Better together—Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert named All-Star reserves

by Aaron Falk

Rudy Gobert remembers their mocking laughter. They laughed when he said he would be in the NBA. They laughed when he said he would be an All-Star—and again when he cried last year after being left off the roster.

Donovan Mitchell still has the box score from his worst defeat — a 4-for-22 performance in Game 5 of last year’s playoffs — and still remembers the tears he shed in the locker room afterward.

Those are the slights, the lows, the pain and anguish that have fueled the Utah Jazz teammates. Those are the slights, the lows, the pain and anguish that have helped turn them now into NBA All-Stars.

Gobert and Mitchell have both been selected as reserves for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game next month in Chicago. It will be the first All-Star appearance for the former Slam Dunk Champ and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

“It was great because we felt like we both deserved it,” Gobert said Thursday night. “We both put a lot of work in. For our teammates to have not just one but two guys represent the team is amazing.”

Mitchell and Gobert were voted All-Star reserves by the league’s coaches after leading the Jazz to a 32-15 record, fourth-best in the Western Conference.

Mitchell is averaging a career-high 25 points per game (13th best in the entire league) in his third NBA season.

Gobert meanwhile, ranks top 5 in field goal percentage (1st), blocks (4th) and rebounds (2nd) per game and screen assists (1st) and win shares (2nd), all while anchoring the Utah defense.

Mitchell learned he’d been selected to his first All-Star Game when he opened a letter from his mother Nicole, breaking the news and reflecting on the long hours of work and dedication it had taken to get to this point.

“I didn’t expect to be in the NBA,” Mitchell said. “To not only be here but to be on a team like this, to be an All-Star and to represent my team with Rudy is such a blessing.”

Mitchell reflected on last year’s playoffs, a crushing Game 5 loss in Houston and how it motivated him.

“I said to myself that I’d do whatever it takes to come back better,” Mitchell said. “There’s more for me to do but that one for me really hits.”

A year ago, Gobert broke down in tears after being snubbed for an All-Star spot by the league’s coaches.

“You could feel it, you could feel the passion behind it,” said Mitchell, who was standing nearby at the team’s Salt Lake City practice facility when it happened. “You can go one of two ways after that. You can let it hang over you and let it deflate you, or you can do what he did and kick it right in the butt.”

This year, Gobert awoke from a gameday nap to messages of congratulations from friends and family. Then he went to watch the official announcement on television with Mitchell and Jazz head coach Quin Snyder.

“[Coach] just hugged me,” Gobert said. “The last two years when I didn’t make it … he called me pretty pissed about it both times. This time he was able to give me a hug and finally embrace it. I don’t think I would be here without Quin. He’s a big part of who I am as a player and a person.”

Snyder was overjoyed for his players.

“Whatever the superlatives you choose: excited, enthused, thrilled, all of the above,” he said. “But, as much as anything, I’m satisfied for them. I know how hard they’ve worked and how committed they’ve been to their teammates. I know how excited the guys on the team are for them to have the opportunity because [Mitchell and Gobert] have been about the team.”

The selection of Mitchell and Gobert to the All-Star Game marks the first time the Jazz have had two representatives in the showcase since Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur were selected in 2007. Before that, Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone shared the court in 2000.

As reserve selections, Mitchell and Gobert will be drafted onto teams by the game’s two captains, L.A.’s LeBron James and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 2020 NBA All-Star Game will be played Feb. 16 at the United Center in Chicago. Tipoff is set for 6:20 p.m. MT.

Gobert and Mitchell are the 13th and 14th Jazz players to be selected to the All-Star Game. They follow:

• Carlos Boozer (2007-08)

• Adrian Dantley (1980-82, ‘84-86)

• Mark Eaton (1989)

•  Rickey Green (1984)

• Gordon Hayward (2017)

• Andrei Kirilenko (2004)

• Karl Malone (1988-98, 2000-02)

• Pete Maravich (1977-79)

• Mehmet Okur (2007)

• Len “Truck” Robinson (1978)

• John Stockton (1989-97, 2000)

• Deron Williams (2010, 2011)

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