When last seen, the Jazz were … learning that a 3-1 series lead over Denver in the opening round of the playoffs would prove insufficient, as the Nuggets rallied back to win the series. But Donovan Mitchell set the basketball world on fire with his epic duel against Denver guard Jamal Murray. The teams combined to average nearly 235 points per game over the first six contests of the series, but Utah fell 80-78 in an old-school slugfest to become one of 12 teams in NBA history to lose a series in which it led 3-1. The disappointing end of the season left some to wonder whether chemistry issues had festered between stars Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, who found themselves at odds after becoming the first NBA players to test positive for COVID-19.
What’s new? Utah drafted Kansas center Udoka Azubuike at No. 27, and then grabbed guard Elijah Hughes with the 39th pick. Both could turn out to be decent rotational pieces, but it’s clear the Jazz prioritized running things back in 2020-21 with virtually the same squad returning from last season. The Jazz signed Mitchell to a five-year extension in November, in addition to re-signing bench sparkplug Jordan Clarkson. Utah also brought back a familiar face in Derrick Favors, who spent nine years with the Jazz before they traded him last season to New Orleans. Favors produced his most productive seasons in Utah, averaging double digits in scoring in five of his last six seasons prior to joining the Pelicans.
What’s missing: Pretty much the same things Utah lacked last season, as it didn’t do much to address the issues it suffered with overall perimeter defense. We all saw what Jamal Murray did to the Jazz in the playoffs, and they didn’t address that deficiency by adding a big, athletic defensive wing. Utah needed to improve its athleticism defensively to stick with all the talent in the West. But the Jazz prioritized the signings of Mitchell and Clarkson, while bringing in Favors to address the problems they fought through last season in the minutes that Gobert wasn’t on the floor. Utah didn’t do much to address depth on the bench either and probably could’ve benefitted from having a third point guard with Emmanuel Mudiay out of the picture.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:
Mike Conley | 14.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.4 apg
Needs a better start this season, after struggling early in his first year with the Jazz.
Donovan Mitchell| 24.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.3 apg
Led the league in scoring during the postseason, averaging 36.3 ppg while shooting 52.9% overall and 51.6% on 3-pointers.
Bojan Bogdanovic | 20.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.1 apg
Wrist surgery in May cut short his first season in Utah, but he’s trending toward a healthy return.
Royce O’Neale | 6.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
Said he still thinks about the first-round loss to Denver “every day.”
Rudy Gobert | 15.1 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg
The former two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year is up for a new deal and says, “this year is going to be my best.”
Jordan Clarkson | 15.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.6 apg
Instant offense off the bench, Clarkson might also alleviate depth problems at the point guard spot.
Joe Ingles | 9.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.2 apg
Will wreak havoc with Favors running the pick-and-roll with the second unit.
Derrick Favors | 9.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.6 apg
Based off his performance last season in New Orleans, should play a valuable role improving Utah’s second-unit defense at the rim.
Utah Jazz, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The return of a healthy Bogdanovic helps, but Utah didn’t do enough in the offseason to keep pace with all the contenders in the West. The Jazz can’t run with the Lakers, Nuggets, Clippers or any of the other real contenders in their division. They’ll challenge for a postseason spot. But that’s what they do virtually every year. They simply don’t possess enough firepower on the roster to make a deep run in the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see how Utah handles negotiations on a new deal for Gobert because that will go a long way in determining whether the Jazz are committed to building a future around both he and Mitchell.
Predicted finish: 40-32.
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