Utah Jazz season preview
The NBA season will be here before you know it and FanSided is here to get you ready. In the lead-up to Opening Night, we’ll be previewing two teams each day, reviewing roster changes, discussing important players and challenges, and hearing the perspective of our FanSided site experts. Let’s get ready for basketball!
Inputs: Joe Bolomboy (PF, NBA Draft pick No. 52); Marcus Paige (PG, NBA Draft pick No. 55); Tyrone Wallace (SG, NBA Draft pick No. 60); George Hill (PG, traded from the Indiana Pacers); Boris Diaw (PF, traded from the San Antonio Spurs); Joe Johnson (SG, signed for two years, $22 million)
Outputs: Trevor Booker (PF, signed with the Brooklyn Nets); Trey Burke (PG, traded to the Washington Wizards)
At first blush, Utah’s strength appears to be its defense. After all, the Jazz finished eighth in the NBA in defensive efficiency (101.6) a season ago and, previous to that, Utah was the story of the NBA in the second half of the 2014-2015, posting a ridiculous 94.8 points allowed per 100 possessions after the All-Star break. While Quin Snyder’s team certainly has all of the tools to be great on defense, there is another strength that reaches beyond that.
The Jazz are the deepest team in the NBA and, with that, they are set up to withstand the common injury/incident rigors that take a toll on teams throughout the season. At the outset of the 2016-2017 campaign, Snyder can put a staggering 14 (!) players on the court that have performed well in NBA rotations over the past 12 months and that is an embarrassment of riches.
Utah made it a point to upgrade the point guard position by snatching George Hill in a three-team trade but, behind him, Shelvin Mack and injury-free sophomore Dante Exum form arguably the best insurance policy in the NBA. On the wing, Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood are the starters, but Alec Burks, Joe Ingles and seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson are around, with Derrick Favors backed up by both Boris Diaw and sophomore Trey Lyles at the power forward spot. Finally, the center position is also loaded with Rudy Gobert, Jeff Withey (who is wildly underrated) and Favors (in a pinch), meaning that Snyder has any number of combinations to work with during the year.
Not every NBA team could effectively use this type of depth, but with a quality head coach and a collection of unselfish, team-first talent, the pieces are place for an impressive showing.
Most Important Player
Depth is, as you can see above, quite important, but there is one player that Utah probably can’t afford to lose if they want to reach their long-term goals. Gordon Hayward is the most famous player and the best offensive player on the team, Derrick Favors is likely the most underrated, but Rudy Gobert is the most indispensable.
Gobert missed 21 games a season ago and, in those contests, the Jazz finished 7-14. With the 7-foot-2 rim protector on the floor, Utah cruised to a 33-28 mark, and even within the flow of the game, the Jazz were a much different team with Gobert deployed than when he was on the bench. Being able to send Gobert and Favors on to the court together is a defensive luxury that no other team can match, but Gobert is the best rim protector in the sport when healthy and engaged, and he is an evolving and highly useful offensive piece.
There is an argument to be made that Utah’s defense would be just fine without him, whereas the offense might be in real trouble if Hayward were to miss extended time. However, the additions of Johnson, Hill and the healthy returns of Exum and Burks to the floor could mitigate a Heyward absence, while Gobert simply can’t be replaced in full.
If the Jazz “make the leap” this season as predicted by many people, it will be largely on the back of a dominant defense spearheaded by a phenomenal rim protector in Rudy Gobert.
What does success look like?
— Ryan Aston, @Purpleandblues1, Purple and Blues
For the Utah Jazz in 2016-17, the playoff berth’s the thing.
Sure, this was also the big goal last season. But with starting point guard Dante Exum losing the entire season to a torn ACL, Alec Burks losing most of his with a fractured fibula and the frontcourt duo of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert also missing 20-plus games apiece, Utah’s postseason dreams were devoured by the injury bug. With the Jazz looking more like a MASH unit than a contender in the West, the team was forced to rely on its depth. In the end, it was the lack thereof that defined their season.
Things couldn’t be more different this year. Following Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey’s moves to acquire George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw in the offseason, Coach Quin Snyder’s quiver is suddenly stocked with all the arrows he needs to hit the team’s playoff target. The point guard situation is better than it’s been in years, the Jazz are crazy long at every position, and the youth movement has given way to proven vets and a win-now mentality.
So, after missing the playoffs by one game last season, the Jazz need to be there this year. And comfortably so. Anything less should be considered a failure.