NBA Season Preview: Utah Jazz

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 44-28 (.611%), 6th in Western Conference, Lost in 1st Rd.
Head Coach: Quin Snyder

The Jazz were having solid season leading up to the COVID shutdown, led by Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Mitchell averaged 24.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.3 apg & 1.0 spg in the regular season and was the focal point of the offense. Gobert is the anchor for the Jazz on the defensive end and is one of the league’s premier defenders. He grabbed 10.1 defensive rebounds (13.5 rpg overall), blocked 2.0 shots per game as well as 0.8 spg, essentially willing the Jazz to another top-10 defensive year. Although underrated, Gobert chips in on offense as well, setting 7.0 screen assists per game, while averaging 15.1 ppg on 69.3% shooting. New arrival Bojan Bogdanovic showed that his career year in Indiana wasn’t an aberration, having another excellent year prior to going down with wrist surgery before the NBA season resumed in the bubble. He averaged career highs: 20.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg & 2.1 apg, shooting 41.4% from 3-point land and 90.3% from the free throw line. The mid-season trade that brought Jordan Clarkson to the team worked very well, as he scored 15.6 ppg in 24.7 minutes off the bench. Utah entered the bubble at 41-23 and in hopes of a long playoff run. They were in a dogfight for a top 4 seed but went 3-5 in the seeding games, which dropped them to 6th in the conference where they met the Denver Nuggets in one of the most entertaining playoff series in NBA history.

What Can Donovan Mitchell do for an Encore?

The combo guard had an excellent season last year, which paid off handsomely for him this offseason – to the tune of a 5-year $195M contract. While his regular season was nice, he went off in the postseason, hitting 36.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.9 apg in the 7 game series loss to the Nuggets. His rivalry with Jamal Murray in the series was epic. Can he average 36 ppg over the course of a full regular season? No. Can he bump his scoring up to the 27-29 ppg range? More than likely yes. He has the talent and will to increase his usage and playmaking - he leads all players from the 2017 NBA Draft in scoring by a wide margin with an even 5,100 points. Mitchell has a very Dwyane Wade-esque vibe about him. Although he's a great scorer, he also has the ability to be a playmaker - look for him to increase his assists and rebounds this year, and lead the Jazz back to the playoffs. Of course, Jazz fans will be looking for playoff success, and Mitchell will have to prove to himself - and everyone else - that he is the man to lead the Jazz to playoff success in the future. 

Tom's Take: Mitchell will win some All-NBA votes and make All-NBA 3rd Team this year. 

Rudy Gobert

Gobert recently signed the 3rd largest deal in NBA history, signing a 5-year deal worth $205M. Year 5 will be a player option, and while he was eligible for the same super-max contract that Giannis  Antetokounmpo signed in Milwaukee, he chose to leave $23M on the table so the team could use it to get better -

I want to win, and I feel like leaving this money on the table for the team just to be able to have better talent around me and Donovan was really important. I want to win, and I believe in this group and I believe in this organization, and I was willing to leave that money on the table for them.

He’s an absolute stud on the defensive end but has been criticized in the past for being an offensive liability, especially as more and more teams get on the small-ball train. Regardless, Gobert is the engine that drives the Jazz defense and they need him on the court no matter trend has enamored the league.

The Supporting Cast

The Jazz have a budding superstar in Mitchell, a defensive wizard in Gobert and a solid roster to surround them. If Bojan Bogdanovic can come near, or replicate, his numbers from last year the Jazz would be pleased. He was better than advertised but cut his season short during the COVID hiatus and had surgery on his wrist. If he is back and healthy, the Jazz will have a second 20 ppg scorer on their hands to take the load off of Mitchell. Veteran point guard Mike Conley didn’t bring his A-game to the Jazz last year, but he has every opportunity to rebound from his subpar year and be the solid point guard the Jazz need. After spending nine of his first eleven seasons in Utah, Derrick Favors returns and will be a solid backup at the forward/center position. Perhaps most exciting for the Jazz is Jordan Clarkson – some are pegging him to be in the Sixth Man of the Year running, and for good reason. Clarkson is a microwave off the bench, scoring 15.6 ppg in just 24.7 mpg – that kind of production can flip a game on its head in the regular season and a series in the playoffs.

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire