Smooth like Jazz: A Historic First Half

Smooth like Jazz: A Historic First Half

by Nico Fiscella

Many counted out the Utah Jazz at the beginning of the season. Most NBA standings predictions had the Jazz as high as the four seed. The Jazz offseason was different from many. Utah’s general manager Dennis Lindsay prioritized resigning Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Jordan Clarkson. Outside of this, the biggest addition to the team was former Jazz center Derrick Favors. With this said, not many expected the Jazz to finish the first half of the season with the best record in basketball.

This season, Utah has five players averaging over 10 points per game. Three of those players average over 15.

Mitchell is doing Mitchell things, as the now two-time NBA All-Star is averaging nearly 25 points per game. He is also averaging four rebounds and five assists.

While Mitchell is lighting up the box score, Gobert is shining on the other side of the ball. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. Just like Mitchell, Gobert’s performance this year led him to his second NBA All-Star performance.

We cannot forget about the key pieces surrounding the Utah superstars, as Clarkson has been a great surprise off the bench.

Clarkson is having a career year. His 17 points per game off the bench is leading him to a possible Sixth Man of the Year award.

What makes this Jazz team so unique? Their three-point shooting this year has been historic. There are only four NBA teams to average over 15 made three-pointers a night, and Utah is averaging 17 this season. After finishing the season last year as the thirteenth best team in made jumpers, Utah has risen all the way to three.

That is not the only area in which the Jazz have improved.

This season, they have the second highest offensive rating and the fourth highest on the defensive end. Adding those together, the Jazz have a positive 8.9 net rating. That’s good enough for the best in the league.

On February 15, 2021, the Jazz were sitting at 22-5. They were in the middle of an 18-1 stretch in which they had 16 double-digit wins. However, ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith was not sold on the team’s success.

On ESPN First Take, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman were discussing if the Jazz were a team to be taken seriously. The question was whether they were a better team than last year’s champion: the Los Angeles Lakers.

With the Jazz sitting at the top of the west, their biggest competitor this season has been the LeBron-led Los Angeles Lakers. Ironically, the Jazz handed the Lakers their worst loss of the season.

What was the best part? No one on Utah had over 18 points.

The Jazz were led by Rudy Gobert and Jordan Clarkson, who both finished the night with 18 points. Including those two, Utah had six players finish with over 10 points.

For a definition of team basketball, one only need re-watch this game.

“The fact that we have a lot of guys that are capable of making plays, and our team likes to play that way, that’s part of who we are and part of our identity,” said head coach Quin Snyder.

Defense and playmaking led the way for Utah. Mitchell is not afraid to take a step back and let those around him shine. That is what makes him a superstar.

The Lakers were without all-star Anthony Davis. The question is whether a fully healthy team Lakers team can take down Utah.

Smith does not believe it is even a question. his faith is in the Lakers. When asked this question, he did not hesitate.

“Do I have a reason to be concerned,” asked Smith. “No.”

With many people not expecting much from the Jazz last season, Max Kellerman explained why Utah was only going to get better from last year. 

“Mike Conley was not Mike Conley last year,” said Kellerman.

Conley has been the X-Factor for the Jazz this season as he has found his groove in Utah.

Conley had one of his worst seasons last year. He averaged 14 points per game on a poor efficiency. However, his second season in Utah has not only been a major factor for the team’s success, but it also landed him his first-ever All-Star appearance in his age 33 season.

This season, Conley is averaging over 16 points per game, to go along with 3.5 rebounds and nearly six assists. Not only has he been more efficient in the field, but his three-point percentage raised from 37.5 to 42.2 percent. He showed his strengths from behind the arc during the NBA All-Star Weekend. He made it to the final round in the three-point contest.

If it was not for Stephen Curry’s final shot swishing the net, Conley would have been the first left-handed player to win the contest. 

The always-doubted Utah Jazz went into the All-Star break as the top team in the NBA, yet they are still not satisfied. Utah finished losing three out of their last five and suffered their first night of back-to-back losses. In their final game before the break, they were dealt a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia 76ers due to some very questionable officiating. Both Mitchell and Gobert were very vocal that the referees stole this game away from them, but all they received were a combined $45,000 in fines and discredit from the media.

“We won this game in my opinion, this is f—-ing ridiculous,” said Mitchell in his postgame interview. Rudy Gobert shared his full thoughts in a lengthy twitter post.

The best season in Utah Jazz history belongs to the 1996-1997 Jazz. The Stockton-Malone duo led the team to a 64-18 record. They were defeated in the NBA finals by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. At the halfway mark, the Jazz were sitting at 44-16.

Although this is a shortened season, the Jazz are on pace to finish with the best record in Utah history.

With an even more motivated Utah Jazz roster, they will look to continue their dominant season on Friday night versus the struggling Houston Rockets.

Featured image courtesy Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

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