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Five Things To Know This Early In The Season

todayDecember 3, 2021 14

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Entering the season, the Utah Jazz weren’t shy when talking about their goals for the season.

No matter who was asked — whether it be Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, or head coach Quin Snyder — there was never any talk of individual awards.

Despite famously being left off last season, Mitchell never spoke about making an all-NBA team. Gobert never mentioned tying the record with four defensive player of the year awards. And Snyder never talked about being named coach of the year, an honor he’s been close to winning multiple times.

But the one thing all three of them had in common, the one goal they all mentioned, was the exact same: They all want to bring Salt Lake City and the Jazz their first NBA championship.

“Two years ago we were searching for an identity in the bubble, and we think we found it last year when we had the best record in the league,” Mitchell said. “But we came up short in the playoffs, so this year we want to push past the second round. It’s nice to have the best record, but now we want to be the last team standing.”

Bringing Utah a title is one of the primary reasons all-star point guard Mike Conley elected to return to the team after becoming an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. 

“Going through the free agency process, I didn’t really think I was going to be a true free agent. … This is a special organization from top to bottom, and I knew I wouldn’t find something like it anywhere else,” Conley said. “To win a championship here, sticking it out through the tough times to take the long road where it’s never been done, that’s special. That was a major factor in me returning to the team.”

“Yeah, it would be cool to do that. … It would be cool to bring the city its first title. That’s what we playing for,” free agent acquisition Hassan Whiteside added.

It’s just over a quarter into the season, and it’s time to see how the Jazz are doing in accomplishing that goal. From the offseason additions to Gobert’s offensive improvement and the team prioritizing health, here are five things to take note of early in the season.

1.) Gobert Is More Than A Defensive Player Of The Year
In what’s become highly well-known throughout the league, Gobert is one of the premier defensive players in the league. 

At 7-feet tall with swift feet and long arms, his ability to defend centers and switch out on the perimeter to defend guards is unmatched by anyone in the NBA. There’s a reason why he’s won the defensive player of the year three of the past four seasons and may be even better this year.

But the point of this story isn’t about Gobert’s greatness on defense. It’s about his offensive skillset evolving and continuing to take steps forward.

Gobert is averaging 15.1 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. His points per game and free throw percentage (66.7%) are the second-most he’s averaged in a season, but his 73.1% shooting percentage is tops in his career.

He’s added an array of skills on the offensive side of the ball. From the eurostep to the mini jumper, Gobert has proven that he’s somebody defenses need to account for on that end of the court as well. 

The most significant part of his evolution has been the consistency he scored. He’s got 16 double-doubles on the season, 16 games where he’s scored at least double figures, four of which have come where he’s dropped 20+ points.

“He did it in the preseason, he did it in training camp, and now I think that’s the level we’re going to see out of him,” Mitchell said of Gobert.

If Mitchell turns out to be right — and every indication says he is — then look for the Jazz to become that much more dangerous in April, May, and June. 

2.) Depth Better Than Ever
When Utah was eliminated in the postseason last year, there was a lot of talk about how the Jazz lacked versatility to play with teams when they went smaller. Minimal discussion was made regarding the injuries to Mitchell and Conley, two reasons much more likely as to why Utah fell to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games.

Even so, GM Justin Zanik and Snyder went out and brought in three new players to help the Jazz become more versatile than ever before. Eric Paschall came from Golden State in a trade while Whiteside and Rudy Gay signed as free agents. 

On paper, the signings looked good. But no one would really know until they all got on the court — and even then, Gay missed the first month of the season recovering from offseason heel surgery.

After seeing all three players on the court, it’s safe to say the Jazz might be the deepest team in the league. 

Utah can play up to 10 players, all of whom are current starters or started at some point in the last 2-3 seasons. That sort of depth is unparalleled when you can combine Paschall, Whiteside, and Gay with reigning sixth many of the year Jordan Clarkson and runner-up Joe Ingles — that five alone could start in the league.

Whiteside (7.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks) and Gay (10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists) have a positive plus/minus on the season.

Whiteside provides massive size and offensive skillset when sparing Gobert. Gay is a savvy veteran who can space the floor and run the offense, while Paschall gives energy and physicality for when the team needs a spark.

3.) Health A Massive Priority This Season
As mentioned above, very little talk was made regarding Mitchell and Conley’s injuries in the postseason. While a team never wants to blame injuries for why they lost — especially in a playoff series — losing two of your three all-stars is challenging to overcome.

With that in mind, Snyder has made a massive priority that rest will come into play this season. Rather than chasing the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, Utah has elected to rest certain players with the hope of having a fully healthy team come postseason time.

The Jazz don’t have a single player ranked in the top-50 of minutes per game, with Donovan Mitchell checking in at No. 65 with 32.2 minutes per game. Utah’s entire starting five — Mitchell, Gobert, Conley, Royce O’Neale, and Bojan Bogdanovic — are playing less than last season. The same goes for Ingles, Clarkson, and Gay. 

The Jazz have 10 players averaging at least 12 minutes per game.

It’s expected that Snyder will begin to amp up minutes later in the season, but for now, Utah is proving itself as one of the deepest teams in the league and prioritizing health — a scary thought for other teams in the league.

4.) Jazz Dominant On Both Ends Of The Court
After the first couple weeks of the season, there was a lot of talk about Utah’s offense. The ball movement had slowed, and the number of passes had declined. With it, the Jazz struggled shooting the ball from everywhere on the court, often missing wide-open shots they’ve been accustomed to making.

Throughout the struggles, and politely answering question after question regarding the matter, Snyder insisted that the offense was fine. The shots would begin to fall at some point, and there was no reason to panic. 

Now 21 games in, and it appears Snyder was right.

Utah is one of three teams in the NBA to rank in the top-seven of both offensive and defensive rating, joining Golden State and Phoenix. 

The Jazz have an offensive rating of 115.2, nearly three points better than second-place Atlanta. This comes with only Mitchell (23.2 ppg) ranking in the top-50 of scoring throughout the season for the team.

Even more impressive, and something Snyder continues to stress in practice and during games, Utah is ranked seventh in defensive rating at 105.4. 

Altogether, the Jazz have a net rating of +9.8, second in the league behind the Warriors. 

5.) Triple-Double Watch Continues
It was 5,041 days ago when the Jazz walked off the court against the Seattle Supersonics — yes, those Seattle Supersonics — with an accomplishment. Big man Carlos Boozer finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in the victory, a highly respected triple-double in the NBA.

But since that night in Seattle, the Jazz have walked off the court from every regular season game waiting for the next triple-double. Utah is the only team in the league not to have a regular season triple-double during that span. 

It should be noted that Ricky Rubio dropped 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 2016 playoff victory — but nothing in the regular season.

So the watch continues.

Mitchell has been close numerous times, as have Ingles and Gobert. 

While it may seem odd that one of the best teams in the league over the last decade doesn’t have a triple-double during that time, it isn’t considering Snyder’s offense. There isn’t one star for the Jazz, but rather a collection of talent that works together to achieve the common goal.

“We’ve got a lot of options and weapons to use offensively,” Clarkson said. “When everybody is flowing, and you go down the line, and you see 15 (points), 10, 20, 20, 8, 12. … When you see that, you know we’re going to win the game, and we’re playing super well.”

While the watch continues, Mitchell isn’t afraid to admit that breaking the streak would be cool, but he won’t do anything different to achieve the goal.

“It would be cool,” Mitchell said. “I’ve never had one in my career, so it would be cool. Whoever gets it, gets it. It would be cool for me to have it, and it be my first time. If it happens, it happens.”

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