by Brandon Quinones | The Utah Jazz have been one of the more successful teams in the NBA over the last several seasons. The Jazz have been to the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, posting a cumulative winning percentage of .607, under the guidance of Head Coach Quin Snyder. One of the reasons why Utah has been so successful is in part due to the culture they have built which focuses on everyone priding themselves on the defensive end of the court and playing together as a unit on the offensive end. It helps having two franchise stars in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to lead the way, in addition to a tough supporting cast that the Jazz have worked hard to build. Last offseason, the Jazz traded for point guard Mike Conley, whom they acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies, and signed Bojan Bogdanovic. Looking back on these moves almost a year and a half later, we examine the impact that adding these two players has had on the team.
At first glance, Mike Conley felt like a seamless fit with the Jazz alongside Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt. Conley was acquired to help relieve some of the pressure from Mitchell offensively and become a mentor for him going forward. In addition to that, Conley would be able to help the team become stronger defensively. He has always been a strong defender (NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2013) and helps set up other teammates with his strong playmaking skills, as evidenced by his career 5.7 assists per game. In his first season as a member of the Jazz, Conley underperformed by many people’s standards. First and foremost, Conley was unable to stay healthy for long stretches of the season as he only managed to play in 47 of the 72 total games played in the 2019-2020 NBA season. In addition to that, Conley was rather inefficient for much of the season by posting his second worst field goal percentage in a season and experiencing a decline in his numbers across the board, with the largest drop-off coming in the form of points per game where his numbers dropped from 21.1 PPG in 2018-19 to 14.4 PPG last season.
However, not all is bad news with Conley as that does not show the full picture and effect of the move. When the league resumed last season within the NBA bubble, Conley was a major part of the team’s success and helped to almost spearhead a first-round upset against the Denver Nuggets, a series which went all seven games and came down to the final minute. In regard to the fresh 2020-2021 season, Conley has been off to a scorching hot start and has been a key factor in the team’s success early on. A few weeks into the season, Conley’s numbers seem to be returning to the mean with his PPG jumping back up to 16.6 and his assists jumping from 4.4 last season to 5.9 this year. Furthermore, he is scoring with tremendous efficiency, posting career bests in field-goal percentage (45.6%) and three-point percentage (41.9%). If Conley can continue this hot stretch of basketball and turn it into a consistent season, it will go a long way in determining just how successful the Jazz will be this season.
Although the Conley move got off to a slow start, things are beginning to look up here in year number two. Not only is Conley posting better numbers across the board, but the pieces traded for him have not had too great of an impact yet for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies acquired Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, and two future first round picks, one of which was used to acquire forward Brandon Clarke. Korver was immediately released after the trade and Allen has yet to receive significant playing time, playing in only 38 games in his first season with Memphis. The move could ultimately play out for the Grizzlies based on the other three assets that were acquired. Crowder was dealt at the trade deadline to the Miami Heat in a deal that brought back Justise Winslow, which could end paying long-term dividends for Memphis if he manages to stay healthy and become part of their core alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. One of the picks that Memphis acquired in the deal was moved to acquire Brandon Clarke, who has already shown plenty of promise in his young career so far in Memphis. As we look back on this trade, we will ultimately have to monitor how Allen, Winslow, and Clarke pan out, as well as who the Grizzlies end up selecting with the next draft pick acquired in the trade. Thus far, however, the move has had a much more positive impact for the Jazz than it has for the Grizzlies, especially when taking into account the type of season that Conley is having so far this season.
Last season, Bojan Bogdanovic experienced a career year in his first season with the Utah Jazz after agreeing to a 4 year, $72M contract. Bogdanovic has felt like a near perfect fit on this Jazz squad from the moment he signed with the organization and his numbers last season are proof of how well he fit in and how comfortable he felt in his new setting. Slotting into the front-court alongside Rudy Gobert, Bogdanovic averaged a career-high in points last season with 20.2 PPG on excellent efficiency as he slashed 44.7/41.4/90.3 shooting splits. Bogdanovic managed to add some much-needed scoring punch to a team that needed to add some offensive firepower behind Donovan Mitchell. Bogdanovic was able to do just that as he is able to create his own looks off the dribble and does a great job in finishing spot-up opportunities. Unfortunately, Bogdanovic was unable to finish his first year with the Jazz in a healthy fashion as his season was cut short due to a ruptured ligament in his right wrist that required surgery. After seeing the impact he had on the floor when healthy, one can only wonder if last year’s playoff run might have ended differently had he been healthy come playoff time. Sports are always filled with what-if scenarios, but this is definitely a moment to look back on and speculate. Considering that they pushed that series to seven games while missing one of their top options on offense, one can only dream about how much further they may have gone in the NBA bubble.
Moving on to this season, Bogdanovic has not gotten off to the same start he had last season. As of January 28, 2021, he is only averaging 12.9 PPG on 36.7/36.5/80.4 shooting splits. While his numbers may be down, there are probably many factors playing into the equation. For one, he is coming off a major surgery on his shooting wrist. It could take some time for him to break off some of the rust after missing some time recovering from the injury. In addition, Bogdanovic has had a bit less of a workload to carry considering that Mitchell continues his ascent into the next tier of stardom, as well as considering the fact that Mike Conley has looked rejuvenated and has performed exceptionally well in the early going. This is the great news for the Jazz considering that they currently sit atop the Western Conference standings as they hold an 11-game winning streak while one of their top offensive scorers continues to work his way back to top shape. If this Jazz team can get back the version of Bogdanovic that averaged more than 20 PPG last season, it might be a scary sight for the rest of the league. Once their sharpshooting marksman gets back to form, Jazz fans should be ecstatic wondering how deep of a playoff run this tough squad can go through. There is no question that the additions of Conley and Bogdanovic have elevated the ceiling of this Utah Jazz team going forward and we continue to seen their impact on display during the 2020-21 NBA season.
Featured image © AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King