by Jakob Perez | Though it feels like the NBA postseason just wrapped up, basketball is back. Due to the delays of last season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, teams have already been reporting to training camp in preparation for the start of the season on December 22, 2020. We will quickly see which teams did enough in the offseason to challenge the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers for the title. For teams like the Utah Jazz, a new season means new hope as they will strive to improve from last years gut-wrenching first-round exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. For the Jazz, improvement from last year will depend largely on two factors.
1. Team Chemistry
The 2019-2020 season saw several new faces come to the Jazz with expectations to produce at high level. Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson all came to Utah as proven players who were expected to produce right away. Unfortunately, this didn’t go quite as planned. Clarkson made an immediate impact giving them much needed bench scoring, averaging 15.6 points-per-game in his 42 games. Bogdanovic had a great regular season, but missed the bubble games due to wrist surgery and his scoring presence was sorely missed in their series versus the Nuggets. Conley started only 41 games and didn’t quite look like the Mike Conley that was so steady for the Memphis Grizzlies the first 12 years of his career.
There is a silver lining here, Jordan Clarkson just inked a four year deal to stay with the Jazz, and Bogdanović is expected to make a full recovery and be ready in time for the beginning of the new season. Mike Conley was arguably the team’s biggest let down of the season but seemed to finally be getting in sync with his new team in the bubble where he averaged 19.8 points and 5.2 assists, while shooting a remarkable 53 percent from three-point land. These numbers are significantly higher than the 14.4 points and 4.4 assists he averaged during the regular season. While he may not be able to sustain the numbers he had in the playoffs throughout an entire season, expect them to be much improved as he and the rest of the Jazz starters will be more familiar with each other this season. If that happens, they’ll find themselves with a much better spot than they did last year as the six seed in the Western Conference.
2. Offseason Moves
The other factor that will determine how much the further Utah will go this season is the productivity of their new signings. The Jazz didn’t make any huge moves in the offseason, but they did do some things to get better. Bringing back versatile big man in Derrick Favors will immediately improve their bench as Tony Bradley struggled as Rudy Gobert’s backup last season. Favors is an experienced player, and this second stint in Utah shouldn’t give him any problem with his role or adapting to their style of play.
With no summer league this year, it was more important than ever to get players in the NBA Draft who could be ready to contribute right away. The Jazz took Kansas big man, Udoka Azubuike in the first round. They then took Syracuse wing, Elijah Hughes at the 9th pick and 39th overall in the second round. Azubuike is a solid big man who played all fours years at Kansas, making a big leap his senior year where he averaged 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game. He will add much needed depth to the Jazz’s front-court. This is especially true if Quin Snyder were to start Favors alongside Gobert when playing against bigger lineups like those of the Lakers and Nuggets. Hughes is also an experienced college player. He played three seasons: one for East Carolina and two for Syracuse. In his time with the Orange he proved himself to be a prolific scorer, averaging 19 points-per-game last season. If he were to get substantial playing time, the Jazz would happily welcome that type of scoring from their second unit.
For all we know the Jazz may not be done yet, they seem to be letting Emmanuel Mudiay walk in free agency and currently do not have a true point guard to back up Conley. It could be possible that Quin Snyder is planning to split the playmaking responsibilities between Conley, Mitchell and Clarkson, but seeing as Mitchell and Clarkson are more natural scorers than they are passers keep an eye out for the Jazz to pick up another guard as the season approaches.
Even if the Jazz were to start the season with their roster as is, we’re still looking at a much improved team from last season. Bogdanović and Conley look to benefit immensely from another season in Quin Snyder’s system. Utah also seems to have addressed their most glaring needs: adding depth and size. With the acquisitions of Favors and Azubuike, the Jazz improve their size immensely. They have also shored up the depth on their bench with the resigning of Jordan Clarkson and by taking Hughes in the second round. Those are two guys that could be relied upon to get buckets and take pressure off of Donovan Mitchell. NBA.com currently has the Jazz as the fourth best team in the West, which seems like a fair evaluation. Let’s not forget that they were only one regular season win away from jumping up from the 6th seed to the 4th last season. Barring any significant injury expect the Jazz to be in the 4th seed or even competing for the 3rd, depending on what other moves top teams in the Western Conference make before the start of the season. Either way, if Conley steps up and this year’s roster additions adjust well, count on the Utah Jazz to make a deep playoff run this season.
Featured image courtesy AP Photo / Rick Bowmer