Baker's Dozen - Jazz are Singing Sweet Tunes

Welcome to this week’s edition of Baker’s Dozen. We'll focus on the hottest team in the NBA, as well as the toughest battle for Line of the Week thus far. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to email in to Thanks for coming, and enjoy…

The Utah Jazz are Championship Contenders

At 18-5, the Utah Jazz have used an excellent run of play in the last 30 days to vault to the top of the Western Conference, winning 14 of 15 games, including an 11-game winning streak. How are the Jazz doing it? They’re getting consistent, high-level rim-protection from Rudy Gobert, who’s averaging a career-high 2.7 bpg to go along with his typically efficient double-double production – 13.1 ppg & 13.4 rpg on 60.0% FG. Donovan Mitchell has produced numbers that replicate his career averages through the first three years of his career – 23.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.6 apg (career-high) and career-best 41.5% on 3PA. 

Okay – Utah’s two most important and highly-paid players are doing exactly what we would expect of them. That's the foundation. If Gobert & Mitchell aren't the two best players the Jazz are likely toast. So what else is happening? 

Bojan Bogdanovic has busted out of the slump he was in to start the season. Check out these splits: 

First 10 games: 12.1 ppg (35.5% FG) 2.1 3PM (32.3% 3P)
Last 13 games: 18.7 ppg (47.8% FG), 3.5 3PM (49.5% 3P)

After offseason surgery
, Bogdanovic has finally found a comfort zone this season. While he is bound to go through another slump or two (as all shooters do), it seems he’s gotten through the worst the season will offer him. He fits perfectly into the Jazz tempo - a barrage of threeballs. Bogdanovic (2.9 3PM) Mitchell (3.5 3PM), Mike Conley (2.8 3PM) and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jordan Clarkson (3.1 3PM) lead Utah from deep. At 17.0 3PM per game the Jazz are on pace to be the most prolific 3-point shooting team in NBA history. Playing 25.2 mpg, Clarkson is scoring at a 17.6 ppg clip, buoyed by 39.2% on threeballs. Look for Clarkson to be in the hunt for the best reserve in the league. 

While their top-5 offense may get a lot of highlights, defense is the Jazz calling card. After slipping to 13th in defensive rating last year, they’re back into the top-3 this year. An underrated off-season move has helped the Jazz get back to the top. Derrick Favors spent much of his career in Utah and after being traded prior to the 2019-20 season, he was brought back as a free agent, in a move made with little fanfare. He has provided his typical brand of hardnosed defense off the bench and is producing excellent per-36 minute averages: 13.2 ppg (59.3 FG%), 12.5 rpg & 2.6 bpg. Essentially, whether Gobert or Favors are on the court, the Jazz are getting the same production. His addition cannot be understated in getting the Jazz back to the defensive forefront of the NBA.

Lastly, Mike Conley is back to playing at the high level he is capable of. After spending his first twelve seasons in Memphis, he had a disappointing first season in Utah. The former Ohio State Buckeye is up across the board over last year - more points, rebound, assists, steals along with both FG% & 3P%. While he may never get back to playing as well as his Memphis days, when playing at a high level he can be a difference-maker in any game. 

At this point, it’s safe to say the supporting cast of the Jazz has exceeded expectations thus far. Of course, Utah needs to make sure that this isn’t the high watermark of their season. Great teams know that they need to peak when it matters most – the playoffs. If the Jazz fall in the 1st round of the playoffs again, the positive work of the regular season will be for naught. For now, they're hitting all the high notes.

Line of the Week: This was a real tossup. Early in the week I was clearly giving it to Fred VanVleet for scoring a career-high and Raptors franchise-record 54 points (17/23 FG, 11/14 3PM) with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals & 3 blocks. 

Then, on Saturday night Stephen Curry posted a monster line of 57 points (19/31 FG, 11/19 3PM), along with 2 rebounds, 5 assists & 2 steals. 

Steph scored more points, but was slightly less efficient, and didn't have as many defensive stats as FVV. Also - as impressive as it is (and it is impressive!), this isn't even Curry's high score of the season, where as VanVleet set a franchise record. That doesn't happen every day in the NBA. Lastly, the Warriors lost and the Raptors won.  

Final Decision: Rockford's Finest Fred VanVleet.

Quick Hitters: Vince Carter continues to be an extremely positive influence in the Toronto community, as the Vince Carter Scholarship and Mentorship Program committed $25,000 to local post-secondary schools in Toronto. 

Check out previous columns:

January 17, 2021: Baker's Dozen - Thoughts from Around the Association
January 24, 2021: Baker's Dozen - CJ's Injury, Playoff-bound Knicks & Most Improved Player Rankings
January 31, 2021: Baker's Dozen - Remembering Kobe & the MVP Race 

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports