elite performers is. Not to mention collateral cash benefits that might come their way.
On the second, are Gobert and Mitchell worthy?
There is some subjectivity to the answer.
But for the Jazz, Gobert is an absolute game-changer.
After his team’s win over the Hornets, Quin Snyder complimented his center, mixing obvious observations with subtle ones. He said:
— “His instincts defensively are terrific.”
Everybody should be fully aware of this, but, for the dense, it needs to be said, again and again. The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year is a superlative stopper, containing his own man — and everybody else’s.
— “The other guys have been communicating better with him.”
The Jazz are feeding passes to their big, to his benefit and to their own, picking times and spots to get Gobert the ball at the rim, where his hands have softened. Here’s a newsflash to those — fans and coaches — who determine All-Stars: Gobert is an offensive force, too. Check out what he does in terms of efficiency and in the category of screen assists.
Many believe Gobert should have been selected a year ago, and, according to Snyder, he’s better now than he’s ever been.
“He’s focused and committed to details,” the coach said. “A lot of things Rudy is doing, he’s improving. It’s always a challenge to get better as a player. … In Rudy’s case, he always takes a challenge.”
Gobert is averaging 15 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
Just as important as those stats is his overall impact on opponents — his messing with their minds. Counting blocked and altered shots isn’t comprehensive enough. They know Gobert is lurking back there somewhere, and that knowledge causes them to avoid attempts they normally would put up without any thought at all. Instead, they double-clutch, pull back and circle around, searching for a different approach.
How many players can you say that about?
Fewer than there are slots on the All-Star team.
As for Mitchell, he’s transformed his game, just as he said he wanted to do before the season started. Not numerically, in other ways. No longer is the third-year guard the Jazz’s star. No. He is their comforter. Their closer. Their leader. And those designations have a lot of components to them, beyond his scoring average — which sits now upwards of 25 points — and his assists — nearly five.
It’s the way Mitchell takes over games at critical moments, which in most of the Jazz’s tight games means a good portion of the fourth quarter. Mitchell could score 30 points a night, if he desired, if he jacked up the shots he could create. Instead, he has decided to get his teammates involved, to go for the greater good, to make that a priority.
On Friday night, for instance, in a blowout win over Charlotte, Mitchell backed off in a big way, allowing space for his teammates to do their thing. He wasn’t feeling it, really, but that had happened early on other nights, as well, only for Mitchell to then explode down the stretch, leading the team to victory. He couldn’t care less that he scored just four points on 2-for-9 shooting. He was satisfied with the win.
Which is to say, he isn’t scoring for show, only for what is prudent.
That kind of self- and team-awareness is uncommon among the pedestrian. It is common among the preeminent.
Mitchell’s ability to change direction, to get to the rim, to stop and pop in the midrange, to fire from deep, to move the ball to open shooters, to summon what his team requires in times of duress, to lead, is real and most notable.
There are games when he is a lion in the shade, pawing around, enabling others to prance and move and beam, and then, when the prey must be conquered, he stalks, roars, attacks and feasts.
OK, that might be a bit dramatic, going all Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, but that’s the way the 23-year-old plays. And since we’re here, at 1970s shows for $500, Alex, Marlin Perkins would be proud.
Should Mitchell be an All-Star?
Let the Jazz’s record do the campaigning and the convincing for both Mitchell and Gobert, as opposed to other candidates who stack up big numbers and make big names on small, losing, desperate teams because nobody else on their side can.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Snow” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.