Utah Jazz

Rudy Gobert's historic start to the season shows the Jazz are poised to be a contender

The Utah Jazz are off to a flying start, tied for the best record in the league at 5-1 and they have big man Rudy Gobert to thank, after his historic start to the season.

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Through six games, Gobert is averaging 16.3 points, a league-leading 17.2 rebounds (!) and 1.7 blocks on a ridiculous 72.1 percent shooting from the field, anchoring the Jazz's defence with reliable ability to strike fear into opposing players entering the paint.

Fresh off a silver medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Gobert hit the ground running in his first three games of the season, with a combined 56 points and 57 rebounds, (18.7 ppg, 19 reb), putting him alongside some legendary company. Prior to Gobert, the only player in the 3-point era to have at least 55/55 through the first three games of a season was Moses Malone (81/56 in 1983-84).

His campaign to win his fourth-straight Defensive Player of the Year award couldn't be off to a better start - a feat that would tie him with Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace for the most all-time and after winning the award in 2018, 2019 and 2021, while being named to the NBA All-Defensive First team in five straight seasons, Gobert is the early front-runner this season.

As it stands, he is tied for third in Defensive Win Shares, behind Nikola Jokic and Jimmy Butler, according to Basketball Reference and has propelled the Jazz to the third-best defensive rating in the league, giving up 98.2 points per 100 possessions, behind only the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat.

Sure, it's a small sample size, but we know from seasons prior this is exactly where the Jazz want to be.

"We just want to keep getting better," Rudy Gobert said following their win over the Bucks. "Enjoy the season, enjoy the journey. … Just get better every night."

After recording a double-double in five straight games, his streak came to an end in Milwaukee, recording nine points and 13 rebounds, however, he added a season-high four blocks.

Keep in mind their schedule has been relatively light to start the 2021-22 season with wins over the Thunder, Kings, Rockets. While they also beat the Nuggets, who saw Nikola Jokic exit the game with an injury, before beating the shorthanded Bucks missing Khris Middleton, Jrue holiday and Brook Lopez.

Their only loss of the season, a comprehensive one coming at the hands of the new-look Chicago Bulls

Are the Jazz contenders?

While Gobert's already in mid-season form, the key to the Jazz's success this season lies in the hands of Donovan Mitchell who made the leap to superstardom last season, averaging 26.4 points per game.

Mitchell has been up and down to start the new campaign and coming off a disappointing 9-for-27 shooting performance against the Bulls, including 2-of-11 from deep, he bounced back in style against the Bucks, taking over in the fourth quarter on his way to a game-high 28 points on 10-of-18 from the floor, 4-for-9 from beyond the arc.

The two-time All-Star scored 11 of his 28 in the final 5:35 of the game and was +11 for the game (plus/minus) behind only Joe Ingles (+12).

"I think the biggest thing, not just for myself, but we really executed when we needed to," Mitchell said.

"There were times when Chicago amped up the pressure, and we weren't ready for it, but tonight we were ready for it. The biggest thing is we competed on both ends of the floor, did a lot of things that weren't our schemes but made the hustle plays."

Mitchell and Gobert set the tone for the Jazz, but in their team-first ethos, the squad's depth bodes as a potential difference-maker from previous playoff failures.

With six players scoring in double figures and armed with two Sixth Man of the Year contenders in Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, the Jazz are already getting contributions from all over the floor, not to mention the recent additions of Eric Paschall and Hassan Whiteside adding further firepower to their second unit. Rudy Gay has also yet to play this season as he recovers from a heel injury.

We're only six games into the season, but the Jazz have all the makings of a team set to make some noise in the postseason.

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