During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we’ll analyze the Utah Jazz.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Utah Jazz Season
For a fourth straight year, people are looking for the Jazz to be a team on the rise, and this may finally be the season in which it happens. Let’s take a look at two keys to success going forward for the Jazz.
First Key: Maintaining Quality Defense
The Jazz are ready to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and they are going to rely heavily on their defense to make it there. Over the past couple of seasons, Utah has had one of the best defensive units in the NBA. This past season, the Jazz were tied for seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency, improving on their 2014-15 season, in which they were ranked 12th overall. This upcoming season, they will seek improve even more.
The defensive unit as a whole comes into next season very underrated, led by up-and-coming center Rudy Gobert. The 24-year-old Frenchman averaged 2.2 blocks per game last season, good for third in the NBA. That mark placed Gobert ahead of the likes of Anthony Davis and Pau Gasol. Gobert was also tied with Pau Gasol for sixth in the NBA in rebounds per game, while only playing in a total of 61 games.
Utah’s offensee may not be one of the better ones in the NBA, but if their defense holds up, there is an outside chance that this Jazz team could earn home-court advantage in the first round of the 2017 playoffs.
Second Key: Staying Healthy
Last season, the Jazz were one of the most injury-riddled teams in the NBA. Many of their key players were out for long periods of time. Rising star Derrick Favors missed 20 games due to back spasms and a sore knee. Gobert missed 21 games due to a grade two MCL sprain that he sustained in practice. Combo guard Dante Exum missed the entire season due to a knee injury, while shooting guard Alec Burks missed 51 games because of knee and ankle injuries.
Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood were the healthiest starters on the Jazz, playing in 80 and 79 games, respectively. With all of their players back and ready for game action in the upcoming season, the Jazz will look to stay healthy and try to make noise in the Western Conference playoff race. However, that’s easier said than done.