Utah Jazz Team Previewby Jackson Caudell October 1, 2021 0 comments
The Utah Jazz had a golden opportunity to make it to the Western Conference finals last postseason. The Los Angeles Clippers lost their superstar Kawhi Leonard to injury and it looked like the Jazz would have an easy path to the conference finals. Utah lost the series 4-2 and was sent home disappointed once again.
This was a team that had the highest point differential in the league last season and had one of the best defenses in the NBA. The defense was exposed by the Clippers and nagging injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley Jr doomed the Jazz. There were some slight changes made in the offseason and Utah is hoping that with better injury luck, this can be the season that they reach the conference finals and maybe even the NBA Finals.
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For a team that had such a bad ending to their season, there was not much that the Jazz could have done to upgrade the roster this offseason. With what they had to work with, Utah made some nice additions to their team and they can help fix some of the issues that ailed the team during the postseason.
The first order of business was getting Conley locked back in for an extension. After that. the bench welcomed Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside and both are veterans that should play a role. Gay might be the most important because he will allow Utah to get into small-ball lineups in the playoffs, which was something that was missing with Rudy Gobert or former backup center Derrick Favors.
Utah traded for Eric Paschall from the Golden State Warriors and he is another depth piece in the frontcourt. Utah used their first-round draft pick on Jared Butler from Baylor. While Butler might not contribute much this season, he is a high-upside player for Utah.
The Starting Five
PG- Mike Conley
SG- Donovan Mitchell
SF- Bojan Bogdanovic
PF- Royce O’Neale
C- Rudy Gobert
This is one of the best starting five’s in the league when everyone is healthy. Besides health, the biggest concern will be the team’s wing defense. Utah runs a lot of the defense through Gobert and while he is a fantastic rim-protector, he can’t guard every position. There is going to have to be a change in philosophy in defense because of how bad it was exposed in the playoffs.
One thing that is certain is that Mitchell has completed his ascension to being a superstar in the NBA. Mitchell has shown he can carry a team in the postseason and has gotten better defensively. Conley made his first-ever All-Star team last season. Bogdanovic is one of the best shooters in the league and O’Neal is a nice three-and-d player that rounds out the lineup.
As much criticism as he has received, Gobert is still the reigning defensive player of the year and will be in a position to win the award again. However, Gobert needs to raise his level of play during the playoffs.
Utah is going to have one of the best bench units in the league this season. Jordan Clarkson won the sixth man of the year award and his teammate Joe Ingles was also a finalist. The duo of Clarkson and Ingles is going to be a formidable one for any team on any given night. Expect both players to challenge for the award yet again this season.
The new additions to the bench are going to be the key players for Utah this season. Gay, Paschall, and Whiteside all are going to have to bring something to the table to make Utah a more formidable team in the playoffs. Butler is just a rookie on a contending team and it is not likely that he is going to make any sort of impact this season.
One name to watch this season might be center Udoka Azubuike. The former draft pick out of Kansas has not made an impact yet, but the coaching staff loves his upside. If Whiteside or Paschall were to not play well, that could open the door for some minutes for Azubuike.
One Potential Move to Make
This is a Jazz team that is short on cap space for the moment and does not have a lot of wiggle room financially. Utah is a team that is also low on tradable assets, so a trade for a star is also unlikely.
If Utah is going to make a move this season, it is likely going to come from the buyout market. Think about what the Brooklyn Nets did last season. Adding Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge during the season was huge for the Nets, as Griffin was a key player for the Nets during the postseason.
It is unclear whether or not an impact player like that could be available or if they would sign for cheap, but it might be the only route the Jazz have to add any players this season. This roster is set and there is most likely not going to be much to do in terms of changing it.
As bad as the season ended for the Jazz, they should be among the best teams in the Western Conference this season. Their biggest question might be the health of their backcourt. Mitchell and Conley have to stay healthy for the Jazz to have any hopes to win a championship. The new bench additions should allow Utah to be more flexible in the playoffs with their lineups. Mitchell has ascended to new heights and Gobert is still a menace in the paint.
One reason to buy the Jazz as favorites in the Western Conference is the injuries to the other contenders. The Clippers will be without Leonard for perhaps the entire season. The Denver Nuggets are going to be missing star point guard Jamal Murray for most of or potentially all of the season. The Los Angeles Lakers struggled to stay healthy last season and the Phoenix Suns did not do much to improve the roster in the offseason.
All of this could lead to a birth in the Western Conference Finals or maybe even the NBA Finals. There is reason to be skeptical because of their disappointing finishes in the past, but also plenty of reason to like the Jazz in the west.
Season Prediction: 56-26 and Win the Northwest Division
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