Donovan Mitchell finally has the Utah Jazz all to himself after Rudy Gobert was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves for an impressive haul of draft picks and useful role players.
Mitchell is now the undisputed star of this Utah team that still has to undergo a few more tweaks over the coming months if the goal is to remain competitive.
While scoring has never been a problem for the 25-year-old guard, who averaged at least 20 points per game in each of his five NBA seasons, there remains much to be desired from him on the defensive end of the floor. As a 6’1 shooting guard, he is often physically overmatched by opponents and is best suited playing alongside elite defenders, including a rim protector, that can cover for him.
In this respect, the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Gobert was the perfect partner for him, but their off-court relationship – or lack thereof – proved to be detrimental to their cause. Back-up center Hassan Whiteside is currently projected to slide into the starting spot vacated by Gobert.
Though Whiteside has managed to put up prolific defensive statistics over his career, he should not be misconstrued as a strong defender by any means. He has gained notoriety around the league as a stat chaser and he is often caught out of place or flat footed in defensive schemes.
If the Jazz do decide on committing to a rebuild around Mitchell, finding a more suitable replacement for Gobert has to be one of the priorities for them moving forward. Mitchell’s ability to create on offense, coupled with his weaknesses on defense, hint that building a supporting cast similar to what the Dallas Mavericks have assembled around their own transcendent star Luka Doncic could somewhat work out for them.
Mitchell needs spacing on offense to maximize his abilities and finding more shooters to spread the floor must be a priority. These players must also be able to hold their own on defense to make up for his limitations, which makes is no easy task.
Beyond starting point guard Mike Conley, they currently do not have anyone that fits this description, though what Utah does have is a bunch of players that can do at least half of what is needed. Conley is already 34 as well and it is difficult to expect much more from him as he enters the twilight of his career.
Bojan Bogdanovic, their starting forward in the past three seasons, is a career 39.2% three-point shooter and has thrived in his time with the Jazz. Malik Beasley, acquired in the Gobert trade, is also a reliable from three and has made over three attempts per game in each of the last three seasons.
The 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson remains on the team as well and should continue providing a valuable scoring punch for them off the bench to keep them afloat during Mitchell’s stints on the bench.
Unfortunately, Bogdanovic, Beasley, and Clarkson often give back what they contribute on offense with their lackluster defense. With Gobert and last year’s starting forward Royce O’Neale no longer with the team, it will be a tall task for this team to contain opponents and they do not have the quality of firepower to try outscoring them on a nightly basis.
Two of their acquisitions in the Gobert trade, Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley, have built their careers as pesky defenders and should be able to plug a few holes for them. It is unreasonable to expect though that these two role players can cover for this entire team the way that the 7’1 Gobert used to.
The 23-year-old Vanderbilt could be a long term piece for them yet his lack of an offensive arsenal beyond the paint hinders his overall effectiveness. Meanwhile, Beverley is a great on-ball defender who could thrive alongside Mitchell, but he is turning 34 before the season starts.
With the number of one-dimensional players that this Utah team has, it seems as if this group is destined for a tough season ahead in the cutthroat Western Conference. They are solid players in their own right, but are better suited as the fifth starters or reserve players on a contender and not in the major roles that the Jazz will need them to play.
Ultimately, while it may be tough for their fanbase to stomach a trip to the NBA Draft Lottery in the wake of six consecutive postseason appearances, it may serve them well in the long run.
They have backed themselves into a corner with this current team and a reset, or at least a year in the lottery, may be what’s best for them moving forward. At the very least, Mitchell has reiterated his commitment to this team which should allow them to be patient moving forward. However, they should not close the door on maximizing his current value as a three-time NBA All-Star if the right offer from a desperate team such as the New York Knicks comes along.
Any potential rebuild will also be aided by the four first round picks and pick swap that they acquired from Minnesota in the Gobert trade. This practically guarantees that even if the Jazz’s music may take a slower beat in the coming months, the Timberwolves have given them a great well of hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Patience will be key for Utah and Mitchell moving forward and if things go their way, then they should return to the playoffs in no time at all. History is on their side as well as this Jazz franchise has proven to be a quick rebuilder over these past few decades.