Preview: Utah Jazz

2017-18 Utah Jazz


Projected Record: 43-39 (8th in West)

Over/Under: 40.5

2016: 51-31 (4th in West)


Key Additions:

  • G Ricky Rubio
  • G Donovan Mitchell
  • C Tony Bradley
  • G/F Thabo Sefolosha
  • F Jonas Jerebko
  • F/C Ekpe Udoh

Key Subtractions:

  • G/F Gordon Hayward
  • G George Hill
  • F Boris Diaw
  • F Trey Lyles
  • G Shelvin Mack
  • C Jeff Withey

Summary

Strengths:

  • Defense
  • Size
  • Deep rotation

Weaknesses:

  • Lack of outside shooting
  • Low offensive ceiling

When a star player leaves a team in free agency, you’re pretty much grading the rest of that offseason on a curve. It’s an extremely difficult setback to overcome, and the Jazz certainly tried to keep Hayward around, re-signing his best bud, Joe Ingles, to a lucrative extension. Such is the nature of free agency, though.

Life for Utah post-Hayward is going to revolve around two things: depth and defense. This is still quite a good roster; the Jazz have 11 or 12 usable rotation guys, including one of the league’s best centers. Alec Burks has been a little underrated when he’s been able to play (he shot 40% from three last year!), Rodney Hood can provide some valuable spacing, Joe Johnson will never die, and they grabbed a pair of interesting reclamation projects in Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh. Ingles himself could be their second-best player, though I want to see how he fares with higher usage before I go quite that far on him.

Ricky Rubio was a clever pickup, and he’ll mesh pretty well with this roster. In the absence of a true go-to scorer, Rubio’s passing ability could open up more opportunities for what shooters the Jazz have. He and Ingles should play off each other well. Rubio is also a competent guard defender, in keeping with the theme that nearly everybody on this roster will contribute on that end of the floor. I still would have liked to see them retain George Hill, but Rubio was a creative pickup that Quin Snyder can deploy in some useful ways.

Derrick Favors was slowed significantly due to injury last year, and his return to health might be key to Utah’s evolution as Memphis: West. Let’s not forget that he’s only a year removed from consecutive seasons scoring 18 points per 36 minutes player. Spacing would be hard to come by, making shooters Ingles and Johnson a must, but Favors and Gobert together are a physically dominant frontcourt that few teams outside of New Orleans can match in size. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Favors become one of this year’s surprise three-point shooting bigs either, like Brook Lopez or Marc Gasol last year – he took a little more than 20% of his field goal attempts from 16 feet or beyond last year, and it might not be a bad idea to just back those up a little more.


Most Valuable Player: Rudy Gobert

Gobert has improved in every season of his NBA career, and in a short four years, he’s become perhaps the NBA’s most destructive defender – as well as its best nicknamed player. I’m curious how Gobert’s game might change with Hayward gone; he’ll never be a particularly diverse offensive presence, as all of his damage is done pretty much right at the basket, but he was efficient in his limited usage last season. Can he show off some new wrinkles? I swear, if he comes out and starts raining three-pointers like a freakishly huge Brook Lopez, I’m going to be the happiest dude around.

X Factor: Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum

Donovan Mitchell is one of the prospects I’m most excited for from this draft class, and I think he might be a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate. The Jazz are starved for offense this season and Mitchell brings explosive playmaking and some range from deep, so the opportunity is there for him to get plenty of shots. He’s also a tough defender with a great wingspan (6’10”) that should allow him to check both guard spots and potentially even some larger wings. Mitchell isn’t going to step in and immediately replace Gordon Heyward – no rookie could – but I think his play could make the loss hurt a little less.

As for Exum, it’s not quite do-or-die time yet, but Utah sure could use him this year. He improved incrementally last season after a lost year due to injury, but he isn’t quite a productive player yet. The backup point guard spot is his for the taking if he can finally harness his physical tools into performance on the court.


Conclusion

It’s just going to be hard for Utah to put points on the board, so their defense is going to have to consistently dominate. They weren’t exactly lighting it up even with Hayward and George Hill around; without them, somebody absolutely has to step up, and they might still be a legitimately awful team on offense. Can Joe Ingles keep his efficiency up with higher volume? Can Rodney Hood start scoring with any efficiency at all? Can Donovan Mitchell succeed in carrying a scoring load most rookies can’t? The Jazz will stifle teams with a tough defense and outlast them with a very deep rotation, but it will take some retooling before they’re ready to return to the 50-win plateau they reached last year.

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