The team with the best regular-season record in the Western Conference in 2020-21 looks to take the next step and go deeper in the playoffs with virtually the same team from a season ago. The Jazz are built to last because the chemistry with this team, developed over years of roster stability, is better than most. And it all starts with All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who’s a total package as a player, competitor and leader.
So the Jazz are ready to run it back with the regular gang, hoping to learn lessons from being eliminated in the West semifinals and apply them this season, where once again Utah will be a serious threat. Mitchell, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert and Jordan Clarkson all earned various awards and accolades last season and, with the exception of Conley, are still developing as players. The team is deep, the coaching from Quin Snyder is top-shelf and the organization — which added Dwyane Wade to its ownership group — is well run. Anything less than 50 wins and a conference finals appearance might be seen as a disappointment.
Can the Jazz thrive on 3-point shooting alone? This team lives and dies by the deep shot, and last season did both: Used it in the regular season to reach the penthouse, and ultimately died in the postseason when those shots didn’t fall. Utah would do well to mix it up offensively and blend in some mid-range shots to make itself less predictable. It worked well for the Phoenix Suns, who reached The Finals in 2021.
There’s a lot to love and little to nit-pick regarding the Jazz. Their depth, ball movement, shooting and defense makes them a considerable favorite in the West. In addition, Utah is remarkably consistent in performance and identity. Making The Finals wouldn’t be a surprise … and the same is true for falling short of it. Predicted finish: 50-32.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Donovan Mitchell: His development into a star took yet another rise and he established himself as one of the league’s finest guards on stats alone (26.4 ppg, 5.2 apg).
Mike Conley: His return to form resulted into his first All-Star nod. He led Utah in assists and shot 41.2% from deep and earned a contract extension.
Bojan Bogdanovic: A solid all-around shooter, Bogdanovic at times was Utah’s best offensive option last season and brings consistency at small forward.
Royce O’Neale: Undersized yet unafraid, O’Neale is a solid rebounder (6.8 rpg in 2020-21) for a 6-foot-6 player and a reliable defender.
Rudy Gobert: The best rim-protector in basketball, Gobert is solid on the screen-and-roll.
Joe Ingles: He was the runner up for the Kia Sixth Man Award last season and remains Utah’s most reliable shooter from deep (45.1% in 2020-21).
Jordan Clarkson: The actual Kia Sixth Man enjoyed a breakout season and is a valuable source of offense for Utah.
Eric Paschall: He joins the Jazz after an underrated run with the Warriors where he established himself as a worker bee around the hoop.
Rudy Gay: A veteran who’s still playing at a reasonable level, Gay can get buckets and is superb in the locker room.
Hassan Whiteside: The well-traveled big man known for shot blocking could help stem the tide when Gobert rests.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Jazz have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
17.9 — Last season, the Jazz were 17.9 points per 100 possessions better with Rudy Gobert on the floor (+15.9) than they were with him off the floor (-2.0). That was the biggest on-off differential (by a wide margin) among 233 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.
— John Schuhmann
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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