This season, several prominent duos in the league will be entering their second year playing together.
In Houston, we’re getting year two of James Harden and Chris Paul. In Philadelphia, we’re getting year two of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. In Boston, we’re technically getting year two of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
The one duo that doesn’t seem to be getting much hype is Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz definitely have higher expectations this year, with much of that being centered around Gobert and Mitchell. However, when people talk about the NBA’s most prominent pairs, those two don’t usually get mentioned.
This is odd because of what both have been able to do so far in their still young NBA careers. Gobert has clearly established himself as one of the league’s best defensive players, as highlighted by him winning Defensive Player of the Year last season. Mitchell, on the other hand, had one of the best single-season performances by a rookie and is clearly one of the NBA’s most promising young players.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter to either of them because now that the Jazz as a team have worked out the kinks, they aim to capitalize on the fantastic run they went on towards the end of last season.
“Now we don’t have that period where we’re trying to figure it out, so from the beginning, we’ll know what to expect from each other,” Mitchell said. “I think if we come out with the way we ended last year, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Both players know that in order for the team strike while the iron is hot, both had to take their game a step further this upcoming season.
Mitchell hopes his improvement comes from working with one of the NBA’s all-time greats, Dwyane Wade. After working with the future Hall-of-Famer over the summer, Mitchell ironically learned that – after becoming one of the fastest growing starlets in the league – he had to learn to pump the brakes for the better of the team.
“I learned to slow down to make the proper passes and proper reads,” Mitchell said. “There were a lot of times where I missed (Gobert) on a lob to take a floater just because I didn’t see it or because I was so fast that I couldn’t see it.”
Much like Mitchell, Gobert also hopes to show improvement from the offensive end. Even though he is one of the league’s elite defensive anchors for the next several years, Gobert can only do so much. That’s why he worked on becoming a bigger threat on the offensive end.
“Throughout the summer I worked on my footwork, my finishes, my jump shot,” Gobert said. “Those are the things that can help me reach the next level.”
Now that teams are relying on bigs who can stretch the floor, it’s imperative that players of all sizes remain alert on defense, particularly in Gobert’s case. Since he’ll be taking the majority of the minutes at center, Gobert will have to go up against floor-spacing bigs like the Nikola Jokics and Al Horfords of the world – a challenge that he believes he’s up for.
“It’s all mindset more than anything,” Gobert said. “I feel a lot quicker than I was a few years ago. I think it’s more about being mentally prepared. Obviously, it puts a lot of pressure on me. I have to be smarter and pick my spots. I can’t just stay in the paint. It’s going to be a challenge, but three-point shots will never be as efficient as a dunk or a lay-up.”
Mitchell will also be facing challenges of his own. Now that he’s proven himself as a force to be reckoned with, teams will be preparing more specifically for him in his second season. Mitchell is aware of what will be coming to him this season and has taken the proper precautions.
“There’s a difference in how people are going to play me this and how they are going to guard me,” Mitchell said. “There are different teams that I’ve looked at and realized their differences. That’s just how I study… Just being able to make adjustments. I understand that’s not going to be easier. It’s going to be a lot harder.”
With increased expectations, there will be added pressure on the Jazz to perform up to higher standards. Especially now that they play in a Western Conference that may very well be at the toughest it has ever been. Mitchell seems unphased by the pressure, believing that what matters more than anything is else is that everyone is on the same page.
“When I look at Rudy, Ricky, Joe, and Thabo etc., everybody’s in there doing what their job is,” Mitchell said. “For us as a team, we don’t really pay attention to all that. We focus on the task at hand and each other and getting better.”
The Jazz have a lot going for them this year. They snuck up on the NBA last season and have unexpectedly become one of the league’s most young and cohesive teams. Even after all they accomplished last season, Gobert believes that both he and the Jazz can grow so much more.
“I think I haven’t scratched the potential I can have and the things I can do on both ends. I feel like this year is going to be my best year so far, and I feel like as a team, we are going to be the best as we have ever been with this group.”
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