Eight Predictions For The Upcoming Utah Jazz Season
One of the most highly-anticipated Utah Jazz seasons in decades begins in mere days. What follows are eight predictions for the upcoming year, ranked in order of most to least confidence. We assume generally average health for this exercise within reason. Let's get to it!The Jazz smash their own single-game (20) and single-season (993, last year) franchise records for made 3s.
Injuries, lineup choices and plain old variance could threaten virtually any other prediction coming on this list, but it will be something of a shock if this one doesn't come true. The Jazz have broken their own season-long franchise record for threes in each of the past seven years straight, adding roughly 100 a year like clockwork for each of the last four. With the most shooting and spacing we've perhaps ever seen on a Utah roster, they'll easily crack 1,000.
The single-game mark isn't quite as sure a thing, but here's a bet it's broken a handful of times by this group. They made 19 in a preseason game against New Orleans where their main rotation only played three quarters - they'll see several defenses a whole lot worse than the Pelicans' this year. There's just too much firepower for it not to happen.
*Bonus prediction: The Jazz make a serious run at second in the NBA for total made threes this season after finishing ninth last year (no one is touching Houston - the Rockets attempt so many more than anyone else).Rudy Gobert shatters his own dunk record from last season.
Rudy Gobert dunked 306 times last year, an NBA record for a single regular season - and he did it within an offensive scheme that didn't exactly leave the paint wide open. It wasn't uncommon to see the big Frenchman bracketed by multiple defenders as he rolled to the rim, guys who weren't afraid roam off Utah's non-shooters and deter Gobert's easy points.
These first two predictions are tied together in obvious ways. Look at Utah's roster now: Who are the non-shooters you leave?
Emmanuel Mudiay is a candidate if and when he plays, but that won't likely be too often alongside Gobert; even when he does, look for him to spend time in the corners - where he's a perfectly capable 38% career shooter - while someone like Joe Ingles or Dante Exum runs pick-and-roll with the big guy. Outside Exum, whose own availability remains to be seen, there's no one else to leave in the entire rotation.
Expect rims to take a beating with all the space Gobert will have. Consider that he finished at the hoop at an absurd 74% rate last year when playing without fellow big man Derrick Favors, this compared to 67% while Favors played. He'll exclusively play in similarly smaller lineups this year. If he stays healthy, watch him take a run at 350 dunks.Joe Ingles is a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year.
Even as the Jazz collectively stunk up the joint in the preseason, outscored by 34 points over five games, there was Ingles at a plus-31 while on the court. The guy just does winning stuff, and now it appears he'll be doing it more often against bench-heavy units.
Ingles averaged 13.5 points, 8.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds per-36-minutes for the preseason, shooting an even 50% from the field and 47% from deep. He developed an instant telekinesis with new arrival Jeff Green; the craft and guile levels on display while they play together will bring a smile to the face of even the most grizzled basketball old-timer:
Especially if other newbies like Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis continue to take time acclimating to their new surroundings, Ingles' calming presence will be a big deal for this team. He'll close tight games alongside the starters and easily log the minutes to be in 6MOY territory.
Note: We claim advanced immunity from criticism for this pick if Ingles ends up starting too many games to qualify for the award.The Jazz's defense drops out of the top-5, but not out of the top-10.
We're not overreacting to Utah's shockingly poor preseason defensive performance. We're reacting a bit, though.
Between the on-court product and several comments from players and coach Quin Snyder alike, it seems fair to assume the Jazz's defense - which has started slowly more than once during Snyder's tenure - will be even more of a work in progress to start the year given all the new faces.
At the same time, Rudy Gobert is still on the team. Donovan Mitchell has committed to realizing his full two-way potential, and the improvement is visible already. Royce O'Neale is the roster's go-to wing stopper, and Exum will add his name to that list if he can stay on the court consistently. The biggest question marks: Whether they have the bulk to defend supersized superstars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard on the wings, and how they survive if Gobert misses any time (Ed Davis is a great rebounder and gives 100% on D at all times, but he's struggled to defend early in his Jazz tenure)?The Jazz have one All-Star, but two All-NBA selections.
As Jazz fans have seen the last couple years, the All-Star voting system isn't ideal for this particular team's best players, namely Rudy Gobert. The pool for frontcourt players is deeper than just centers alone, and that's how it's done for All-Star votes.
That said, the Gobert noise is pretty loud at this point. Utahns weren't the only ones crying foul when he somehow missed the midseason showcase last year. If healthy, he feels like a strong bet to get a legacy vote from the coaches this time around, even if it's in one of the "wild card" slots.
Unless the Jazz are a top-two seed in the West by voting time, however - which could be tough if they take a while to gel defensively - don't expect them to get two All-Stars. But Donovan Mitchell was on the radar for an All-NBA slot last year after posting spectacular numbers post-January 1 (26.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds per game on 45% from the field and 41% from three), and we're expecting a massive year from him coming off his Team USA summer. Here's a bet he's passed over midseason but makes the 15-man All-NBA roster alongside Gobert.Donovan Mitchell leads the Jazz in total assists.
Diehard Jazz fans remember it all too well and all too often from the last couple seasons: Mitchell makes a great play to get into the lane, draws the defense, whips a bullet pass to an open teammate who...clangs the wide open three. Did it feel like that happened an inordinate amount? Like, more than any realistic expectation given how often he found guys wide open? That's because it did.
Per advanced Second Spectrum data supplied by a source, Jazz three-point shooters had an expected effective field goal percentage of 56.8 following a pass from Mitchell. That figure is based on how the average NBA shooter would perform given the shot distance, closest defender and other factors.
Utah's actual effective field goal percentage on those shots? Just 51.3%, for a negative-5.5-point gap.
That's nearly double the largest negative gap any team in the NBA had on these shots. Put another way, one could have surrounded Mitchell with the league's worst three-point shooting team from last season and still expected better results than what Jazz shooters posted following his passes.
Is this something Mitchell himself is doing badly? Are his passes poorly place or too fast for guys?
Nah. This is pure variance. The Jazz were a well below-average team in shot-making compared to optimal shot location generation, and the brunt of that just happened to fall on Mitchell. He posted a positive figure for the above gap in his rookie year; he didn't suddenly become a worse passer as a sophomore. Jae Crowder shooting 28% from deep following Mitchell's passes and 35% on all his other threes is a pretty clear indicator of some rotten luck.
The guys he's passing to are simply more reliable now. Even with more creators on the roster, Mitchell is still the guy on this team who induces the most defensive panic and really opens up creases when he penetrates:
The bet here is on a close race between Mitchell, Ingles and Mike Conley for the team's per-game assist lead. But notice how the prediction said total assists - with both the others on the wrong side of 30, and baking in some natural development from the younger Mitchell, he gets the nod by a hair.The Jazz do not make a significant in-season trade.
This one is based on both need and available assets; the Jazz might not really have either. They're a much more versatile group than in years past, for one, without many true weaknesses we can see at this point.
Maybe more importantly, they might not have the asset cache to swing the kinds of in-season deals they have the last couple years (acquiring Kyle Korver last season and Jae Crowder the year before). They owe a first-round pick with cascading protections to Memphis for the Conley trade over the summer, making sending any other future firsts a complex (or virtually impossible) task. They don't have the kind of young assets in the organization they've used in past years to drum up solid veteran returns.
The exception here is Dante Exum, but his case presents a bit of a quandary. Folks around the league don't really view him as a plus asset currently given his repeated injury issues; if he plays well enough to change that, though, he'll do so while filling a vital backup guard role the Jazz badly need. It seems unlikely he's worth more to another team than he is to Utah.
Note: This one is near the bottom because a lot can change, including player value. But don't expect a Korver-like shakeup at midseason if this group struggles.Utah gets back to the second round of the playoffs, but does not go further.
This is another we're not anywhere near certain of. It will all come down to matchups, health and maybe some luck. The Jazz could make the conference finals or even the NBA Finals if all goes right; they could draw a tough team and go down in round one again. The safest bet seems to be something in between.
That's enough for now. Happy NBA season to all.