The Utah Jazz are coming off their best season in recent memory. They have a great mix of young talent, high-level veterans, and an up-and-coming coach in Quin Snyder. This year will be the first time they’ve had this much depth since the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
The Utah Jazz Potential Starting Lineup is a team that has been doubted for years. They have had to overcome many obstacles, but are now the favorites in the Western Conference.
The Jazz’s season ended in disappointment when they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Clippers, after having stormed to the No. 1 seed during the regular season. It was the most distance Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert had traveled together in the previous four seasons. For the first time since 2007, the two will try to return the Jazz to the Conference Finals.
The Jazz have returned the majority of the players that helped them to a 52-20 record last season. In addition, the club returns two important sixth men, as well as an undervalued free agent and draft selection. Can the Jazz, who have received a lot of attention for their accomplishment, repeat it while working under the microscope? Can the Jazz finally put the naysayers to rest?
Mike Conley Jr., point guard
Image courtesy of Getty Images
Image courtesy of Getty Images
Conley has been the glue man who has kept the offense together since being acquired from the Grizzlies. Mitchell is able to play more off the ball because of his presence. Conley’s contribution was recognized by the league, and he was named to his first All-Star Game, which may come as a surprise given that he is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in points and assists.
Last season, Conley averaged 16.2 points and 6.0 assists per game. The fact that he shot 44.4 percent from the field, including 41.2 percent from three-point range, is maybe more remarkable. The Jazz finished fourth in the NBA in points per possession, behind only the Bucks, Nets, and Wizards.
Donovan Mitchell, Shooting Guard
(Image courtesy of Marca)
Mitchell is considered by some to be one of the league’s most underappreciated players. There’s a chance that’s true. Mitchell was named to his second consecutive All-Star game last season after having his finest season to date. The 25-year-old had a career-high 26.4 points per game and 5.2 assists per game. His rebounding matched a career high, while his three-point shooting percentage (38.6%) was his highest.
In recent years, Mitchell has been likened to Dwyane Wade. Both of them have a similar style of play. The major distinction is that Wade led the Miami Heat to an NBA championship in his third season and was named Finals MVP. Despite guiding the Jazz to a No. 1 seed in the regular season, Mitchell has failed to go beyond the second round. Will Mitchell finally be able to quiet his detractors this year?
Bojan Bogdanovic, Small Forward
The Jazz faced the Denver Nuggets in a back-and-forth seven-game series in 2020, which included one of Mitchell’s greatest fights with Jamal Murray. Finally, the Jazz were put to the test in the first round. The Jazz could have advanced to the second round if Bogdanovic had not missed the whole playoff series and the second half of the regular season.
It was clear why Bogdanovic is so essential to the squad when he was well. Last year, Bogdanovic’s statistics dropped. He went from 20.2 to 17.0 points per game. His rebounding and assist statistics were both down marginally, while his shooting stats were down 2%. When he played, the Jazz were a top-5 offense and a one-seed. He’ll have to remain healthy for the squad to succeed.
Royce O’Neal, Power Forward
O’Neal is well aware of his position on this squad. O’Neal had a 7.0 point and 6.8 rebound per game average. He’ll try to match the statistics that Derrick Favors put up for the club all those years. Now that Favors is no longer with the club due to salary limit issues, O’Neal will have to step up to the plate.
With four major contributors, a starting five is required, and O’Neal is the fifth option who will be expected to score a basket and make a defensive stop here and there. One intriguing statistic about O’Neal is that his offensive rating per 100 possessions was at a career high last year. O’Neal scored 121 points, which is far over the league average.
Rudy Gobert (center)
Gobert is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and he has won the honor three times in his career. Gobert had the most defensive rebounds and was second in blocks in the league. He averaged 14.3 points and 13.5 rebounds per game with the Jazz. He’s established himself as the league’s top rim protector.
Gobert led the Jazz to the league’s third-best defensive rating as a team. The Jazz finished with the best overall record because to their mix of offense and defense. Now the club must figure out how to carry that success into the playoffs, since Gobert has never been in an NBA Conference or Final.
Jordan Clarkson, Jared Butler, Trent Forrest, Joe Ingles, Miye Oni, Elijah Hughes, Derrick Alston Jr, Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, Hassan Whiteside, Udoka Azubike, Jordan Clarkson, Jared Butler, Trent Forrest, Joe Ingles, Miye Oni, Elijah Hughes, Derrick Alston Jr, Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, Hassan Whiteside, Udoka Azubike
What could be more handy than having the Sixth Man of the Year and the runner-up on the same team? Jordan Clarkson, who won the award after averaging 18.4 points per game as a reserve, is back. With 12.1 points and 4.7 assists, Joe Ingles finished second. The fact that they both came off the bench breathed new energy into the second unit and enabled some of the team’s key players to really relax.
The Jazz found a way to restock despite losing Favors. Hassan Whiteside was an underappreciated acquisition. Whiteside stands to lose everything, while the Jazz stand to win everything. Just two seasons ago, Whiteside averaged 15.5 points and 13.5 rebounds as a starter for the Trail Blazers. The greatest starting/backup center combo in the NBA next year might be Gobert and Whiteside swapped out.
Rudy Gay, who averaged 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20 minutes of play, is another noteworthy addition. Gay is 35 years old and one of the league’s more seasoned veterans. Jared Butler may be the best bargain in the draft. Butler was the team’s top offensive player for the National Champion Baylor Bears, while Davion Mitchell was the focus of the draft. Keep a watch on Udoka Azubuike’s progress, since he was previously regarded as a high college talent.
Will Jazz be able to silence the skeptics?
The simple answer is yes, and we’ll go even farther. This is why the Jazz will reach the Western Conference Finals this season. For openers, the club returns a team that finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed. That has to be significant. The Jazz outperformed the Phoenix Suns, who advanced to the NBA Finals. We could be talking about the Clippers instead of the Suns if Kawhi Leonard had never been injured. The Jazz, who were beaten by the Clippers, now have an opportunity since the Clippers seem to be taking a year off.
On paper, the Jazz are a superior club than the Suns in this league. The Jazz would have been in the Conference Finals, most likely against the Clippers, if they had played the Nuggets instead of the Clippers. In all likelihood, the Jazz and Lakers will meet in the Conference Finals.
Donovan Mitchell is one of the league’s unique players. As a younger player in the league, he possesses the mindset of some of the greats like Wade and Kobe Bryant. If you look at his track record, he has steadily improved each year. He is also emotionally invested in becoming a legacy player. If he scores more than 30 points per game this season and the Jazz return to the top seed, no one should be surprised.
As previously said, the Jazz’s offense and defense are perfectly balanced on both units. The squad has a 10-player depth chart, with a strong rotation at each of the five positions. This is the formula used by the league’s top teams.
It’s impossible to anticipate what will happen in the NBA, but Utah fans should be thrilled. Since the late 1990s teams featured John Stockton and Karl Malone, this squad has the greatest potential. Giannis Antetkounmpo defied the odds by guiding his first-round draft picks to the promised land. Mitchell may have the opportunity to do the same this year.
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