by Daniel Olsen
With Mother’s Day on the back-burner, it’s good to remember a famous mom saying: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. If a child does say something mean about another person, the mom occasionally makes them say five positive things to make up for it.
In a previous article about Jordan Clarkson, some deficiencies were brought up about the Utah Jazz that, if exploited, could put them in danger of an early playoff exit. Now that the mean thing about the Jazz has been said, it’s time to provide five sincere reasons why they can at minimum make the Western Conference Finals this year.
1. Rudy Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year
While the award hasn’t been handed out yet, it might as well be. It doesn’t matter how many flyers Ben Simmons hands out to campaign for yet another NBA Award that he doesn’t deserve. Advanced defensive metrics show that Gobert is having the best defensive season this year and possibly in NBA history.
Gobert in the NBA playoffs has been responsible for Jazz wins. When he has been on the bench, his absence is glaring. Look no further than 2018. The Jazz had a commanding lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5. Gobert fouled out in the third quarter and Russell Westbrook suddenly had the courage to attack the paint. The Thunder would come back to win that game. Once Gobert returned in Game 6, the Jazz won.
It’s no slight to the Jazz as they are an improved team from back then. Now, they would likely be an average defensive team without Gobert. It just shows how valuable he is to the franchise. Every cent of the 200 million dollars is worth it if Gobert can help the Jazz win games. His presence on the defensive end makes him the most valuable player on that side of the game. The saying goes that defense wins championships. With Gobert, that ingredient is taken care of.
2. Jordan Clarkson is the Sixth Man of the Year
Clarkson may have some competition for this award. The other contender happens to be on his own team. While he averages more points-per-game than any other bench player, his teammate Joe Ingles happens to be one of the other leading candidates for the award in the latest NBA Rankings.
Plenty of positive has been said in yesterday’s piece about Clarkson. In addition to that, teams that have a Sixth Man of the Year winner tend to do well in the NBA Playoffs. While this doesn’t guarantee a championship, it does give the Jazz some depth in the second unit which is part of a championship DNA.
The last winner of this award to appear in the NBA Finals was James Harden in 2012 when he led the second unit for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They lost to the Miami Heat in six games in the first championship for LeBron James.
The last winner to also get the NBA championship was Toni Kukoč in 1996. He was a member of arguably the greatest team ever: the 72-win Bulls. Some might argue that it’s the 73-win Warriors KD 2016 but that is a losing battle for another day. The point is, having Clarkson on the bench is an invaluable ingredient. However, there are still more pieces that need to be touched on that can help the Jazz.
3. Quin Snyder is Coach of the Year
No Jazz coach has ever won this award. However, Quin Snyder might have the best shot in a while. He led the Jazz to their best start in franchise history. To this point, the team is still in first place in the NBA. As long as the Jazz maintain that top spot, Snyder should be the favorite for this award.
It isn’t the award that will win the Utah Jazz a championship. It is the decisions made in critical situations. Snyder has built a team that is capable of blowing their opponents away. However, the pressure can build when the games get close in the playoffs. The Jazz may need to break their 7-game overtime losing streak to win an important game in the NBA Playoffs. This is no slight to Snyder at all. He draws up the plays. It’s ultimately up to the players to execute them.
Even if a play is perfectly executed, there are so many other factors that can impact the game in clutch situations. The refs, a good defensive adjustment by the opposing team, or just the ball not going in the hoop can offset the impact that Snyder makes.
His impact shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s just important to note that he doesn’t put on the jersey. He is there to motivate, but he can’t force all 12 players in the rotation to listen. The Jazz seem bought in and have the stars to do it so there isn’t too much worry here. This team will be ready for the playoffs.
4. History is on their side
The top overall seed has won the NBA Finals about 35 percent of the time in the last twenty years. Last year, the league best Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Miami Heat in the second round.
The other two times the Jazz have been the top seed in the Western Conference, they made the NBA Finals in consecutive years (1997-1998). This year the Western Conference is tough. The Jazz have a roster that is capable to get to the NBA Finals.
The Jazz have about a 33 percent chance to make the championship game according to FiveThirtyEight. The three seed Los Angeles Clippers currently have slightly better odds at 35 percent to come out of the West.
5. They have the best path
This could all change between now and the playoffs. However, the Jazz seem like they should have an easy path to the Western Conference Finals. While a potential first-round matchup with the Warriors or Lakers sounds scary on paper, they are injury-riddled teams.
They would then play the winner of the 4 vs 5 matchup: Denver and Portland. A Denver team without Jamal Murray would be a better matchup than a dangerous Trailblazers team. Portland has a history of pulling off playoff upsets. They are also a tough matchup for the Jazz.
If the Jazz get through the first two rounds, they will likely play either the Suns or Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. While that will be the toughest series at of the playoffs, think about who these other teams will have to play to get to that point.
The Suns might have to get through two LA teams just to face the Jazz. The Clippers would have to get past Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks and then the Suns. The one seed doesn’t just give the Jazz more favorable matchups because of their seeding. They are also avoiding the more difficult side of the bracket.
Determination over Negativity
Hopefully this exercise was helpful. Anytime Jazz fans are tempted to focus on the negative, it’s important to remember the good parts of this team. A special season like this doesn’t come every year. This is the first time in two decades that it has. It’s time to enjoy it and get ready for the NBA Playoffs.
Featured image courtesy Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News