The Jazz sport one of the most balanced teams in the NBA, but Utah still has significant weaknesses that could cost them dearly in the playoffs.
The Western Conference is dominated by star power, but that isn’t what powers the Jazz to success. Instead, Quin Snyder’s team relies on the power of their collective to overcome their opponents. That makes Utah a really tough out once the postseason arrives.
The Jazz were playing reasonably good basketball when the season came to an unexpected halt. Their 41-23 record is good enough for fourth place in the West. Home court advantage could have been a huge advantage for the team in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for fans in Salt Lake City, their team isn’t well-positioned to play its best basketball coming out of the break. Bojan Bogdanovic’s wrist injury will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season. Losing him takes away a great deal of Utah’s talent and flexibility on the wing.
The well-publicized friction between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert might be even more detrimental to the franchise’s long-term health. The two have reportedly buried the hatchet for the moment, but there’s no denying the damage the conflict has inflicted on the team’s locker room.
Don’t expect any team to take the Jazz for granted though. They still have the talent and coaching to pull an upset or two in the playoffs. Any Utah opponent should employ the three following strategies to make sure they don’t fall victim to one of the Western Conference’s most underrated teams.
So, how do you beat the Utah Jazz in a playoff series?
Make the Jazz play fast: The Jazz have a well-earned reputation for being one of the most methodical teams in the NBA. Snyder and his coaching staff like to control games by running a multitude of set plays in the halfcourt. As evidence, Utah currently resides as the 24th-fastest team in the NBA.
Any team that comes up against the Jazz in the postseason should do their best to make them play faster than they like. It’s difficult to press their backcourt given the ability of both Conley and Mitchell to handle the ball against significant pressure.
That doesn’t mean it is impossible. The key for Utah opponents is to make sure they can control the defensive glass. If they do that, they can use their guards to push the ball down the floor and try to make plays in transition. Doing so will get the Jazz out of their comfort zone and force them to go to the bench more often than they’d like.
Get physical with Mike Conley: Conley is a tough player with a long history of playing through a variety of bumps and bruises. He also has a lengthy injury history. Opposing teams obviously shouldn’t try to injure him, but they should try to wear him down over the life of a long playoff series.
Big, physical guards can give him a ton of issues on the defensive end. The Jazz try to protect him by playing Mitchell against the other team’s most physical guard, but Utah’s willingness to switch screens on the perimeter makes isolating Conley a straightforward mission.
If Conley starts to feel the pounding then Utah might be forced to put him on the bench. That means someone like Jordan Clarkson might be forced to play serious minutes. That’s a great way for an opponent to knock Utah out of the playoffs.
Don’t underestimate Rudy Gobert’s offensive impact: Everyone in the NBA understands what an unstoppable force Gobert is on the defensive end of the floor. He is arguably the best rim protector in the entire league. Opposing offenses go to great lengths to avoid challenging him around the basket.
What some fans don’t realize is just how important Gobert is to the Jazz’s offense. His ability to roll to the rim and finish dunks at the rim is a vital part of Utah’s offensive spacing. That, combined with his exceptional offensive rebounding ability makes him a borderline elite offensive player.
Teams that match-up to the Jazz in the postseason have to work hard to blunt his offensive effectiveness. Allowing him to match his regular-season field goal percentage of 69.8 percent in a playoff series could easily get a team eliminated.
Step one for Jazz opponents must be keeping Gobert off the offensive glass. That’s where he finds a way to score a significant portion of his easy baskets. Centers matched up with Gobert have to make sure they put a body on him every time a shot goes up.
Perhaps more importantly, teams have to work hard to make sure Gobert can’t get going via pick-and-roll opportunities. His size and length make it difficult to stop him if he gets the ball going downhill. It’s imperative for Jazz opponents to make sure he doesn’t get a chance to make clear runs to the rim. Help defenders have to stop Gobert from generating any meaningful momentum. Stopping him at the basket is a team effort for Jazz opponents. It could easily be the best way to knock Utah out of the 2020 postseason.