Did you have the Utah Jazz being first in the West on your Bingo Card?
The Utah Jazz are off to a shockingly awesome start to the season. Sitting in first place in the West at 9-3, I don’t think anyone predicted them to play this well. The front office basically committed to rebuilding this team after dealing Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. What we have now is a bunch of trade pieces winning games. What?
These "assets" are currently producing a top-10 defense and offense, which is typically a recipe for postseason hoops. The Jazz are led by Mike Conley, Lauri Markkanen, and Jordan Clarkson, who are all playing at a very high level. Conley is averaging over seven dimes a game, Markkanen is hanging almost 22 PPG and almost 10 RPG, and Clarkson is dropping in around 18 PPG while upping his APG. Oh, and for good measure, Collin Sexton is chipping in nearly 15 PPG.
To me, their success is coming from excellent passing. Every dude on the court can distribute well and is willing to pass up their shot. Clarkson never met a shot he didn’t like, but this year he’s getting into the paint and kicking it out, a far cry from the hyper-offense bench role he used to play. They’re balanced offensively; they have six players averaging double-digits. A combo of almost everyone being able to put the ball on the floor, effectively pass, and hit threes is causing opposing defenses to scramble all over the court.
When you look at the Jazz's lineup, nothing screams “defense” at you. Nevertheless, they’re protecting the rim effectively with Jarred Vanderbilt and Markkanen. The Jazz are holding teams to the fourth lowest percentage at the rim. They’re currently ranked eighth in the NBA in defensive rating. What is making them so solid defensively is their versatility. Markkanen and Vanderbilt can cover guys out on the perimeter as well as in the paint. They do need to contest threes better, as they’re in the bottom percentile in that department. While contesting the deep ball is problematic, they might make up for it with steals. The Jazz are averaging 8.8 takeaways per game, which is good for fourth in the NBA.
Will it Last?
At their current rate, the Jazz are on pace for a 50+ win season. With a bunch of alleged trade pieces, can these guys sustain this level of play for an entire regular season and playoffs? I’m leaning towards yes. Although I think there will be a slowdown in win rate, they will be a postseason team. Major credit to rookie coach Will Hardy for figuring out how to get this team to operate a fluid offense and win games, especially when you look at what the front office is trying to do. It’s almost like a big “fuck you,” which I love to see. Reminds me of Charlie Sheen and the Indians in Major League.