With the Jazz sitting atop the NBA standings at a lovely 20-5, the media has been abuzz about the team’s top duo, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. The two have proven near unstoppable, as evidenced by the Jazz’s incredible beginning to the season. In fact, the duo has looked so good, they have begun drawing comparisons with the all-time Jazz duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone. Are these comparisons legitimate?
As the featured image for this post shows, the modern-day duo pass the eye test. Big man and little man duo? Check. Same posture? Check. Plays for the Utah Jazz? Double check.
Yet while the two pass the eye test, what about statistics? How do Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert’s statistics (thus far) match up with Stockton and Malone’s?
To begin, let’s take a look at Donovan Mitchell vs. John Stockton. Before we begin, however, the author acknolwedges that the two play different positions. Stockton played as a point guard and is widely considered as one of the all time greats at the position. On the other hand, Mitchell plays as a shooting guard, a much more shooting-oriented position. Therefore, the statistics will not match up as well as they would should we compare, for example, John Stockton and Chris Paul, but a few comparisons can be made.
The first interesting comparison is the difference in player archetype. While Stockton was a pass-first, defensive perimeter lockdown player, Mitchell is a pure shooter, fully focused on shooting the basketball with efficiency and speed. This swap in player archetype is simlar to that of Gobert and Malone. Gobert is a defensive post presence while Malone was famous as an intimidating post attacker.
Thus, our first fun comparison is the switch between the two: Stockton and Malone were “Small, white, defensive guard and big, black, attacking forward”, while Mitchell and Gobert were “Small, black, attacking guard and big, white, defending forward”. An amusing swap in archetype, to be sure, since Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are, to the eye, the exact opposite of their Jazz predecessors.
Stockton and Mitchell
With that aside, our first real look into statistical similarities will be found in career averages. In his legendary career, John Stockton averaged 13.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 10.5 assists, and 2.2 steals a game, coupled with a career .515 field goal average, .384 3-point average, and .826 free throw average.
Donovan Mitchell, on the other hand, is averaging 22.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.3 steals a game. His career percentages are slightly higher, with his field goal percentage at .439, his 3 point average is at .363, and his free throw percentage is at .825.
Stockton was an excellent finisher and knew how to use his speed to get around his larger opponents. Therefore, his advantage in field goal shooting is not a surprise, but the fact that Stockton shot the three-pointer better than Mitchell has is extremely surprising given the difference in eras. Interestingly, the two shoot with almost the exact same free throw percentage and are almost the exact same height, although Mitchell weighs much more than his skinnier counterpart.
Boring statistics aside, the two do not have an incredible amount in common. Yes, they are the same height and shoot the same from the free throw line. Both of these are fairly meaningless. Mitchell is a scorer who averages 25 shots a night, while Stockton (who averaged 10 shots a game on his career) was a passing defensive lockdown.
Gobert and Malone
The similarities between Gobert and Malone are just as unique. Malone’s illustrious career is impressive to say the least. He averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 0.8 blocks per game on 51.6% (field goal) and 27.4% (three-point) shooting. He was known as a presence on offense, and his penchant for dunking over much-larger centers became famous around the NBA.
On the other hand, Rudy Gobert has become known as a defensive lockdown, averaging a much milder 11.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game on 63.9% shooting from close range. To paraphrase his career offensive skills: fewer shots, higher percentage. Gobert is a two-time DPOY, an achievement even John Stockton himself cannot boast.
So, while the two do pass the eye test (similar weight, only a 3 inch difference), their archetypes, like those of Mitchell and Stockton, are vastly different.
With all of that said, can it be inferred that the two duos have very little alike? Possibly, but I prefer a less cliche method of comparing players. Instead of looking at statistics, the author asks you to instead compare the chemistry between the two players. Stockton and Malone played a record 1,412 games together, rivaling the other incredible duo of that time (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen) in almost every statistical category.
The most important piece to this puzzle is a single word: chemistry. This word summed up the men’s legendary careers and was the most important factor to their overall success. Both men knew exactly where the other was at all times. The two were inseparable and, although they never won an NBA championship, the two reached the NBA finals three times. Their chemistry was unlike that of anything the NBA had seen at that time, and it showed.
On the other hand, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have both struggled with chemistry. During the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, their relationship floundered, and some described relations between the two as “almost irreconcilable”. Somehow, through perhaps a divine intervention, the two were able to become friends again. This has played into the basketball world and the two are beginning to show flashes of brilliance not seen since the aforementioned legendary Jazz greats.
Could they develop into a force equal or greater than that of the 90’s Jazz duo? Likely not, but the potential is there. Until then, they should likely focus on beating their predecessors in the easiest category by winning a ring.
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