A Blessing or a Curse: Two Sides of the Consistency Coin

September 27th, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

The Jazz chose to keep the gang together. Was that the right move? (Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com)

After the Utah Jazz won 29 of their last 35 games in the 2017-18 season, NBA fans wondered if they were real, if the success was viable. Utah was the hottest team in the league post All-Star break and then picked up a convincing series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs last spring. Instead of shaking things up, the Jazz bet on themselves to keep the good times rolling into the 2018-19 season.

The sample size wasn’t kidding – the Jazz were elite and could hang with the best. However, the skeptics weren’t kidding either – by keeping the same core, is the success sustainable?

One such critic, Shaun Powell of NBA.com, brings up the 2016 Portland Trail Blazers as a comparison for what the Jazz are, and could be.

“In 2016, the young Portland Trail Blazers made the playoffs, stunning the LA Clippers in the first round before giving the Golden State Warriors a feisty series in the semis,” Powell wrote just before Utah opened training camp. “Encouraged by the bounce and swagger showed by an emerging club, the Blazers handed out contract extensions and… they haven’t done anything special since. In hindsight, every one of those extensions look like a mistake.

“The lesson: Fool’s gold can sometimes, um, fool you. Are the Jazz headed down that path?”

Powell has a valid point: the Jazz have swagger and the scent of success on the edge of their noses. They’ve had it; they can replicate it. On top of that, like Portland, the Jazz returned their core which could limit their overall ceiling. In the summer of 2018, the Jazz mirrored that Portland offseason and resigned two key players – Derrick Favors and Dante Exum – to deals that may not be worthwhile down the road.  New additions? Rookie Grayson Allen, that’s it. Based on the offseason, did the Jazz stagnate?

However, it’s easy to argue the other side to this conversation. Would you rather have a team that knows and trusts each other or a team like Houston who lost key contributors and defenders? Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers added LeBron James, but they also added a bench of kazoos. Would you take the Jazz to have a better regular season record or that LA team that is young and trying to mesh with their ball-dominant superhero named LBJ? New Orleans brings forward a retooled team as do the San Antonio Spurs. Why might Denver actually crack into the playoffs? They are running back their main dudes.

Continuity, in this writer’s opinion, is what puts the Jazz in the discussion as a top-three Western Conference team alongside the Golden State Warriors (who return their All-Stars and know their roles, system) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (who return their All-Stars and know their roles, system).  

The discussion of Utah’s continuity should start with the big dude standing 7-foot-1. Gobert is a counter to Powell’s original point, but the Stifle Tower could also prove it, simply with his health. The Jazz went streaking as soon as Gobert was back at full strength and playing in crunch time. It was no coincidence as Gobert is the engine that fueled the run to the playoffs, and to his own coronation as the Defensive Player of the Year. When Gobert is healthy, the Jazz are elite. When Gobert is injured, the Jazz may be a Portland-like disappointment.

Other journalists around the NBA dug into the question of how wise it was for Utah to stand pat, bouncing back and forth on if that is the right route for the Jazz to go. Naturally, the Utah Jazz and its core members also have an opinion on the matter.

Point guard Ricky Rubio addressed the chemistry benefits that come with a familiar roster. “We’re starting from a different point,” Rubio told 1280 the Zone on media day. “When you start a new season, you always have (some) new players to adapt. We’re all on the same page and we like each other. That chemistry is hard to find and it’s going to help us from day one.”

Joe Ingles, however, cautions people away from thinking the team can just pick right back up to where they were last year.

“We’re still going to be a different team this year,” Ingles said. “We’re not going to be exactly the same as what we were last year. I think everyone will expect us to click our fingers and we’ll be back playing how we were in the playoffs and the last half of the year.”

The Aussie forward continued: “It’s still going to take time. We’ve got a great group and bringing a lot of those same guys back will give us a head start where we know each other and we know how we’re going to play.”

On top of resigning Favors and Exum, the Jazz are also hoping that internal development can fuel what Ingles describes as being that “different team.” Rubio has been in the system for a year while familiarizing himself with the offense, his teammates, and the coaching staff’s expectations. Midseason acquisition Jae Crowder has lost 15 pounds to better condition himself for the Utah Jazz style. He too has had a few extra months to refine his relationship within the Utah scheme and should be a valuable addition for an entire season, not just the last 30 or so games.

And then there’s Donovan Mitchell, the rookie sensation. With a more consistent three-point shot, perhaps more ball-handling and play-making, will he take a step forward from a memorable year one? If so, the Jazz are a better team from a year ago. Factor Royce O’Neale into that equation as well. He came alive in January to became a key member in the rotation so what does his player development arc look like now? Does he help push the team into another level, or could he be a cause the team simply stays afloat?

Wagering on internal development for Rubio, Crowder, Mitchell, and O’Neale puts the Jazz into ‘new’ team territory while also raising the stakes for how far this team can go.

And we haven’t even really talked about Dante Exum as an X-factor either. How many summers have we heard front office personnel say that getting an injured player back was the proverbial “biggest free agent acquisition”? Can the same be said for the Australian X?

With all this in mind, coach Quin Snyder still doesn’t want the team to just expect to be the same. For Coach, it’s not about merely reliving last season, one that ended with a 4-1 series loss to Houston in the second round.

“I don’t want to pick up where we left off,” Snyder said at media day. “That implies it’s the same group beginning to do something. This is a new journey. We can take with us the experience. We can take with us the chemistry and the things we learned. But this is a new team.”

He added, “Although you want continuity, you don’t want complacency. I was talking to the team about this. You get people back and you think we’re going to be what we were. I want our guys to be something else… something more.”

More wins, better playoff seeding, and advancing further in the playoffs is the collective goal for all of Utah, not just the team.

Betting on themselves is the route they’ve chosen to make it all happen.

 

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

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  1. Pingback: Thabo Factor: Sefolosha’s Defense and Smarts Elevate Teammates’ Play | Salt City Hoops

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