5 things that must happen for the Utah Jazz to be title contenders

Jared Woodcox , 2019-06-20 02:52:17
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MEMPHIS, TN – MARCH 8: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz charges towards the basket during the game against Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies on March 8, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz made massive strides by trading for veteran point guard Mike Conley. But there’s still work to be done if they want to become true title contenders.

The blockbuster splash that Utah Jazz fans have been waiting for finally happened. Though it was somewhat foreseen, the announcement still came as a shocking surprise when it was revealed on Wednesday that the Jazz had traded for Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, sending away Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen and a pair of first-round picks in the process.

In so doing, the Jazz made themselves a significantly better team. No disrespect to Ricky Rubio, but the Jazz fan detractors of the trade out there likely don’t understand just how good Mike Conley is and how much of an upgrade he is over Rubio. Setting the mere numbers to one side (which are strongly in Conley’s favor as well, I should mention), Conley is a grittier defender, a more prolific offensive threat with an expansive repertoire, a solid shooter from all ranges and a grizzled veteran with an extensive playoff acumen.

In other words, despite what some uninformed naysayers may try to spout, the addition of Mike Conley absolutely makes the Jazz a legit squad. Adding him to the mix not only gives the Jazz a third star-caliber player to pair alongside Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, but it gives them a second playmaker in the backcourt who can beat opponents off the dribble, get into the paint and break down opposing defenses, all while being a significant scoring and passing threat from anywhere on the floor.

Oftentimes, we’d see opposing teams leave Ricky Rubio wide open on the perimeter, just daring him to shoot the ball. Sometimes he’d make them pay, but that occurring was few and far between. With Conley, though, teams likely won’t even give him that kind of opportunity which will open up the floor extensively. And if they do, he’s almost certain to make them suffer for such a careless mistake.

So with Mike Conley in the mix filling so many voids the Jazz have had the past few seasons, there’s no denying that Utah has the potential to become a title contending team. Yes, Jazz fans, he’s that good, his fit is that seamless in Quin Snyder’s system, and he should have that great an impact.

However, the Jazz are not there yet, and I don’t just mean because the season hasn’t started. They’re not there because they are still lacking a few things and have much to prove once the 2019-20 campaign does get underway before we can officially declare them as in the championship contending mix.

But Conley at least gives them their first realistic shot since the Deron Williams days, and maybe if we’re being honest with ourselves, since the John Stockton and Karl Malone days. In order for it to actually become a reality, though, the following five things will also have to occur seamlessly in conjunction with this blockbuster Conley trade.

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Let's get nuts! Are the Utah Jazz dark-horse NBA Finals contenders?

Ryan Aston , 2019-04-05 17:29:50
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Some statistical projection models are giving the Utah Jazz an outside shot to shock the world and make a run to the 2019 NBA Finals.

If you’re like me and you’re A) old and B) way more into Batman than any adult with a spouse, child and mortgage ever should be, there’s a better than average chance you’ll recall the infamous scene from Tim Burton’s Batman where Michael Keaton brandishes a fireplace poker and screams, “You wanna get nuts? COME ON — let’s get nuts!”

As that rhetorical question has since become the mantra by which I guide my journey through life, I felt compelled to share the nuttiest thing I’ve seen today — FiveThirtyEight‘s current CARMELO projections could be interpreted as endorsing the Utah Jazz as a dark-horse contender for a run at the NBA Finals.

No joke.

The predictions, which are updated after every game and depth chart revision, currently have the Jazz at a four percent chance of getting to the Finals. It’s a small number, to be sure, but it’s actually the third-best probability in the Western Conference, trailing just the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.

Clearly, you’re not going to find any of the national hoops pundits endorsing the Jazz as a team that could give the Dubs a run for their money. Having said that, is the Jazz’s strong CARMELO showing or the idea of them coming out of the West really as insane as Keaton’s fireplace soliloquy to making it into the final cut of Batman?

Maybe not. In fact, multiple stats actually have the Jazz at or near the top of the Association and not in the middle of the West’s pecking order as the current standings suggest.

You may be surprised to know that, as of this writing, the Jazz boast the fourth-best net rating (5.0) in the entire NBA. Since the Kyle Korver trade, they have a net rating of 8.2, which trails only the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, and by the slimmest of margins — 0.4 points/100 possessions over the same time span.

In other words, the Jazz are consistently beating teams as badly as any squad in the Association.

If we stick to the post-Korver trade time frame (since that more accurately reflects the Jazz’s current roster), the Jazz are also No. 1 in D-rating, No.1 in opponent effective field goal percentage, No. 1 in defensive and total rebounding percentages, No. 2 in eliminating second-chance points, No. 2 in effective field goal percentage and No. 3 in assist percentage.

In terms of wins and losses, the Jazz also have the fourth-best record in the league since the trade at 38-18.

That’s just a small sample of the numbers that make the Jazz analytical darlings and give them the look of a legitimate contender from a purely statistical standpoint.

Next: Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert DPOY campaign is epic

Now, does that mean I’m picking the Jazz to escape the West and go for the Larry O’Brien Trophy? That would be nuts; we all know that this thing is the Warriors’ to lose. Still, the fact of the matter is that the Jazz are a lot better than many are giving them credit for — those people should take note of what the stats and projections are saying.

Then, they should go watch Batman — I still can’t fathom how Keaton didn’t get the Oscar there.

Am I right?

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Offseason checklist for the Jazz to become contenders

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SALT LAKE CITY, UT – MAY 6: a general view of the Utah Jazz flag during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets on May 6, 2018 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

The playoffs proved that the Utah Jazz are on the cusp of breaking through in the West. Nailing this offseason could propel them toward contender status.

By every definition, it was a roller coaster season for the Utah Jazz. Even with the departure of Gordon Hayward, expectations were high entering the year. The Jazz started off strong and looked like they may be able to live up to the hype they were receiving entering the year. However, injuries quickly altered the course of the season, and they fell to 19-28 by mid-January.

We all know what happened from there. The return of a healthy Rudy Gobert and the improved play of Ricky Rubio saved the season for the Jazz. They wouldn’t just turn the season around and make the postseason, but they won their first-round playoff series in convincing fashion against the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder.

They also put up a valiant fight against Houston and showed the league that they are one of the up-and-coming teams in the NBA. They have the youth, talent, coaching and organizational stability to be contenders for the foreseeable future.

As evidenced by their playoff loss to the Rockets, though, they aren’t quite there yet.

In order for the Jazz to reach their full potential, they’ll need to nail this offseason. They need to focus on accomplishing three things if they are to truly compete next season.

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