The Jazz lost a top 20 overall player to free agency, but as Joe Hulbert said in the Double Clutch season guide “The most exciting part of this Utah team is going to be Donovan Mitchell” and man, he did not disappoint. The probable runner-up in the Rookie of the Year race, Donovan put up 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists while leading the Jazz to a 4th place finish in a stacked Western Conference, including an 11 game win streak which included victories over the Raptors, Warriors (Including all 4 of Curry, Thompson, Durant & Green), Spurs (Twice), Pelicans and Blazers, all teams they could potentially match-up against in the playoffs. Aside from Donovan Mitchell the Jazz have benefited massively from the return on big man Rudy Gobert who has anchored the 2nd best defence in the West (and 2nd best overall by 0.2 points over Boston). Since the All-Star Game he has boosted his numbers to 15.6 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists while swatting 2.4 shots and improving his Field Goal Percentage from 57.9 to 69.5% on top of this, and arguably most importantly, for those statistically minded readers, his +/- has gone from a +4.1 pre All-Star Game, to a +14.6 since the break (LeBrons +/- has been +5.4 and everyone can agree how good LeBron has been to close out this season).
“Offence sells tickets. Defence wins games” is a long standing quote which I was told when I started playing basketball. The Jazz have the second best (at time of writing) defence in the league allowing just 100.1 points per game, second only to the San Antonio Spurs (99.8) and slightly ahead of the Boston Celtics (100.3). Rudy Gobert has been a huge defensive presence, he doesn’t quite qualify for season leaders (rules dictate that you need to play 58 games to qualify among league leaders) but if he had he would be second overall in blocks at 2.4 per game, 11th in total rebound percentage: 18.9, 2nd in block percentage: 6.1, 2nd in defensive rating: 99.5, 14th in defensive win shares: 3.7, 2nd in defensive box plus/minus: 4.7. In a nut-shell those are some phenomenal numbers. Add to those numbers that guards Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell are both in the top 20 in steals and join Gobert in the top 20 for defensive win shares and a couple of other categories, Ekpe Udoh is 17th in blocks and lastly Derrick Favors is 20th in defensive box plus/minus (tied with LeBron James). This teams defence is solid across the board.
Offensively the Jazz have struggled this season, their 104.1 points per game is the 3rd worst of all playoff teams, even both NYC teams, the Knicks and the Nets have better offenses, and that’s with Porzingis only playing 48 games. They are relying on a rookie PG, who has been phenomenal at scoring this season, don’t get me wrong, but teams get 7 games to prepare for in the playoffs compared with the regular season, will he be ready for the attention which will inevitably be put on him? Rudy Gobert, who, as good as he has been defensively, is averaging 13.5 points and is the teams second leading scorer, when you think of teams that could go all the way, their second leading scorers are far superior (Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Steph Curry for example) can someone else step-up? Joe Ingles has increased his scoring output from 10.8 to 13.3 points per game since the All Star break but his Field Goal, 3PT and Free Throw percentages are all down in that same period can he bounce back when playoffs start? that’s a few too many questions marks for a team that wants to challenge for an NBA Championship.
This seasons brilliance from Donovan, their outstanding defence and their impressive coaching by Quin Snyder could have massive implications for the Jazz organisation, no-one expected them to be here, at least not 4th in the West, after losing Gordon Hayward it seemed like the Jazz were looking at best, a low playoff seed and an unavoidable loss in the first round of the playoffs against the likes of Houston or Golden State, but instead this young squad (Mitchell 21, Rudy 25, Rubio 27, Favors 26) has given the organisation the glimmer of light that maybe losing Gordon wasn’t that bad.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER?
Joe Ingles has shot 50, 48 and 77 percent in wins this season, he’s shooting 44% from 3PT and is among the league leaders in both true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage, he has had a terrible start to April but if he can bounce back this post-season and Utah can continue their ball movement then they could contend for a deep run in the playoffs.
THE ONE TO WATCH?
Donovan Mitchell, he has been the unquestionable leader of this Jazz squad, despite being a rookie, on 28 October he put up 22 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals leading the Jazz to a blow out win over the LA Lakers, a couple of nights later he put 28 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on Dame Lillard in a statement early win against the Division rival Portland Trailblazers ever since then, this team has been Donovan’s, now lets just sit back and see how far he can take them.
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