After going 51-31, the best since the 2009-10 season, head coach Quin Snyder and the Utah Jazz are going have to rethink their strategies since star player Gordon Hayward and core player George Hill both left via free agency during the off-season. Despite losing their first and second scoring leaders, the Jazz still have some hope on their side which they will most likely maximize to the fullest within the next month.
Here is the 2017-18 Utah Jazz season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Utah Jazz Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
Being in the Western Conference can be really difficult and extremely competitive. Teams below the top-three are constantly overshadowed by teams like the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets. However, the Jazz were doing something right since they finished fifth in the conference, with only four games behind the third seeded Rockets.
Moreover, last season was the first season in the last five years where Utah actually qualified for the playoffs. It was also the first season since 2009-10 where they made it past the first round, but were eliminated during the Western Conference semifinals.
One of Utah’s most prized possessions was, in every shape and form, Hayward. He lead the team in points (21.9) and just knew how to work the floor overall. Despite his 39.8 percent three-point percentage, he always came in clutch with a couple of shots from downtown. One of his main specialties took place in the paint where he used his height and basketball IQ to his advantage.
Hill was another force to be reckoned with; his fearlessness to drive to the basket with two other defenders on his tail wasn’t nearly enough to stop him from finishing at the rack. After having, arguably, one of his best seasons in recent years, Hill made himself into one of the core players that were trusted with the rock without hesitation.
Double-double machine Rudy Gobert‘s explosive posters and unexpected put-backs contributed just as much to the team’s winning season. The 7’1 center gave absolutely no one mercy on both ends of the court. His ruthlessness resulted in him averaging 14.0 points and 12.8 rebounds for the season. He knew exactly how to trick his opponents with witty back-doors and cuts to the basket.
Shooting guard Rodney Hood was one of the top scorers last season for Utah, easily showcasing his long range abilities despite his 37.1 percentage from behind the arc. Not to even mention his two 20+ points games back in January versus the Detroit Pistons and March against the Sacramento Kings, which was nothing but a water show.
What Needs Improvement
Despite not being able to move forward with their former All-Star and MVP candidate, the Jazz aren’t completely in the dark thanks to their still-developing and recovering players; Gobert thinks the same and is holding his team to some high expectations this upcoming season.
22-year-old Dante Exum is still on the list of the up-and-coming since his history of injury hasn’t done much justice for him. Last season he only managed to average 6.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists. The amount of potential he has to offer to the team was obvious during the Summer League where he scored 26 points and had 10 assists all while impressing the commentators and spectators with his beautiful assists and quick shot-takes. If Exum can continue to execute those smart shots and passes then that could really help Utah step up to the next level.
Derrick Favors, in the last six seasons with the Jazz, has been able to make a statement of himself. He has established one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league with Gobert. He’s already proven himself worthy of being a solid rotation player, and now that Hayward is off with the Boston Celtics, Favors will be able to grow and develop even more in his starting position at power forward; and it seems like the 6’10 forward hasn’t given up either.
Three-year player Joe Ingles, and his interesting lefty shot, has helped bring the Jazz to victory a couple times here and there. Jinglin’ Joe did exactly that during the playoffs where he led them to a 105-98 win over the Los Angeles Clippers which evened the series 2-2. Ingles’ starting position at small forward will be his opportunity to try and create more passes and set up for better shot opportunities.
Rookie Center Tony Bradley and rookie shooting guard Donovan Mitchell were both signed to multi-year contracts with the Jazz. Bradley was originally selected 28th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, but he was exchanged for draft rights to Thomas Bryant and Josh Hart. Mitchell was chosen 13th overall by the Denver Nuggets until he was swapped for Trey Lyles and draft rights to Tyler Lydon. Both players showed the basketball world their willingness to handle the ball and make good shots. Their impact on the team would be incredible and frightening if they’re able to translate their stats from the Summer League to the 2017-18 season.
Boris Diaw‘s contract was placed on the waivers and he became a free agents just a couple of days later. Former Celtic Jonas Jerebko, Atlanta Hawks Thabo Sefolosha, and unrestricted free agent Royce O’Neale signed another batch of multi-year contracts with the Jazz. Each of these newly signed players have their own unique traits that could prove beneficial assets for Utah if used correctly.
Forwards Ekpe Udoh and Joe Ingles both signed another pair of multi-year contracts while free agent Eric Griffin and guard Nate Wolters signed two-way contracts with the team. If these players could become into a good rotation on the bench, the Jazz are going to be something else without a doubt.
Veteran point guard Ricky Rubio was also added into the mix during the off-season. He gives Utah another player with prior knowledge that can be used in game situations and also help lead the young players. He did a exceptional job with the Minnesota Timberwolves last year, averaging 11.1 points and 9.1 assists. He will be ready to take over in his new city.
With the continuously improving Rudy Gobert and rising stars like Exum and Hood, the future looks nothing but bright with this set of players. Veterans Ricky Rubio and Joe Johnson will work off some steam after losing two of their key players.
It just seems nearly impossible to imagine that Gobert would do anything less than carry his team to as much victories as possible. With his positive mentality, it’d be difficult for his fellow teammates to not follow his lead and go down a path that leads to yet another winning season, and maybe if they’re dominant enough, they’ll create themselves into one of the top contenders in the west.
Stranger things have happened, and the Jazz don’t seem to be giving up anytime soon. Nonetheless, it still might take them awhile to get used to this new team, since it did take them awhile to adjust to last season’s lineup. Expect Salt Lake City to walk away with 45 wins this season.
Embed from Getty Images