by Jacob Phillips | There are big expectations heading into the shortened season for the Utah Jazz. After a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs this past season, there is much to be optimistic about with this team. There’s a case to be made that this team had a shot at making the Western Conference Finals this past year if they had a healthy Bojan Bogdanovic and a not so horrible version of Mike Conley. Taking the optimistic route with this team, there’s a good chance Utah is right back in the mix to be a top three seed in the West.
The Utah Jazz made a few moves this offseason that are worth noting. The first of which is that they re-signed Jordan Clarkson for four years. They definitely overpaid for Clarkson. I’m of the opinion that this past year was a little fluky for him and his shooting efficiency. However, he can still be an effective spark off the bench for this team. He’s not a great shot creator, but he’s good enough to be the third option in that department for this team.
The Jazz also signed Derrick Favors to return to the team after spending much of his career in Utah. He’s nothing special, but he is certainly rock-solid on the defensive end. He can give the Jazz a defensive anchor when Rudy Gobert is on the bench. The Jazz got killed in the minutes that Gobert sat and that was primarily because their defense was significantly worse with him off the court. Favors will help with that.
Most importantly, Bogdanovic is healthy heading into this season. They sorely missed his shot-making and steadying presence on the offensive end in the bubble. Having him back is going to make a massive difference on the offensive end. On top of that, they extended Donovan Mitchell for the next five years by forking over $195 million. The cornerstone of the franchise is locked up. They also added Shaquille Harrison, a phenomenal athlete, to the team. He’s a little bit of a wild card but could be very helpful as a back-up to Conley.
Heading into the 2020-2021 season, there’s reason to believe that this team can advance multiple rounds in the playoffs. The lineup of Mitchell, O’Neale, Ingles, Bogdanovic, and Gobert KILLED teams last year. There’s no reason to believe that can’t happen again this year. Defensively, this team will be among the best again, as long as it has Gobert anchoring it. Favors will help add to that and take some of the pressure off of Gobert. Bogdanovic and Mitchell will once again score 20 plus points per game. Maybe Conley even bounces back just a little bit to give them some value.
They are little deeper than some people realize. I expect them to start Conley, Mitchell, O’Neale, Bogdanovic, and Gobert. That means they have Clarkson, Harrison, Niang, Ingles, and Favors all coming off the bench. That’s a deeper bench than what most teams have. How does Utah stack up with the rest of the Western Conference?
It seems like the Lakers are in a tier of their own right now in the Western Conference. They made some pretty good moves and no one else did anything to gain on them in the race for the 1 seed. There then seems to be a group of roughly 5 teams that fall in the next tier of Western Conference teams. I think that second tier includes: Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, Mavericks, and Trail Blazers. Some may view the Clippers and Nuggets a level up from those teams, but until we’re proven differently, I think the Clippers must be dropped down a tier from what they probably should be considering their performance in the bubble. They for sure have the talent to be better than any of those teams, but last year’s meltdown was so shocking that we need to be proven wrong by them before we give them the benefit of the doubt. Denver lost too much and didn’t add enough to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. You may even consider putting the Suns in this group but it’s still uncertain how good they will be this season.
The seeding order I would guess for this second-tier group of teams in the West is this:
For readers outside of Salt Lake City, you may disagree with this list. You may think that the Nuggets should be ahead since they beat them this past year and they have the better combo. Overall, Utah has a better roster, and they didn’t have Bogdanovic last year in their playoff series and still almost won.
The case for the Mavericks would be that they have arguably the best player in this group, outside of the Clippers, in Luka Doncic. That’s true. Lillard and Jokic are close to his level, but Doncic is definitely the best out of that group. With Kristaps Porzingis’ health so up in the air all the time, it’s tough to project them any higher.
A lot of people are high on the Blazers too, but their offseason has been a little overrated. Lillard is spectacular, McCollum is crafty, and Covington is an above-average defender. However, the overall defense of this team is poor and their offense isn’t quite good enough to make up for their defense all of the time. Covington helps, but doesn’t move the needle enough.
If push came to shove against any of the teams ranked below them, I’d take the total team of the Jazz over any of the others. The ceiling of the Nuggets, Mavericks and Blazers are all probably higher than the Jazz. The potential of those teams is a little more than the Jazz. However, the Jazz are the safer pick. They are a better roster with the best defensive player in this group of teams.
They probably don’t have the offensive firepower to get ahead of the Clippers. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, and Serge Ibaka, the Clippers appear to be a high-level regular season team that is going to rack up wins, even if Leonard sits some games. I give them the edge over the Jazz in the regular season due to the start power they have in Leonard and George.
I have the Jazz projecting as a 3-seed in the Western Conference with a 44-28 record, with an outside chance of making the 2-seed. There’s not much separating the 2-7 seeds in the West if you throw Phoenix in that group. It could be just 2-3 games that separate those teams, especially in a condensed season. The Jazz are well positioned to be a major force in the West. There’s a lot to be optimistic about this season for the Utah Jazz.