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The Utah Jazz's Huge Dilemma: Should They Trade Donovan Mitchell Or Rudy Gobert?

The Utah Jazz's Huge Dilemma: Should They Trade Donovan Mitchell Or Rudy Gobert?

The Utah Jazz lost to the Dallas Mavericks last Thursday, marking the fifth season in a row that Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have been ousted in either the first or second round of the playoffs. Utah lost game 6 by two points on a missed three-pointer by Bojan Bogdanovic as time expired, giving the series a competitive feel and prompting Jazz fans to lament their bad luck. It’s easy to say one millimeter to the left, and Bogdanovich’s long distance bomb would have gone in, leading to an anything-can-happen game 7. In reality, things weren’t that close. The Mavs were without superstar Luka Doncic for the first three games, and the series never felt all that competitive.

The media have feasted off potential Mitchell or Gobert deals throughout the season, and now that the Jazz’s All-Star duo has flopped early again, the trade headlines will only pick up steam once the postseason is finished. We pose a simple question: Should the Jazz trade Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert?

Below we’ll outline the case for trading Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert, the case for keeping each of them, and then decide their fate with the Jazz.

The Case For Trading Donovan Mitchell Or Rudy Gobert

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell

We’ve seen countless empty-stat All-Star guards who never lead their team to a title. Steve Francis and Gilbert Arenas are two prime examples from the past, while Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Damian Lillard represent the modern version of the empty-stat All-Star.

It’s nearly impossible to win a title when your star player doesn’t play above-average defense. Have a look at the last five championship teams:

2020-21: The Milwaukee Bucks were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 4-time All-Defensive Team member and a former Defensive Player of the Year

2019-20: The Los Angeles Lakers were driven by LeBron James. He finished the 2019-20 season ranked 9th in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares while playing top-10 inside-out D.

2018-19: The Toronto Raptors were guided by Kawhi Leonard, who held his assignments to a 43.6% shooting mark during the regular season and was the most effective wing defender in the NBA.

2017-18: The Golden State Warriors won the title behind Kevin Durant’s brilliant two-way play. During the regular season, KD had a 4.0 block percentage (14th in the NBA), and he had an excellent 107 Defensive Rating.

2016-17: The Golden State Warriors won their first back-to-back title as Kevin Durant played excellent defense, guarding positions 1 through 5 and providing rim protection in their death lineup.

Hell, it’s almost impossible to make it past the second round when your key player doesn’t take pride on the less fun end, and Mitchell certainly doesn’t give 100% effort on D. He ended the 2021-22 season with a -0.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus, and allowed his assignments to hit an ugly +4.0% over their normal average. During Utah’s first round series, the Mavs’ fourth quarter offensive strategy was to give the ball to Doncic, Brunson, or Dinwiddie (it didn’t really matter who) and hunt Mitchell on switches during nearly every half-court possession. Dallas’s game plan worked to perfection, helping them dominate during crunch time.

There’s no denying Mitchell is a beast on offense. However, his lack of effort on defense has been one of the significant factors in Utah’s lack of playoff success during the last five seasons.

Rudy Gobert

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Rudy Gobert’s problems are the exact opposite of Mitchell’s. He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who is the leading rim protector and weakside defender of his generation. Gobert is the quintessential player you can build a championship-caliber defense around.

Still, Gobert’s offensive repertoire is non-existent. Aside from being an excellent screener, Gobert doesn’t do much else from outside of three feet from the basket. He doesn’t have a single dependable low post move, nor does he feature a baby hook, floater, or even a mid-range jumper.

Donovan Mitchell had the sixth-highest usage rate (32.9%) in the league during the regular season, and you could argue that his offensive responsibilities sapped his leg-juice on the less glamorous end, especially toward the end of games after he’d spent the first three-and-a-half quarters grinding as his team’s sole outlet during stalled-out half-court possessions.

Rudy Gobert’s All-Star counterparts at the center position, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jarrett Allen, all feature a developed offensive repertoire they use with regularity to dominate the game on the fun end. At the same time, they’re all top-20 defenders, who might not be at Gobert’s level, but aren’t exactly scrubs either.

The Case For Keeping Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell

The NBA is littered with empty-stat guards who’ve never climbed the mountain. Still, the NBA is also littered with players who entered the league as offensive-first guards who transformed into above-average defenders. Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, and D’Angelo Russell are three perfect examples. Nobody would consider them lockdown wings, but Steph, Book, and DLo were all solid perimeter defenders during the 2021-22 regular season, none of whom could be picked apart on switches.

Spida, 25, hasn’t entered his prime yet, and at 6-1, 215-pounds with a 6-10 wingspan, he doesn’t fall into the Trae Young, too-small-to-ever-be-a-plus-defender category. Mitchell is a fierce competitor with all-world athleticism. He could quickly morph into another Devin Booker or Stephen Curry as soon as next season.

The other major argument for keeping Donovan Mitchell is straightforward: The Jazz won’t get equal value for their All-Star wing. Spida was joined this season on the All-Star team by eleven other guards, Ja Morant, Stephen Curry, Trae Young, LaMelo Ball, Luka Doncic, Zach LaVine, Darius Garland, Dejounte Murray, Chris Paul, Fred VanVleet, and James Harden. Outside of Harden, who’s struggled immensely this year, it’s hard to see any team moving their All-Star backcourt player for Mitchell (yes, that includes VanVleet, who was a two-way stud in 2021-22 and a huge fan favorite in Toronto). It’s even hard to see the Pelicans trading Brandon Ingram after he balled out during the first round of the playoffs for Mitchell, or the Celtics swapping Jaylen Brown for Spida. Perhaps the best the Jazz could do to stay competitive next season would be a package based around Pascal Siakam for Mitchell or a trade with the Kings to add defensive depth.

Rudy Gobert

Rudy Gobert

The case for keeping Rudy Gobert is simple. He’s the premier defender in the NBA at the most pivotal defensive position. Sure, he can’t manufacture his own shot in the half-court, but neither can the Celtics’ Robert Williams III or the Warriors’ Draymond Green, yet both squads are the current betting favorites to make it to the Finals this season.

While you can’t win it all if your star player doesn’t play defense, you can absolutely pocket a chip with a top-5 defensive center. Similar to Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz won’t be able to get equal value for Gobert. He finished the 2021-22 season fourth in the NBA in Win Shares (11.7) and, despite his offensive limitations, makes a more significant overall impact on the game through his rim protection, screen setting, and cutting, than his counterparts, Bam Adebayo, Robert Williams III, Mitchell Robinson, Jarrett Allen, and Clint Capela.

Should The Jazz Trade Donovan Mitchell Or Rudy Gobert?

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert

The Jazz should trade Donovan Mitchell and keep Rudy Gobert.

Our logic is simple: Mitchell has been in the league five seasons, and his defense has steadily gotten worse.

Here’s a breakdown:

2017-18: 0.3 DBPM, 3.8 DWS, 42.6 DFG%

2018-19: 0.1 DBPM, 3.7 DWS, 44.0 DFG%

2019-20: -0.6 DBPM, 2.2 DWS, 48.6 DFG%

2020-21: -0.2 DBPM, 2.2 DWS, 48.8 DFG%

2021-22: -0.3 DBPM, 2.5 DWS, 49.6 DFG%

Mitchell could morph into an above-average defender throughout the next few seasons. But the above chart offers us an excellent pattern-setting example of a player who played solid two-way basketball during his first two campaigns in the league but has slowly given less and less effort on the defensive end.

As we said earlier, you can’t win a title with a superstar who can’t (or won’t) stop his counterpart on the other squad. The trickle-down effects on the rest of the roster are disastrous. Mitchell has basically encouraged his teammates to follow his lead by dogging it on the perimeter while Rudy Gobert is forced to continually clean up their messes.

One or two years of early playoff failures can be written off. However, the Jazz have suffered through five years of playoff ineptitude, which is a sample size that can’t be blamed on bad luck or simply ignored.

Rudy Gobert is far from a perfect player, but he always gives 110% on both sides of the court, and you can construct a championship-caliber defense based on his rim protection.

The Utah Jazz won’t receive another regular All-Star for Donovan Mitchell. Still, a handful of trades should be available this offseason that could help them find meaningful playoff success next season and beyond.

The Utah Jazz could trade Donovan Mitchell for Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr., and Precious Achiuwa.

A starting lineup featuring Mike Conley, Gary Trent Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Pascal Siakam, and Rudy Gobert would be much better defensively with enough playmaking to advance deep in the playoffs.

The Utah Jazz could also trade Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson (their two least effective perimeter defenders) to the Kings for De’Aaron Fox, Richaun Holmes, and Davion Mitchell, three players under 30-years-old who are excellent defenders. The Utah Jazz could partner Mike Conley and De’Aaron Fox in the backcourt alongside Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neal, and Rudy Gobert in the frontcourt with Mitchell and Holmes, two lockdown defenders, coming off the bench.

The Utah Jazz shouldn’t merely settle for the regular season success they’ve enjoyed during the last half decade. With Rudy Gobert and better defensive depth, they can be more than a pleasant 82-game story that serves as warm up fodder for the true contenders during the playoffs.


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