Staff Post: The Jazz’s Place in the WC, Impact of Additions, Starting Spots & More

July 19th, 2019 | by Salt City Hoops

Can Mitchell and his Jazz slice their way through a competitive Western Conference? (Bob Levey via ESPN.com)

The waiting-for-Woj-alert-texts part of the NBA offseason is mostly behind us. Which means the step-back-and-figure-out-what-just-happened part of the offseason is here.

We’re on it.

Five Salt City Hoops writers take on the task of figuring out the revamped Jazz’s place in a completely restructured Western Conference. They’ll also weigh in on the impact of Utah’s acquisitions, solve lineup riddles, and even take a stab at figuring out the next great Jazz rivalry. Dig in!

Now that the Jazz and their Western Conference peers have completed the majority of their offseason moves, what do you see as Utah’s most likely seeding range?

Clark Schmutz: The Nuggets, Clippers, Rockets and Jazz will all battle fo rthe top seed in the West. Those are the four best western teams. I’m not going to jinx the Jazz by making any specific predictions, but with Denver’s defense, the Rockets’ potential chemistry issues, and the Clippers’ load management next year, the Jazz have as good a chance as anyone of being the top seed.

Mark Russell Pereira: Two through five. We cannot predict which teams will be affected by injuries — both with respect to quality of players who will miss time or the quantity of games they’ll miss — so we must take all teams’ rosters at face value. With that said, Utah’s typically precise offense and consistent defense will wear down inexperienced rosters. That means Utah should win dependably against middling-to-bad teams (8th-best in the NBA in 2018 against below-.500 teams at 30-11) to goose up the record. To reach the top of the conference, Utah will need to frequently beat top-end talent in premier matchups, or catch them managing loads.

John Keeffer: After the Mike Conley trade, and factoring in the injuries to Golden State, I really believed the Jazz had a shot to be the top team in the West. Then free agency happened, and while the Jazz did improve, so did most of the top teams in the conference. I expect them to finish in the three to five range, with teams like Denver, Houston and either of the L.A. teams potentially finishing ahead of them. That said, I could see a scenario where the Jazz really perform well in the regular season.  Both L.A. teams and Houston are going to have to go through growing pains of integrating stars onto their rosters. The newly acquired pieces for the Jazz are going to fit much better right from the start in my opinion. If that’s the case, they could get into a regular season groove and finish in the top three.

David J. Smith: Each yar, we say that the Western Conference will be ridiculously competitive. Well this time, we really mean it. It feels like most of the teams got better, some even improving their situations dramatically. The Jazz will be one of the top three or four in the conference. It would not surprise me to see them rise to the top seed should the Clippers or Lakers go into “load management” mode, but my official guess would be second. The bottom half of the bracket will be incrediby tight once again.

Austin Facer: I foresee the Jazz being a top four seed and claiming homecourt advantage in the playoffs. My thinking is that the Nuggets are being criminally underrated and will be the top team in the West next season, followed by either Utah or one of the two L.A. clubs. The Rockets got a lot of buzz for the Russell Westbrook trade, but I don’t see them being better. I predict a huge conflict between how they like to play and the shortcomings in Westbrook’s game, especially when it comes to shooting the ball from deep.

Which returning Jazz player will benefit the most from the new roster additions?

Clark: Rudy Gobert. When a stretch four played alongside Gobert last season, instead of Derrick Favors, the offense instantly became five points per 100 possessions better. Gobert is going to have a lot more room inside since the Jazz will stretch the floor for all 48 minutes, every game.

Mark: Donovan Mitchell. We have witnessed several games where Mitchell’s ability appeared to have no ceiling, including while facing inordinate amounts of defensive attention from opponents. However, that same attention has also shaken Mitchell into poor shooting performances and tunnel vision at times, which is understandable as he develops and learns the right countermoves and counter-countermoves. It is reasonable to expect that his development curve will now will now accelerate with more capable and versatile offensive talent. Also, Mitchell’s defensive potential may be more fully realized with lower pressure on the offensive end — something Mitchell himself reportedly mentioned recently as an area he can improve upon.

John: Get ready for Mitchell to have a career year. Not only do most players experience a massive leap from their second to third seasons, but the additions to this roster are tailor-made to benefit Mitchell. Most of his detractors are going to point to his inefficiency, but he was taking on a historically large usage rate. As the lone offensive force of the Jazz, teams could double down on Mitchell with confidence. That led to him being forced into difficult decisions. That will not be the case this season. He will most often be surrounded by Conley, Joe Ingles, and Bojan Bogdanovic. If any of them are off the floor, there will still be serviceable offensive players like Jeff Green and Royce O’Neale. Mitchell will still be the focal point of the offense, but teams won’t be able to crowd him and collapse on his drives to the same degree. I can envision a season where Mitchell attempts the same amount of shots but sees a drastic increase in his overall numbers.

David: Ingles. Utah’s point forward shouldered a heavy load, serving as the primary facilitator for much of the season. That combined with his family situation may have led to some burnout by the time the playoffs arrived. With the increased depth and shooting, it allows Quin Snyder to better pace Ingles and possibly bring him off the bench. The bolstered roster should result in more open 3-point looks and extra targets for Ingles to hit with his precious passes. A fresh Ingles could be huge come April.

Austin: Adding a great shooer in Bogdanovic will take a ton of pressure off of Ingles. Everyone loves Ingles, but he really played quite poorly in the playoffs. I’m anticipating him to plateau in terms of what has been an amazing development, but that can be masked by Bogdanovic’s game. Ingles has also been an iron man for the Jazz over the past two and a half seasons, and with Bogdanovic on the team, hopefully he’ll feel less obligated to play big minutes when he’s banged up.

Conley and Bogey obviously project to make big contributions. Which of the other veteran additions — Jeff Green, Ed Davis, Emmanuel Mudiay — will have the biggest impact on the Jazz’s success?

Clark: Ed Davis and Jeff Green are the only possible answers to this question and I will go with Davis. He’s going to provide a ton of energy on both sides of the floor. If he can polish his pick-and-roll technique, he’s going to become one of the most important rotation players in the league.

Mark: Davis. The biggest role Davis will fill, as Favors’ replacement, is as the keystone of an elite defense for 15 minutes per game while Gobert rests. Exerting this defensive pressure against weaker second can lead to massive runs in the early second and four quarters, as it often did with Favors, even after the starting offense had been stuck in mud for 12 minutes. Green and Mudiay, even at their very best, are unlikely to swing entire quarters or leave fans thankful for their ability to save the day when stars are struggling.

John: I lean slightly toward Green over Davis. I wrote recently about how Green went from being too far overrated to the point where now he’s underrated. He is not the star that everyone thought he was going to become, and that damaged his perception among a lot of people. Over the past few seasons, he has transformed into an excellent bench role player. Think of him as a more athletic version of Jae Crowder. While Bogdanovic will fill the majority of the stretch four minutes, Green provides the Jazz another big bodied forward to pair with Gobert. He is just an average 3-point shooter, but he is versatile and excels in transition. He is also another veteran who should be a positive locker room presence.

David: Davis could be the most underrated signing by any team this boisterous offseason. One of the best backup bigs in the NBA, Davis brings truly elite rebounding to a team that may struggle a bit on the boards. He is a long, active defender who will be trouble for opposing second units. By all accounts, Davis is a stellar locker room presence — something needed on a team that is only returning seven of the 17 players who finished the 2018-19 campaign.

Austin: Certainly not Mudiay. I think he’s awful, but that’s not the question at hand. Most of my colleagues have said Davis, but I’ll throw a wrench in and say Green. The fact that he picked Utah as a place to chase a ring indicates that he’s hungry and eager to make a big impact. While the team certainly has grown up a lot in Snyder’s tenure, they’ll still benefit greatly from a player with veteran leadership and experience like Green.

The Jazz have some options at the starting forward spots, so help Snyder out: which lineup would you start?

Clark: Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic and Gobert should be locks. You can make a case for Ingles, Green or O’Neale to be the fifth starter, but I think Ingles would be rejuvenated coming off the bench. I would start O’Neale at the second forward spot and threaten him to shoot more open three-pointers.

Mark: Ingles and Bogdanovic. Gobert’s presence prevents Utah from sacrificing much rebounding or defense by having Bogdanovic and Ingles — easily Utah’s fourth and fifth best players — both start at forward in an ever-shrinking league. Further, I want Bogdanovic, rather than Ingles, operating the bench offense (after a 4-5 minute break in the first quarter). Bogdanovic very efficiently operated a limited offense in Indiana after Victor Oladipo got hurt. I believe Ingles is slightly overmatched as a primary option against the best teams’ second units, and would instead flourish as a starter with minimal defensive attention and tertiary ball-handling duties throughout the game.

John: I’ve always been a proponent of just starting your best players, and building the rest of the rotation from there. The best potential lineup for the Jazz is going to be Conley, Mitchell, Ingles, Bogdanovic and Gobert. That should be Snyder’s starting and closing lineup.

David: The more I think about it, the more O’Neale makes sense alongside Bogdanovic. This would allow the Jazz to have perhaps their most versatile defender on the floor to help Gobert set the tone on that end. He is a capable shooter and penetrator who does not need the ball in his hands to be impactful. With Mitchell, Conley and Bogdanovic, there will be plenty of scorers among the opening five. Additionally, this allows Green to be an offensive option off the pine.

Austin: For years, it has been said that Snyder wants to implement a stretch four into his lineup. He’s got his man in Bogdanovic, and I expect him to start up front. As for who will join him, Ingles starting makes sense, but I could also see him as a terrific sparkplug off the bench — which feels vulgar to say since he has been such a mainstay in the starting lineup for quite some time. Still, that wouldn’t be surprising to me. I could see O’Neale in the starting unit as a result.

Opening night and Christmas Day games are usually saved for the most interesting rivalries and meaningful rematches. Predict Utah’s opponent for one of those big dates.

Clark: Houston. Now that they have knocked Utah out of the playoffs two years running AND added the polarizing Westbrook who has his own playoff history against the Jazz, there are enough storylines to spark a rivalry. It seems inevitable that they will meet for a third time in the playoffs this year. 

Mark: The Denver Nuggets. I am as curious as anyone to see what the revamped Utah offense will look like against their recent bugaboo in the Houston Rockets. But, now that the Oklahoma City Thunder are barely recognizable, Denver provides the most intrigue as a regional rival on an identical team-building timeline. The contrast in styles between the two teams captivates me further. And, while every other fan base turns off their televisions to have Christmas dinner with their families as they await the inevitable Lakers-Clippers nightcap on December 25, they’ll still hear Denver and Utah fans in the distance, each griping, “The national media doesn’t care about our team!”

John: Right now, the Nuggets are the most interesting team to me. The Nuggets went the route that Utah opted to go last offseason, mostly sticking with what they had outside of some small moves around the fringes. Will another year make last year’s 54-win team better? Does continuity really give a team like the Nuggets the advantage? The Jazz, on the other hand, kept their primary stars and then retooled the majority of their roster for the better. Denver and Utah are the two teams that have the best bet to take down the superstar-laden teams in the West. It will be extremely interesting to see which of the two can take down the Rockets and the L.A. teams.

David: While a lot of the NBA talk centers around the two L.A. teams, the two squads in the Rocky Mountains could be right up there. The Nuggets and Jazz feel like franchises that will contend for the next several years. You have some great individual match-ups: Gobert vs. Nikola Jokic, Mitchell and Conley vs. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. Both are deep, with regular-season rotations of nine to 10 talented players. The proximity also leds to the rivalry. A Christmas tilt would make a lot of sense.

Austin: Any answer other than Houston is the wrong answer. Not only have the Rockets eliminated the Jazz in two consecutive playoffs, but now their roster includes Westbrook, who probably hates playing in Utah more than anywhere in the NBA. Pairing the Jazz and Rockets in an opening night or Christmas Day match-up will be must-see TV, especially if the game is at Vivint SmarHome Arena.

 

One Comment

  1. Tool4Rage says:

    Q1: 2-5
    Q2: Mitchell
    Q3: Green
    Q4: O’Neal
    Q5: Houston

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