Finding a Comp for the Jazz’s Spida-Stifle Core

October 4th, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

Which teams enjoyed the most success with a core similar to Rudy-DM?

A few months into the 2017-18 NBA season, a star was blossoming in the Salt Lake Valley. Donovan Mitchell was slashing and scoring his way into stardom, a feat few envisioned to happen this quickly and to this level when he was selected thirteenth overall in the 2017 draft. Teamed with defensive anchor Rudy Gobert, the two became the identity of the Utah Jazz team and their best players. 

Established and ready to ascend into NBA hierarchy, Gobert and Mitchell form a unique combination in what has become a league of big threes and superteams. But recent memory does provide some examples of teams whose best guys played roles similar to the Jazz’s dudes. More importantly, some of those duos enjoyed success in the form of at least a Conference Finals trip (or better) while featuring a tandem similar in skill and style to the Stifle Tower and Spida.

Identifying the perfect comps is difficult, but basically we’re looking for a center who is elite on defense and has a defined role in the offense. Yes, Gobert opens the floor with his passing and screening, but he isn’t a post-up threat or stretch big. For Mitchell’s stylistic comp, we are looking for a two-guard who can score at the rim at a high level. He isn’t a point guard or handling the offense, but he does hold a high usage rate as the dependent offensive focus.

In short, the reality of these two combinations matching up on the same team who advanced far into the postseason is hard to come by. Therefore, are the Jazz establishing a new model? Or has history suggested this Big Two may not work?

Here are a few case studies involving teams that fit that rough design and advanced far into the postseason.

Chandler and Paul Team Up for the Hornets

Tyson Chandler is a player who comes to mind as an athlete that compares reasonably to Gobert. Chandler didn’t reach his peak value, though, until he was teamed up with Chris Paul in New Orleans in the 2006-07 NBA season. That first year with CP3, Chandler averaged 9.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. The next season was even better: 11.7 points and a league-leading 11.8 boards1.

On the other side of the coin, can Mitchell really be seen as a CP3-like player? The differences seem obvious. That time period was Paul’s prime and he would hold the edge in nearly every category: playmaking, assists, defense, and 3-point shooting percentage, to name a few. The only real comparison is their points per game and the intangibles like toughness and clutch assertiveness2

It was in that ’08 playoffs that the Hornets peaked after winning 56 games and taking home the Southwest Division banner. But in the second round of the playoffs, the team lost to the San Antonio Spurs in a grueling seven-game series.

That was the peak for that particular duo3.

Chandler Wins with Dirk’s Mavs

A few years later, Chandler found his way as a key cog in the Dallas Mavericks championship run in 2011. During that playoff stretch, Chandler notched nine boards, eight points, and a block per game. The following year he was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year award4.

Dirk Nowitzki was the Mavericks’ best player and obviously no Jazz player quite matches his profile. Was Chandler their second-best player on that team? Maybe for games and stretches, but overall, probably not. And the real problem with this comp is that there is no real parallel for Donovan Mitchell on that Dallas squad. The 2011 versions of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry don’t really match the style of Utah’s youngster.

So, scratch off Chandler, with both New Orleans and Dallas.

The ’04 Pistons

In 2004, a team of non-star players ground their way to an NBA championship, taking down the dynastic Los Angeles Lakers. It was a roster with good players but not the ‘great’ player (or players) that champion teams usually have. Often, fans compare this current Utah Jazz core to those Detroit Pistons.

That team won a ring by being the type of outfit the Jazz are trying to become: team-first, defensive oriented, quality role players and depth, and great coaching.

Looking at that ’04 Piston roster, Ben Wallace and Gobert are a natural comparison. Wallace won the DPOY four times5 and anchored that team defense, intensity, and toughness.  His offensive game was limited, but he worked around it and didn’t mind it, either. Like Gobert, he cleaned the glass, set screens, and caught lobs down low but made his presence known as an intimidator in front of the rim on the other end.

It could be argued that Big Ben was their second-best player, but he might be better classified as their third-best. Out on the perimeter, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton were the face of the team. Somewhere in between the Detroit guards sits the former Rookie” of the Year runner-up in his style of play. Consider the three basic stat lines below and notice how similar they are.

 

G

GS

MPG

FG

3pt

FT

Reb

Ast

Stl

Blk

Pts

Player A

78

78

35.4

.394

.388

.878

3.5

5.7

1.1

.1

16.9

Player B

78

78

35.5

.455

.265

.868

3.6

4.0

1.3

.2

17.6

Player C

79

71

33.4

.437

.340

.805

3.7

3.7

1.5

.3

20.4

Who is who? It goes Billups, Hamilton, and then Mitchell.

If the Jazz can get another player, like Ricky Rubio, to step up to the level as one of these Piston guards, the comparison would be perfectly apt. Assuming Rubio not only maintains his progress from last year but continues to trend upwards, which trio would you take: Billups-Hamilton-Wallace or Rubio-Mitchell-Gobert? Should Rubio do so, the Jazz makeup really has ’04 Pistons as a ceiling.

The Answer and Mount Mutombo

Going back to the turn of the century, the 76ers had Allen Iverson crossing over and dancing in dreads en route to an NBA Finals berth. Iverson, a solid six foot, won the MVP award that year and led the NBA in scoring with 31 ppg while also leading the NBA in steals with 2.5 a game. He was a top-five player in the NBA6

In game one of the NBA Finals, Iverson erupted for a playoff-high 48 points, including the iconic step over of Ty Lue, which helped the Sixers hand the Kobe/Shaq budding dynasty Lakers their lone loss of the playoffs. Yes, LA won the next four games for a ring, but Iverson gave his team all he had7

In that playoff run, Iverson’s usage rate was at 36%. As a rookie in the playoffs last spring, Mitchell’s was a notch below at 32%.

Yes, Iverson was a scorer but Mitchell isn’t too far behind. Like Iverson, he can finish at the rim and score points in a hurry. In 2001, Iverson averaged 39 points per 100 team possessions with a 106-offensive rating. Mitchell in 2017 scored nearly 32 per 100 possessions with a 103 offensive rating.

Wanna talk about defense? Iverson was a 99, DM a 105 defensive rating.

In case the long-term memory loss is failing today’s NBA fans, Iverson was a streaky shooter from deep and preferred the paint and midrange. Last year, Jazz fans learned that Mitchell, too, was a streaky shooter from deep and was more efficient within the paint8. Iverson shot 32 percent on 306 attempts from three in 2001, while 2017-18 Mitchell shot 34 percent on 550 attempts. But 2001 Iverson was in his prime and at his career best for long range shooting, while Mitchell has time to get better.

And then there’s Iverson’s best teammate: Dikembe Mutumbo: 11 points, 2.5 rebounds, 12.5 rebounds, Defensive Player of the Year, finger-wagging attitude. Sound like anyone you know?

Outside of Mt. Mutombo and A.I., the 76ers didn’t have much else9, but they did have a coach who was hard-nosed and thorough. Many seemed to feel he was too demanding and I’m fairly confident coach Larry Brown had three-hour practices, too.

In this writer’s opinion, this feels like the perfect match to what the Jazz have.

Take a minute and think about these comparisons to see where you’d line up the Jazz with recent teams from history. Can they continue to build in the right direction to become a Piston’s squad or will Mitchell ascend into Iverson-like potential to take the Jazz into a Final’s berth?

The French Rejection is under contract for two more seasons after this one, which means the Jazz have at least three years to investigate how high that peak is, with Mitchell entering his prime years during that span as well.

It seems, like Gobert’s height, the sky is the limit.

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

6 Comments

  1. OldJazzBones says:

    Jimmy Butler would be the perfect piece to complete the trio.
    Hey a guy can dream can’t he?

  2. Dennis Dorgan says:

    Four comps come immediately to mind: Oscar Robertson and (then) Lew Alcindor in Milwaukee; Hal Greer and Wilt Chamberlin in Philadelphia; Magic Johnson and Kareem; and finally, Kobe and Shaq.

    • Steve Godfrey says:

      I’m probably too young to really understand the first three comps despite knowing their names and a bit of their NBA impact. Shaq and Kobe make some sense. I can get behind a Kobe/DM comp, although their games still feel so different. Kobe has a different mentality and a lot more tools in his offensive game. Shaq and Rudy just aren’t in the same sphere with Rudy’s limited and different offensive game.

  3. Matt R says:

    I think the jazz are a lot like the pistons from ‘03, prior to getting Rasheed Wallace. That’s really what’s missing — an amazing, tough, offensive 4.

    • Steve Godfrey says:

      Thanks for the comment, and man, what a great point. They are right there on the fringe, but maybe still a piece away. I’ve looked it as Ricky is the piece away, but a stretch-four could be, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *