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2018-19 Season Preview: The Jazz Look To Keep The Rhythm Going

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

After a surprising playoff run, Donovan Mitchell and Utah look to take the next step this year.

After two straight runs to the second round of the playoffs, expectations are high for the Utah Jazz. The Jazz, with their talented core and defensive prowess, have what it takes to go even deeper in the postseason.

The Core

After a turbulent start to last season, the Jazz fell into a groove, going 29-6 in their last 35 games. Rudy Gobert, after being sidelined with two different leg injuries, transformed the team from being lottery-bound into one of the most feared in the league. Gobert averaged 13.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. He also led the league in screen assists with 6.2 per game, freeing his teammates up for buckets with his devastating screens more than anyone else in the NBA

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Gobert’s return to action also sparked Donovan Mitchell’s trip to stardom. Mitchell filled the void that Gordon Hayward left when he decided to join the Boston Celtics instead of re-signing in Utah. Mitchell turned into a prolific scorer and leader, as well as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Mitchell averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in the regular season, and upped his averages to 24.4/5.7/4.0 with a 51.2 true shooting percentage in the playoffs. 

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AP

While Gobert and Mitchell capture the spotlight, the Jazz are not a two-man team. Ricky Rubio thrived in his first in Utah, tallying career highs in points, field goal percentage, usage percentage, and points per isolation. Joe Ingles is a tremendous 3-and-D player, shooting 44% from deep and snatching 1.5 steals per game all while shutting down opposing stars. Derrick Favors works well in the frontcourt with Gobert, despite their similar styles, and has developed into a threat rolling to the rim after setting screens. 

After coming over from Cleveland at the trade deadline, Jae Crowder brought a new intensity to the team and was unbenchable during the playoffs. 

Dante Exum, still only 23 years old, and Thabo Sefolosha will also be fully healthy this season, giving coach Quin Snyder even more length and leadership to work with. 

The Defense

Quin Snyder has turned the Jazz into a defensive juggernaut. Last season, the Jazz finished with a defensive rating of 101.6, second best in the NBA. Aside from their abysmal start to the season, they were the league’s premiere defensive team. 

The defense starts, obviously, with Gobert, last season’s Defensive Player of the Year. He posted 4.6 defensive box plus/minus, second highest in the NBA behind Andre Drummond. The Jazz’s defensive scheme is centered around Gobert roaming around the rim. The wing defenders play tight around the three-point arc, and if a ball handler gets by, Gobert is there to disrupt the shot.

The whole Utah team buys into Snyder’s defensive-minded gameplan. They switch well, block passing lanes, and can defend the pick-and-roll. They allowed the second fewest second-chance points and points in the paint per game, as well as the fewest fast break points per game last year. Opponents shot 44.9% from the field (sixth lowest), only giving up 1.2 points per possession (seventh lowest). 

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The Upcoming Season

The biggest concern for the Jazz is player health. Gobert, Sefolosha, and Exum all battled injuries during the regular season, and Mitchell and Rubio were sidelined for parts of the playoffs. If the Jazz can stay healthy, a 50-win season is not inconceivable. 

Mitchell had a stellar rookie year and can develop even more as a sophomore. Gobert has established himself as the NBA’s best defensive center in the last two years. Ingles and Rubio are two of the most underrated players at their positions. Favors, Crowder, Sefolosha, Exum, and Royce O’Neal can be a scary second unit. Grayson Allen, the Jazz’s first-round draft pick, might even prove to be a valuable shooter off the bench, similar to Joe Harris in Brooklyn. 

Even though the Western Conference got a lot better this season, do not be surprised if the Jazz quietly sit towards the top of the standings.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
Who was the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz in the 2016-17 season?
Created 9/27/18
  1. Shelvin Mack
  2. George Hill
  3. Ricky Rubio
  4. Dante Exum

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