The Jazz had a busy off-season, but will all of the moves they made turn them into true title contenders? (Photo via ClutchPoints)

2019–2020 NBA Season Previews: Utah Jazz

Head Coach: Quin Snyder

Last Season: 50–32, 5th in Western Conference

Projected Starters:

  • PG: Mike Conley
  • SG: Donovan Mitchell
  • SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
  • PF: Jeff Green
  • C: Rudy Gobert

Additions: Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrell Brantley (R), Mike Conley, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Stanton Kidd (R), Emmanuel Mudiay, Miye Oni (R), Nigel Williams-Goss (R), Justin Wright-Foreman (R).

Losses: Grayson Allen, Tyler Cavanaugh, Jae Crowder, Derrick Favors, Kyle Korver, Naz Mitrou-Long, Raul Neto, Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh.

The Utah Jazz have been headed in the right direction for years, but this past summer may have pushed them over the top and into the region of title contenders. The Jazz have arguably their best and most all-around roster since the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone, and have high expectations to go with it.

After getting sent home by the Houston Rockets for the second straight year, the Jazz front office was anything but complacent this past off-season. The Jazz were able to snatch Mike Conley from the Grizzlies to form one of the more dynamic backcourt duos in the league in Conley and Donovan Mitchell.

Mitchell will be the alpha dog for the Jazz on offense once again this season. After struggling and going through a sophomore slump through the first two months of last year, Mitchell turned things around come the 2019 portion of the year. From January 5 on, Spida averaged 27 points, 4.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds a game on an impressive 45–41–81 slashline.

If Mitchell is going to be the star of this team, he has to improve in the clutch as well. His numbers in the clutch shooting wise last year were not encouraging, and as a result the Jazz were one of the worst teams in the league in clutch games. Mitchell will have to emerge more when it matters the most this upcoming season.

Next to Mitchell is Mike Conley, who may be the best player in the NBA that has yet to make an All-Star team. The Jazz made a major upgrade at point guard swapping Ricky Rubio with Conley, as this move could put Utah over the top on offense. Conley is everything you want in a point guard: battle-tested, tough, a veteran, a pesky defender and a good outside shooter. After suffering through many tough years with the Grizzlies near the bottom of the Western Conference, Conley finally has the chance to once again make a deep playoff run. His shooting should espcially open up the offense in ways that Rubio never could.

The Mitchell-Conley tandem has a lot of potential, as both guards should compliment very well off one another. Both are excellent playmakers who can also play off the ball and defend. Both players will help the other improve and they should form an excellent duo in Utah’s backcourt.

Moving to the middle, two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert returns to anchor Utah’s stingy defense. There’s a reason Utah has been a top ten defensive team for the last four seasons, and a big reason why is the French big man they have manning the middle. The Stifel Tower averaged 2.3 blocks per game last year and is a prominent lob threat on offense due to his stature and athleticism.

Stats paint a great picture for just how much of an impact Gobert makes. According to Zach Lowe, Gobert challenged about 27 shots per 100 possessions. To put that into perspective, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George both had around 15.5 a piece. He became the 10th player in NBA history to win back-to-back DPOY awards last season after leading the Jazz to the second best defensive rating in the league. According to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, he averaged +4.5.

Offensively, Gobert averaged 15.9 points and 12.9 rebounds a game, both career highs. He also improved his playmaking and as mentioned, was a dangerous lob threat at all times. As Gobert enters his prime, he’ll have to improve his free throw shooting and also to continue to up his passing game out of double teams in the post.

Looking at the rest of the frontcourt, the Jazz’s second best addition was bringing in Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogey is coming off a very impactful season that saw him finish 10th in 3-point percentage (42.5%). This move was one of the quietest of the off-season, yet will make a big impact for the Jazz, espcially on offense. Utah was able to ink Bogey to a $73 million deal over four seasons. While he is an elite shooter, and that is what the Jazz will pay him to do, Bogdanovic’s passing, rebounding and defense have all gotten better over the past few seasons.

While he is now projected to come off the bench, Joe Ingles will still serve as an important cog in the Jazz system. Ingles is a savvy veteran that remains one of the game’s best 3-point shooters. He won’t beat anyone off the dribble, but Ingles is still a dependable marksman who converted 39.1% of his 3’s last year. The Australian forward is also a solid defender with a balanced offensive game, as he set a career-high 5.7 assists a game last season.

Royce O’Neale, Jeff Green and Ed Davis all bring different skills to the table as well. O’Neale has become a reliable wing option for the Jazz after taking an unheralded path to the league. The former Baylor Bear has become a fixture in the Jazz rotation as a 3-and-D threat and can also slash well to the hoop to get easy buckets.

Looking at Green, Uncle Jeff has managed to carve out a niche for himself as a quality role player over the past few seasons. Green put up a slashline of 47–35–89 as one of the first options off the bench for the Wizards. He also played a major role on the Cavs unexpectedly two season ago and helped them get to the NBA Finals. Green once again will be a role player for the Jazz and gives them a complimentary scoring option from all over the floor.

The most underrated of this trio is Ed Davis, who comes in as on eof the premier rebounders in the league. Davis had an elite rebounding season last year, gathering 25.2% of available rebounds when he was on the court, which was one of the top rates in the league. Davis will be a better fit for the Jazz’s rotation than Derrick Favors and will provide more production as a rebounder and defender off the bench than Ekpe Udoh.

X-Factor: Mike Conley

Unlike Rubio, Conley provides playmaking and then some. Given the Jazz are in win-now mode, three players and two first-round picks seems like a reasonable amount of assets for a player of Conley’s caliber. In a move that was a long time coming, Conley now resides in Salt Lake City and gives the Jazz an elite floor general that they’ve lacked since Deron Williams.

Questions:

What about Dante Exum?

Dante Exum has had a fairly unlucky career to this point. Just as he was hitting his stride last season, he suffered yet another injury. Exum will once again fly under the radar this year as a 6-foot-6 guard with good playmaking and defensive abilities. If he can stay healthy and continue to make strides on offense, Exum will be one of the better reserve guards in the league. Expectations aren’t as high for Exum this year as last given the addition of Conley, so it will be interesting to see if he can stay on the court and give the Jazz some much needed production off the bench.

Does this team have enough depth?

Utah let go of key role players such as Jae Crowder, Rubio, and Favors in order to make room for their summer acquisitions. While the names they brought in for coming off the bench weren’t glamorous, they should give this team some nice fallback options. This team has no glaring weakness and will continue to be an elite defensive squad. They brought in a playmaker in Conley and added Bogdanovic to address their shooting needs. Will it all be enough to compete and win a tough Western Conference?

Verdict:

The Jazz are one of six teams in the Western Conference with a legitimate chance of winning the NBA Finals. The Jazz made a lot of good moves over the summer and have the chance to make the leap this year. That being said, in a stacked Western Conference, I still don’t see them making it past the second round.

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