Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell need to head for Splitsville soon

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It’s time to face the music. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are a more discordant duo than Salt Lake City and jazz. Always have been and always will be. Their partnership has been filled with more personal drama than team success. The oversized egos don’t match the playoff wins. Great partnerships require synergy and elite players whose strengths mesh well with each other. The Jazz’s two top players have always lacked a spark.

In the regular season, the totality of Utah’s smothering defense and their mellifluous offense has produced its fair share of high points, such as their NBA-best 52-20 record in 2021. Eventually, their two stars start playing off-tune again, and another early playoff exit soon follows. Fresh off of a five-game losing streak, the Jazz allowed the Warriors to go on an 18-0 fourth-quarter run in the waning minutes of their 107-111 loss. Gobert and Mitchell don’t create the impression that they’re about to get over the hump.

Reports have swirled throughout the season that Mitchell has his sights set on the New York Knicks. The Jazz have Mitchell under contract until the end of the 2025-26 season after agreeing to a five-year $163 million extension two summers ago.

Gobert averages 15.3 points per game on a career-high 70.9 field goal percentage, a career-high in rebounds. For the third time in six seasons, Gobert is on track to lead the league in screen assists the number of times an offensive player sets a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made field goal by that teammate. However, the Gobert-Mitchell two-man game is decidedly one-sided.

Mitchell has shared the floor for 1,152 minutes together and passed him the ball 151 times. By comparison, Jayson Tatum has passed to Robert Williams 228 times, Devin Booker has passed to Deandre Ayton 361 times and Trae Young has logged 152 assists to Clint Capela in 472 passes. The Mitchell and Gobert pick-and-roll is technically the NBA’s most efficient because Mitchell is one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll scorers in the league, but he and Gobert have always behaved like two aliens from different planets struggling to communicate.

In the five years since Mitchell arrived, the signals about their incompatibility have only grown more pronounced. The Philadelphia 76ers nearly waited until it was too late to break up the Simmons and Embiid pairing. The Mavs acted quickly, jettisoning Kristaps Porziņģis to the Wizards.

After serving as the force behind the French National Team’s silver medal in Tokyo’s Olympics, Gobert has been as underutilized as ever within the Jazz offense. A classic combo guard, big man combo should be more simpatico on the floor together, and it’s not like they clog the floor operating in each other’s areas of strength.

Instead, opposing teams have been able to throw the Jazz defense off-kilter by throwing small-ball units on the floor, leaving Gobert glitching out on the perimeter. Gobert’s low-post game has no seasoning, and he never developed a go-to post move or a soft touch despite his 7-foot-9 wingspan. In crunch time, when those small-ball five lineups are on the floor, Gobert cannot punish them for gambling. Consequently, Mitchell doesn’t even look for him in clutch situations.

This was on display while the Jazz blew a 16 point fourth quarter lead against Golden State on Saturday night.

David Thorpe once described Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, as a hammer that derives its efficiency from blunt force. He could thrive as that blunt instrument on a unit that features two dominant perimeter shot creators like the Mavs, Bulls, or the Clippers. The Celtics’ Robert Williams regularly scoring off a series of lobs and putbacks are the template for what Gobert could be in a more harmonious setting. Gobert averages just 1.0 points-per-possession on post-ups, which ranks 50th in the NBA. Playing alongside a wing such as Luka Doncic, who is enough of a playmaker and scorer for two stars and Spencer Dinwiddie, would unlock his potential as roll-man out of pick-and-rolls.

Gobert and Mitchell both deserve prosperity. Individually, they’re great, albeit somewhat 2-D superstars. Together they’re corrosive to one another. The music has to end soon and Utah needs to come to terms with it before they end up reliving this cycle next season.

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