2021-22 NBA Season Preview Series: Utah Jazz
Awesome typo to forget the word "next" in that tweet Daniel you goddamn moron. Anyway, the people have spoken and for some reason want to talk about the Utah Jazz. Fine by me. While I'd say 99% of the internet outside of Jazz fans can't stand this team and loves to shit all over them on Twitter, I am fascinated by their upcoming season. The Jazz have entered the rare "shut up and prove it" phase of expectations. Not too different from what the Bucks just went through last season, and they proved it. Regular season success only means so much. Being a top seed and looking great during the year is fine, but ultimately this team will be judged by what they do in the postseason. That's how it works with really good teams. When you are trying to make the jump from a good team to an actual title contending team, that's what matters. So it shouldn't shock anyone that nobody gives a shit that the Jazz are dominant on both ends, win 50+ games and get a high seed. Big deal. Can they get over the hump? Thats what matters. This team hasn't been past the second round of the playoffs since 2006-07. It's 2021. Over that span they've won at least 48 games 7 times. Quinn Snyder is a hell of a coach, but he's either missed the playoffs or been bounced before the WCF. They have the talent on the roster to compete with pretty much any team in the league, yet they often times find themselves getting exposed in the playoffs. How can 2021 be any different?
Before we get into that, let's first bring you up to speed on what they did this summer and what their roster currently looks like
Added: Rudy Gay, Hassan Whiteside, Eric Paschall
Lost: Derrick Favors, Georges Niang
Re-signed: Mike Conley
At $154,717,409 you're looking at the 4th most expensive roster in the NBA. All things considered it should be much higher given how good Jordan Clarkson has been for the Jazz. Getting him at $12M is a steal. After they traded for Mike Conley you knew they were going to do everything they could to re-sign him, so nothing here is really a surprise. Rudy Gay might be able to give them something as a depth piece and he's relatively cheap, and Paschall on low money is good value. Depending on what version of Whiteside you get that could be helpful, and he's on the minimum. The big takeaway here is that this is the Jazz's core for both the now and the long term. There are guys like Bogdanovic that have 1 more guaranteed year and then Joe Ingles is an expiring, but for the most part this is who the Jazz are going to be and it's up to this group to get over the hump.
When I say this Jazz team was dominant last year over the course of the regular season, that's not hyperbole. They were 4th in offense, 3rd in defense, 1st net rating, 1st in wins, 1st in point differential the list goes on and on. Shit, they only lost back to back games 5 times all season and 2 of those came in OT. Last year wasn't a case of them going on this huge winning streak in one part of the year and that's what impacted their standings. They were dominant from the jump of the season. They had a stretch early where they won 20 of 21, and then another stretch in March where they won 11 of 13. In terms of their style, you'd be silly to think things will change all that much. You're going to get a ton of Mitchell/Gobert P&R considering they are both elite in that set, and you're going to see a bunch of spot up looks given all the attention Mitchell gets. With the Jazz you're looking at the 3rd best spot up shooting team in the league, and that's part of what makes them so devastating over the course of the regular season.
Everyone can shoot. I mean everyone. As a team, they were 4th in 3P% and 1st in 3PM. Go up and down their roster and this is what you saw last year from their main rotation guys.
Mitchell - 38%
Royce O'Neal - 38%
Bogdanovic - 39%
Conley - 41%
Ingles - 45%
Now they add Rudy Gay who shot 38% from three last year as well. There's no reason to think they can't lead the league again and be a top 5 team in terms of 3P%. The exciting part of this for a Jazz fan is the fact that Mitchell was that high even with a really high volume of 8.7 3PM. That tells you his outside shot is really coming along, which then begs the question if he's going to be able to shoot like this consistently, how the fuck do you stop him
Defensively, we also know what they are. Gobert is going to handle things in the middle and be a problem when it comes to finishing at the rim, but what really jumped out last year was how lock down this team continues be on the perimeter. They were #1 in opponent 3PM in 2020-21. This was after finishing 3rd in 2019 and 2nd in 2018. Essentially, they can take away however you like to score. You want to drive to the rim and try and score inside? You're met by the DPOY. You love to knock down threes? Good luck considering the Jazz don't give up threes. It's why this team was 3rd in opponents points during the regular season. Oh yeah, they also defend without fouling too for a cherry on top. They finished 2nd in opponents FTA, just 0.1 behind MIL who led the league.
So what the hell keeps happening to the Jazz in the postseason? Well, there are times Gobert gets played off the floor to some degree, guy loves playing drop coverage. That elite three point defense did not show up in their 11 postseason games, they finished 11th out of 16 teams in opponents threes. They also had issues defending without fouling. They lost to the Clippers in 6 with Kawhi missing the last two, and their defense was a big reason why. In their 4 straight losses to lose that series, they gave up 132, 118, 119, and 131. That's nowhere near good enough and really was uncharacteristic of what the Jazz did all year. It was the same story the year before against Denver. Losing games giving up 135, 117, 119, and then 80 in that incredible Game 7 when nobody had any juice left in their legs.
This is a long way of saying, the biggest thing the Jazz are going to have to overcome this season is this idea that they are a regular season hero, but a postseason zero. It might not be fair, but like I said when you're this good during the year for multiple seasons, your expectations change. What I can't wait to see is if they take the frustration of last year and use it as fuel, just like the Bucks did. Maybe put less of an importance on regular season wins to make sure you are prepared for the postseason. Try new things throughout the year, rest guys, all that stuff. It's worth a shot in my opinion, because if this team has another dominant year and once again fails to even make the WCF, well then they are like the Sixers. You gotta get out of the second round when you have this much talent, or else you can't really call yourself a contender. That's what's at stake for Utah.
Official Greenie Prediction: 50 wins