The Utah Jazz 2021 Season Preview

Projected Starting Lineup C: Rudy Gobert - Derrick Favors - Udoka Azubuike

PF: Royce O'Neale - Georges Niang

SF: Bojan Bogdanovic - Joe Ingles

SG: Donovan Mitchell - Shaq Harrison - Elijah Hughes

PG: Mike Conley - Jordan Clarkson Utah returns with the same core lineup and Rudy Gobert now locked up for 5 years. Last year, they were a first round exit in Game 7 to the Denver Nuggets, but I still like their core and think they added a couple of really underrated pieces to strengthen their depth a lot. Using lineup data, Utah's 7 best players all returns and their two bench additions were huge for their respective teams last year. +10.9 - Rudy Gobert (returns)

+8.5 - Royce O'Neale (returns)

+8.0 - Bojan Bogdanovic (returns)

+7.3 - Joe Ingles (returns)

+1.9 - Jordan Clarkson (returns)

-0.4 - Mike Conley (returns)

-0.9 - Donovan Mitchell (returns)

-4.4 - Tony Bradley (gone)

-6.5 - Emmanuel Mudiay (gone)

-6.7 - Georges Niang (returns)

-13.4 - Jeff Green (gone)

-20.5 - Ed Davis (gone)

+12.2 - Shaq Harrison (1st on Chicago)

+9.0 - Derrick Favors (1st on New Orleans) Now clearly on/off numbers don't directly correlate with how good a player actually is, but it can tell you how effective they are in their role, and what Shaq and Favors did in their roles shouldn't be much more than what they're asked to do in Utah, and I expect them to be solid contributors for this year's upcoming Jazz team in contrast of Tony Bradley and Emmanuel Mudiay. Rudy Gobert signed a max extension today which inspired me to talk about the Jazz today, 5 years for 205 million dollars a year. A lot of people are trying to justify the deal as "what other option does Utah have?" but I don't think this is a dark reality of a life in purgatory suffering through first and second round exits year after year for Jazz fans. What I believe, deep in my core, is that... Rudy Gobert is a top 12 player. He doesn't do much, but what he does do is at the very top echelon of what anyone can do in the NBA. I think he's a top 3 lob threat in the NBA, behind Giannis and Davis, maybe Zion; a top 3 rebounder behind Giannis and Drummond; and a top 3 interior defender, which to those unaware, is still the most efficient place to score a basketball even if the NBA is being stretched out further and further. He's a man if built around properly, can reliably bring your team to conference final consistently for many years with some real title dreams. I really believe he doesn't limit an offence at all. No, he can't be your main guy, and shouldn't be your second guy, but you're not gonna find much better lob partners in the NBA to run a pick and roll with. I know I'm a hater but I think the Jazz' potential is limited solely due to Donovan Mitchell's limitations as a playmaker. I know he can score a bunch, but if he was a better pick and roll guy they'd be so dangerous. But, I digress; to me, there's two angles on how to build a championship roster: An elite offence, or an elite defence. The same way you think of a team needing a true "#1 option" to go to offensively, you need a true #1 option defensively if you're going to build your team as a championship defence. The problem is, there's a lot less #1 options on the defensive side of the ball than there is offensively. If you consider each # as a role, what's the highest role this player could fill offensively or defensively and you still be a championship team? Can Donovan Mitchell be the best offensive player on a team and lead them to an elite level offence? Probably not, the Jazz were 10th in the league in offensive rating, +2.2 points above league average, with Mitchell only moving the needle +2.4 points higher while on the court and +2.95 over the course of his career. So basically they were league average without him, above average with him. Defensively, the Jazz were only +0.2 better than league average but Gobert was +5.88 in terms of his impact, twice that of Mitchell's offense, and +4.65 over the last 4 years leading the Jazz to the 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd best defences in the three years prior. I don't think I really needed stats to tell you he's an impactful defender though, he's won 2 of the last 3 defensive player of the year awards, Gobert is clearly a #1 option to an elite level defence, the problem is that Utah doesn't really have a #2 option. Breaking down the main guys this year, in my head, this is how I see it: Rudy Gobert - #3 offensively, #1 defensively Royce O'Neale - #4 offensively, #3 defensively Bojan Bogdanovic - #3 offensively, #5 defensively Donovan Mitchell - #2 offensively, #4 defensively Mike Conley - #2/3 offensively, #3 defensively (depends if Conley can bounce back this year) Joe Ingles - #3 offensively, #4 defensively Jordan Clarkson - #3 offensively, #5 defensively Derrick Favors - #5 offensively, #2 defensively So, you can kind of see, they have a pretty nice core to just add one extra piece, an elite offensive player or a really strong defender. One of those is a lot easier to add. And that leads me in to fantasizing about Shaq Harrison from the Chicago Bulls getting a bigger role this year with the Jazz. I don't know too much about him outside of highlights I watched. He only played 484 minutes last year with the Bulls, but was a monstrous +9.81 defensively (102.59 defensive rating), and his per 36 averages were 2.5 steals and 1.4 blocks last season. The only people to ever average that over 1000 minutes played in a season are Bobby Jones, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Gerald Wallace. The four of those guys made 30 all-defensive teams combined, 3 DPOY awards, possibly more were it an award during Bobby Jones' prime, and 3 of them are hall of famers. Watching Shaq's highlights, he's fantastic getting around screens and poking the ball loose, if you drive on him he hand great hands for swipe down blocks, he's super active rotating from the low-block, gets out to the perimetre to contest, he kind of seems able to do it all except handle bigs in the post, but that's what Gobert's for. Now! Doing it for only 484 minutes off the bench is a lot less impressive of course, but it definitely sheds a ray of hope as him being that #2 guy defensively. He also shot .381 on decent volume, 3.1 attempts per 36 so he's definitely worth thinking of as at least a #4 for an offence. He ended the season starting the last 6 games of the season (10 total on the year), the last 4 with over 28 minutes played each game, and in that 4 game stretch he played 32 minutes per game averaging 14/6.3/3.3 with 2.5 steals and 1.8 blocks (also .526/.667/.800 shooting splits), which is pretty consistent with what he showed all year just in larger stretches, so I'm pretty up on him. If Shaq Harrison can shoot 38% from 3 and be their primary perimetre/wing defender, I think he might be the secret weapon they needed. But, again, this is all based off a very small sample size by a man with a penchant for small market teams. I know I'm over-ambitious about their defence, but I do think they have the potential to surprise people. I think their two most disappointing players last year in the regular season were also their two best offensive players. Mitchell was historic in the playoffs as I'll show in a graph below, but regular-season I don't think he did enough, and then Conley fell off a cliff as soon as he got to Utah, but I haven't given up on him, since he was so good for so long in Memphis I'm not willing to accept he's over the hill. If those two can be a little better which I think is very, very realistic, they were already a top 10 offence last year, I think they could sneak up a couple spots, and their defence should really jump back up with Favors returning and Harrison being added, to at least top 5, hopefully top 3. I have them as the 5 seed, but I could see them even making the 3 seed, but also maybe back down to the 6 seed. The west is a bloodbath and it's really hard to tell. Below, all players with at least 100+ minutes played during the post-season, plotting their points per 100 possessions and their true shooting percentage. Donovan Mitchell became the only player to average over 50 points, only 4 other players have ever averaged over 45 (Michael Jordan 3 times, Hakeem Olajuwon in '88, LeBron James in '09, and Russell Westbrook in '17).

My Atlanta Hawks 2021 projection My Boston Celtics 2021 projection All my data was sourced from either and, written by W. Smith.

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