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Utah Jazz shafted in ESPN's power rankings, but lauded in The Athletic's

Jared Woodcox , 2019-07-23 12:00:35
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The Utah Jazz received high praise in recent NBA power rankings from The Athletic, but didn’t fare so well in ESPN’s version.

With free agency all but wrapped up and the NBA Draft feeling like an eternity ago, about all that fans of the Utah Jazz and the rest of the NBA have to do for the remainder of the long offseason is speculate and anticipate. We all know the Jazz made some exciting moves this summer, and on paper it would appear that this new-look team is going to be really, really good.

But, of course, the Jazz aren’t the only team that got better this summer as they’ll face stiff competition in the likes of the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and many others. As good as the Jazz are looking, they have their work cut out for them in 2019-20, and all we can do for now is predict and speculate just how high they might ascend.

And fans aren’t the only ones guessing and trying to put in far-too-early projections for how the standings will shake out in the NBA next season. Just recently, a host of ESPN writers got together to compile their aggregate NBA power rankings, and the results might be surprising to Jazz fans.

The ESPN list placed the Jazz at a middling ninth place, behind a trio of Eastern Conference teams in the Milwaukee Bucks (1), Philadelphia 76ers (4) and Boston Celtics (7), as well as the Portland Trail Blazers (8), Los Angeles Lakers (6), Houston Rockets (5), LA Clippers (3) and Denver Nuggets (2) in the West. Now, I know I’m a Jazz homer, but I truly attempt to take off my rose-colored glasses when I look at power rankings such as these, and I find Utah’s placement to be ludicrous.

No disrespect to some of the teams listed ahead of the Jazz, but Utah should be far better than ninth. The Boston Celtics arguably got worse by losing some of their defensive cornerstones and replacing them with big-man Enes Kanter. Not only that, but while Kemba Walker will be a better locker room fit and leader than Kyrie Irving was, there is some concern about an overall decline in talent at the point guard spot.

Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers made significant changes this offseason, but it’s hard to know whether they will truly be for the better. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers, despite adding Al Horford, are a bit of a question mark as they have a lot to sort out with their new lineup, and the Denver Nuggets are solid, but showed some significant weaknesses in their playoff loss to the Blazers (and didn’t do much this offseason outside of add Jerami Grant, though yes, I recognize they should improve internally).

In short, there are a lot of uncertainties about several of these teams that ESPN ranked above the Jazz, whereas the Jazz did little else but patch up the gaping holes they displayed in their latest playoff loss to the Houston Rockets. They added a versatile, dynamic shot-creator to help shoulder the load for Donovan Mitchell by signing Mike Conley. And they added excellent three-point shooting and a third scoring option in Bojan Bogdanovic.

They also shored up their frontcourt after losing Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder by adding Ed Davis and Jeff Green. We’re talking about a Utah team that was already well established defensively with two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert in their ranks and has now added significant offensive firepower to fill their biggest areas of need.

If anything, the Jazz are looking far more steady and sure than many of the other teams ahead of them. They may not have the highest ceiling of any team in the league with no All-Stars on their roster, but they could very well have the highest floor as a team that’s almost certain to be competitive with the best of the best and perhaps able to rise above them all.

In other words, while I by no means expect the Jazz to be number one, I definitely would have them at least above the Celtics, Blazers and Sixers at this point. Personally, I’d have them above the Nuggets as well, but I can at least see the argument there. In my mind, based on what we know now, the Jazz should be no lower than sixth on these preseason power rankings.

Of course, every season there are over-hyped duds and under-celebrated breakout teams. It’s entirely possible that the Jazz could be one of those duds and I’ll have to eat crow. But I’d say it’s even more likely that one of the eight teams ahead of Utah doesn’t live up to expectations. And even if the Jazz don’t reach as great of heights as they appear capable of, these power rankings should be based on what we see and know right now.

And everything the Jazz have done this summer and the great fits they added point to them being an exceptional team worthy of a higher slot on these selections.

Then again, ESPN has never been known for being appreciative or attentive towards small market teams. Considering that Utah’s two biggest acquisitions this summer – Conley and Bogdanovic – played for the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers, respectively, and are now on yet another small market Utah team, it’s not all that surprising that ESPN would overlook them in favor of the Boston, Philly and LAs of the world.

That said, the comments made in the ESPN power rankings article actually speak quite highly of Utah. Here’s what Tim McMahon, who did the write-up on the Jazz, had to say:

“The Jazz might be equally as good offensively and defensively, which would make Utah a bona fide contender. Poor shooting prevented the Jazz from making their playoff series against the Rockets competitive, as Utah went 26-of-110 (23.6%) on wide-open 3s, as defined by NBA.com as no defender within 6 feet. That won’t be a problem after they traded for Mike Conley and signed Bojan Bogdanovic, who should take pressure off Donovan Mitchell to create offense and open up the floor when the young star guard has the ball in his hands. It’s up to Rudy Gobert, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, to make sure the Jazz remain elite on that end of the floor.”

Considering that it’s pointed out here that the Jazz could be just as elite offensively as they’ve been defensively, the description doesn’t seem to match the disappointing ranking whatsoever.

Fortunately, another well-respected sports outlet gave the Jazz a much different treatment than ESPN did. In a recent power rankings compilation from Zach Harper of The Athletic (subscription required), the Jazz were lauded and placed at number three overall on the list, trailing only the LA Clippers (1) and the Milwaukee Bucks (2).

Harper touches on precisely the things I’ve just mentioned – that the Jazz went out and addressed their most concerning weaknesses to become a significantly better team. He speaks of a team that’s equipped to make life miserable for opposing teams with four guys in the starting lineup (Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic and Gobert) that are all extremely difficult to game plan for individually and should be a nightmare collectively.

Perhaps most importantly, he talks of the Jazz being built appropriately to go deep into the playoffs which, regardless of playoff seeding, is ultimately the determining factor in where a team should truly sit in the power rankings.

I’ll be honest, I think third in the NBA might be a little too high even coming from this Jazz homer. But I can certainly see it happening and believe Utah has the potential to achieve it. I most definitely agree with The Athletic’s placement of Utah at third more than I do ESPN’s at a lackluster ninth.

Then again, in fairness to all, the Jazz have burned those that believed too deeply in them before. They did so just a season ago in which they struggled out of the gates, finished just fifth in the West, and faltered in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. In many seasons past they’ve had heartbreaking seasons and disappointing results.

Quite frankly, it would take a shocking failure this time around for the Jazz to do that once again this year as they appear in every way imaginable to be a well-crafted team capable of competing at the highest level. But, of course, they still have to go out on the floor and achieve that greatness.

Next: Utah Jazz announce preseason home schedule featuring Aussie engagement

Power rankings are little more than speculation for now. It will be up to the Jazz to disprove the negative and validate the positive predictions being placed upon their heads by putting their money where their mouth is and competing at the level they’re capable of.

If they do so, I’m fully confident that The Athletic’s praiseworthy placement of the Utah Jazz in these far-too-early projections will ultimately prove prophetic.

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Utah Jazz bring up the rear in 20-game Northwest power rankings

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Utah Jazz Derrick Favors Quin Snyder

DALLAS, TX – NOVEMBER 14: Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz reacts after being called for a flagrant foul against the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth quarter at American Airlines Center on November 14, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We’re already 20 games into the 2018-19 NBA season and the Utah Jazz are struggling to keep pace in the Northwest Division.

Remember when the Utah Jazz were the creme de la creme of the Northwest Division and primed to duke it out with the Houston Rockets for the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference? Those were fun times.

The fun times ended, though, once the regular season tipped off.

Its seems like it was only yesterday that Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz were putting the wraps on an undefeated preseason slate, but we’re suddenly at the 20-game mark of the team’s 2018-19 campaign. Needless to say, the first quarter of the season has not played out as expected for the team or the division at large.

Last year, all five teams battled it out for playoff position. As it stands now, two teams — the Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves — rank among the bottom three in the West standings.

After dealing a disgruntled Jimmy Butler, the T-Wolves are definitely living in a new world. Meanwhile, Utah’s preached consistency has looked more like stagnation as they struggle to keep pace with the opposition.

Now, for the million-dollar question: is what we’re seeing real or will the 60-plus games that remain bring about a return to the expected norm? At the quarter point of the season, we may still be experiencing some measure of small sample size theater, but we’re also approaching that juncture where some truths have emerged.

In any case, it’s pretty clear which teams lead the pack currently. Here’s how they shake out in our quarter-mark divisional power rankings…

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NBA Power Rankings: Week 2

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1. Golden State Warriors
2018-19 record: 2-1
The two-time defending champs opened the 2018-19 campaign with a pair of tough tests on the road in their first week. They were able to sneak past the Jazz in Utah courtesy of a Jonas Jerebko tip-in just before the buzzer. However, they fell to the Nuggets in Denver as Damian Jones had his lay-up attempt blocked in the final second. Yes, it’s odd that Jerebko and Jones were players that decided those contests, considering the Warriors had four other all-stars on the court at the time.

2. Toronto Raptors
2018-19 record: 3-0
Kawhi has looked fantastic early on this season, averaging 27.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists over his first two games as a Raptor, including 31 & 10 in a win over the Celtics last Friday. And, despite playing with Kawhi Leonard (who was resting during the Raps third game in four nights), Toronto improved to 3-0 on the season with a victory over the Wizards in Washington on Saturday.

3. Boston Celtics
2018-19 record: 2-1
The Celtics were in danger of falling to the Knicks Saturday at MSG, before Jayson Tatum sunk a back-breaking fadeaway jumper. The super sophomore finished that game with 24 points and a career-high 14 boards. Gordon Hayward was held out of Saturday’s win. Coach Brad Stevens said there wasn’t an initial plan to rest Hayward on back-to-backs, but that Hayward was “experiencing general soreness” and will be evaluated on a game-by-game basis.

4. Denver Nuggets
2018-19 record: 3-0
It was a fantastic first weekend for the undefeated Nuggets. On Sunday night, they knocked off the Warriors at home. On Saturday, Nikola Jokic had a game for the ages. He scored 35 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, and dished out 11 assists. Oh, and he also had four steals and blocked a shot. Oh yeah, almost forgot, he didn’t miss a single shot from the field, knocking down all 11 of his FG attempts, including three 3-pointers, and made 10-of-11 from the free-throw stripe. Coming into this past weekend, there had been only other game in which an NBA player recorded a 30-point triple-double without a missing a shot from the floor. That was over 50 years ago, when Wilt Chamberlain accomplished the feat in 1967.

5. New Orleans Pelicans
2018-19 record: 2-0
The Pelicans offense is humming right now. They lead the NBA in offensive rating, as they are averaging a mind-boggling 127.9 points per 100 possessions. No other team is averaging more than 119 points / 100 possessions. The gap between first and second place in OffRtg is the same as the gap between second and 12th. New Orleans also leads the league in effective field goal percentage (62.7%), True Shooting Percentage (64.5%) and assist ratio (22.2%).

6. Utah Jazz
2018-19 record: 1-1
Utah’s lone loss was to the Warriors in Golden State on the final play of the game. There are no moral victories in this league, but losing to the defending champs at the buzzer in their building is as impressive a defeat as possible… The perennially underrated Joe Ingles is off to a hot start, averaging 24.5 points, 5.0 assists, 5.5 treys and 3.0 steals, while shooting a scorching 70.4 percent from the floor and 64.7 percent from downtown.

7. Houston Rockets
2018-19 record: 1-2
Clint Capela, James Harden, and Chris Paul played 45 games together last season and went 42-3 in those 45 contests, and all three losses were by six or fewer points… Paul was suspended for two games for his part in Saturday’s altercation with Rajon Rondo, which kept him out of Sunday’s matchup with the Clippers, a game which the Rockets lost. Dating back to the start of 2017-18, Houston is just 23-15 without CP3, Harden and Capela together in the lineup.

8. Milwaukee Bucks
2018-19 record: 2-0
New head coach Mike Budenholzer has yet to lose a game with Milwaukee. As he’s finding out, it’s a huge advantage having Giannis Antetokounmpo on your side. The Greek Freak tallied 51 points, 33 rebounds and 13 assists through the Bucks first two games. The only blemish on Antetokounmpo’s resume is that he has yet to knock down a 3-pointer, missing all nine of his attempts from beyond the arc.

9. Portland Trail Blazers
2018-19 record: 2-0
Portland has started off the season strong, knocking off Los Angeles in LeBron James’ Lakers debut, and then blowing out the Spurs on Saturday. You think Damian Lillard is playing with confidence right now? Look at where he launches this 3-point attempt from! Mind you, this was the first possession and shot of the game. Both Dame and C.J. McCollum shot 9-of-15 from the floor in the victory over San Antonio.

10. Indiana Pacers
2018-19 record: 2-1
The Pacers showcased their impressive depth in a 132-112 win over the Nets at home on Saturday night. Indiana had nine players log more than four minutes, and all nine of those players scored in double-figures.

11. Philadelphia 76ers
2018-19 record: 2-1
Joel Embiid didn’t play more than 29 minutes in any of the Sixers first seven games in 2017-18 and logged fewer than 31 minutes in each of their first ten contests. This season, Embiid has played more than 32 minutes in all three games. However, the Sixers may be without Ben Simmons tomorrow. Simmons (back tightness) did not practice on Monday and is listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game vs. Detroit.

12. Detroit Pistons
2018-19 record: 2-0
Detroit canned coach/GM Stan Van Gundy after failing to qualify for the playoffs in a disappointing 2017-18 campaign. With new head coach Dwane Casey at the helm, the Pistons have won two straight to start the new season. Blake Griffin is leading the charge, averaging 29.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.0 triples thus far.

13. Los Angeles Lakers
2018-19 record: 0-2
LeBron has struggled a bit out of the gate for L.A., shooting just 47.4 percent from the floor and making only one of his 11 3-point attempts over the Lakers first two games. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before he gets hot and locks in. However, the Laker will be forced to play without Brandon Ingram this week, as he has been suspended four games for his role in Saturday’s altercation with the Rockets.

14. Charlotte Hornets
2018-19 record: 2-1
Kemba Walker has the NBA’s only 40-point game this season, pouring in 41 against the Bucks on opening night. Kemba was back at this weekend, tallying 39, including the game-winning free-throw in the final second, in a victory over the Heat. Walker currently leads the NBA in total points with 106. Stephen Curry, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant round out the top-5.

15. L.A. Clippers
2018-19 record: 2-1
The Clippers are off to a great start, notching back-to-back wins over the Thunder and Rockets. However, they will face a very stiff test this week when they travel to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans on Tuesday, and then play the Rockets in Houston on Thursday.

16. San Antonio Spurs
2018-19 record: 1-1
The Spurs backcourt was decimated over a five-day span earlier this month. On October 6th, it was announced that Lonnie Walker would have to undergo surgery on a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. On October 7th, Dejounte Murray tore his ACL. On October 11th, Derrick White was diagnosed with a left plantar fascia tear that is expected to sideline him for 6-8 weeks. Through the first two games of the season, the only Spurs with more than five assists are DeMar DeRozan, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. Coach Pop is going to have to hope for better point guard play from Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes if he wants to stay near the top of the pack out West. The Spurs have also been shockingly porous defensively, allowing 119.9 points per 100 possessions.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves
2018-19 record: 1-2
The circus in Minnesota has been a distraction all month for the Wolves. Their sloppy play on the court has been indicative of a team in crisis off it. Minny has dropped two of their first three games, and their defense has been deplorable. The Wolves have given up at least 112 points in each, and are allowing 121.8 points per 100 possessions over their two most recent contests.

18. Miami Heat
2018-19 record: 1-2
The Heat have dropped two of their first three games, including a disappointing defeat to Orlando in the season opener. Fortunately, both Justise Winslow (hamstring) and Wayne Ellington (left ankle) are expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday when Miami takes on the Knicks. It’s possible James Johnson (groin) is cleared to return later this week as well. However, Hassan Whiteside (hip/groin) did not practice on Monday, and Dion Waiters (ankle) is still without a timetable.

19. Oklahoma City Thunder
2018-19 record: 0-3
Russell Westbrook didn’t show any signs of rust in his season debut on Sunday night, scoring 32 points (on 13-of-23 shooting) to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists. Yet, OKC still lost their third straight. This most recent defeat was an embarrassing loss to the Kings. The Thunder have off until Thursday, when they play the Celtics.

20. Washington Wizards
2018-19 record: 0-2
The Wiz have dropped each of their first two games this season, and things might get worse before they get better. Washington embarks on a five-game, West Coast road trip Monday in Portland. They then travel to Golden State, Sacramento, L.A. and Memphis over eight days, before returning home to take on the Thunder. They are hoping starting center Dwight Howard (piriformis) will make his Wizards debut soon.

21. Dallas Mavericks
2018-19 record: 1-1
Luka Doncic put his full, deadly arsenal on display on Saturday night, in his first game in front of the home crowd in Dallas. Luka finished with 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting, six rebounds, three assists, four triples, two steals and one block in 36 minutes. His backcourt mate, Dennis Smith Jr. nailed a jumper in the closing moments to seal the victory for the Mavs. Those two will be fun to watch all year long.

22. Memphis Grizzlies
2018-19 record: 1-1
Memphis was awful last season, but that was an anomaly, as the Grizz had qualified for the playoffs each season from 2010-11 through 2016-17. They now have a healthy Mike Conley back in the mix and are hoping to compete for a playoff spot once again. Unfortunately, they’ll be without JaMychal Green for the foreseeable future. Green suffered a broken jaw after receiving an elbow to the face from an opposing player in Friday’s game against the Hawks. He underwent a surgical stabilization procedure Saturday morning and is expected to miss anywhere between two-to-six weeks, per varying reports. Their first-round pick, Jaren Jackson Jr., who is the youngest player in the NBA this season, will be asked to step in and step up.

23. Phoenix Suns
2018-19 record: 1-1
Deandre Ayton has undoubtedly looked worthy of the No. 1 overall pick this month. He was dominant in the preseason (averaging 20.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.5 blocks in 29.8 minutes over the Suns first four exhibition games) and looked terrific in his pro debut during the regular season, making 8-of-11 from the field for 18 points with 10 rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block and no turnovers. However, he tweaked his ankle in practice last Thursday and was slowed down on Saturday night vs. Denver. He gets his first ever look at the world-champion Warriors on Monday night.

24. New York Knicks
2018-19 record: 1-2
The Knicks have played hard, and played well for the most part, but have just a 1-2 record to show for it. New York has scored 332 points this season, while allowing 317. They’ve lost two games by a combined 4 points. On Saturday, they also lost Kevin Knox to a badly sprained ankle. Their prized rookie is expected to miss up to a month. New York will need Mario Hezonja and Allonzo Trier to play well in the extended minutes they’ll receive over the next few weeks.

25. Brooklyn Nets
2018-19 record: 1-2
The Nets got bit by the injury bug early on this season. DeMarre Carroll (ankle) is out indefinitely; Allen Crabbe missed the season opener; and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (personal, groin), Shabazz (right hamstring strain) and Alan Williams (left ankle) have yet to suit up for a regular season game. They also lost Treveon Graham to a left hamstring strain and Rodions Kurucs to an ankle sprain over the weekend. However, Hollis-Jefferson and Napier are both expected to return to the lineup Wednesday at Cleveland.

26. Orlando Magic
2018-19 record: 1-2
The Magic beat the Heat on opening night and then lost by just a point to the Sixers on Saturday. Their issue this season will be point guard play. Starting PG D.J. Augustin is averaging 7.3 points in 26.0 minutes while shooting a horrific 31.8 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from downtown. Backup Jerian Grant hasn’t been much better.

27. Sacramento Kings
2018-19 record: 1-2
The Kings have had a brutal early-season schedule. The opened up against the Jazz and then played the Pelicans and Thunder on the road over the weekend. Their tough trip isn’t over, as they travel to Denver to take on the Nuggets Tuesday night. However, Sacramento has looked exciting early on, especially in their impressive 131-120 victory over Russell Westbrook and OKC Sunday night.

28. Atlanta Hawks
2018-19 record: 1-2
The Hawks looked awful in their first two games, getting blowout by the Knicks and Grizzlies. However, Trae Young put on a show Sunday night in Cleveland, propelling Atlanta to a 133-111 win over the Cavs. Young finished with 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting, six 3-pointers, 11 assists, two rebounds and one steal. Young is only the seventh rookie over the last 45 years to score at least 35 points and dish out 10+ assists. The other six are Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Sherman Douglas, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry.

29. Cleveland Cavaliers
2018-19 record: 0-3
Believe it or not, the Cavs aren’t all that competitive without King James in Cleveland. As a reminder, here are the Cavaliers season-average win totals over the last 12 years:
From 2006 thru 2010 (with LeBron on the roster): 55.5 wins
From 2010 thru 2014 (without LeBron on the roster): 23.7 wins
From 2014 thru 2018 (with LeBron on the roster): 52.8 wins

30. Chicago Bulls
2018-19 record: 0-2
Zach LaVine joined some pretty impressive company this weekend. As of last week, only two players in Bulls franchise history had scored at least 30 points in each of the first two games of a season: Bob Love and Michael Jordan. With 30 points on opening night and 33 on Saturday, LaVine joined those two Bulls legends. Nonetheless, Chicago lost both games and has yet to record a victory. However, they will welcome back Kris Dunn on Monday, who was away from the team last week to be with his family following the birth of his first child.



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Utah Jazz finish in Top 10 of Zach Lowe's League Pass Rankings

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The Utah Jazz received high marks in a recent ranking of NBA League Pass watchability, courtesy of ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

The month of October is finally here which means that the NBA regular season is nearly upon us. Utah Jazz fans in particular have a lot to be excited about as their team is poised to make some big-time noise in 2018-19. As the team leans on continuity and internal growth, a squad that advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year is aiming to do much, much more.

As such, particularly with a rising star in Donovan Mitchell and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the Jazz are starting to garner some national attention. Not only have they become a fascinating squad in terms of their talent and on-court achievements, but the way they play the game with great ball movement, an increasing pace and relentless defense has made them entertaining to watch.

Such a notion was firmly backed up in a recent ESPN piece from Zach Lowe wherein he released his seventh annual NBA League Pass rankings. As you probably know, League Pass is a service that allows die-hard NBA fans to pick one team they’ll have access to watching all year, or they can subscribe to have access to watch the entire league. As such, Lowe gives his readers a look at rankings of which teams fans should be most excited to watch.

The criteria he uses includes highlight probability, style, League Pass minutia such as uniforms and commentary, and zeitgeist. Given that the Utah Jazz are a small market team that often tends to fly under the radar, that last category can be a tough one for them, but they did extremely well in pretty much all the other areas.

So much so, that the Utah Jazz came in at number 10 on Lowe’s overall list.

Lowe had a lot of good things to say about Utah including their phenomenal style of play, the pair of stars in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and the duo of agitator extraordinaires Joe Ingles and Grayson Allen. Furthermore, the Jazz received bonus points for their uniform game which will continue to include the ultra-popular gradient city threads and the new purple throwbacks.

That’s some pretty high praise for the oft-overlooked squad. Perhaps by finishing in the top 10, the Jazz will continue to gain more followers among crazed basketball fans willing to give them a shot. Quite frankly, though I’m biased, there were quite a few teams that I was surprised to see ahead of the Jazz in the top 10, including the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls.

The Bucks and Nuggets undoubtedly have intriguing players and are in situations to have an impressive 2018-19 season, and the young Bulls are in a large market and could surprise this year. But still, in terms of quality basketball and standing within a deep Western Conference, I’d give the Jazz an edge in watchability over those teams even if I wasn’t a fan.

Next: Utah Jazz vs. Toronto Raptors: Keys to a preseason victory

At the end of the day, the League Pass Rankings are all in good fun. Some teams that were picked low last year ended up being an absolute blast to watch. Meanwhile, others that were supposed to be epic were quite disappointing. If anything, I expect the Utah Jazz to out-perform expectations. While a top-10 finish is nothing to complain about, I think Mitchell, Gobert and Co. are about to put the league on notice.

There’s a lot to be optimistic about regarding this team, and I have a feeling that’s about to be on full display when the regular season kicks off in a mere two weeks.



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The J-Notes' post-free agency West power rankings

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Utah Jazz Donovan Mitchell Klay Thompson

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JANUARY 30: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz looks to shoot in front of the defense by Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half of a game at Vivint Smart Home Arena on January 30, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

How do the Utah Jazz currently stack up against the best squads in the Western Conference? Will the same roster yield better results?

August is upon us and the NBA’s free agent frenzy is in the rear-view mirror. Of course, if you’re a fan of the Utah Jazz, there was never any frenzy to speak of.

In the end, the Jazz band stood pat. Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh and Raul Neto will all be back next season. In fact, the only new face on the team’s 15-man opening night roster figures to be rookie Grayson Allen. Clearly, continuity was the keystone for the team’s offseason plans.

Meanwhile, the rest of the West saw some major changes; none bigger than the Los Angeles Lakers’ move to bring LeBron James into the fold. Elsewhere, in San Antonio, the Kawhi Leonard situation came to a close with the Spurs moving the former NBA Finals MVP to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan.

So, given the new landscape of the conference, where do the Jazz sit among the West’s pantheon of teams? For my money, their spot is right near the top.

Here’s how the Western Conference looks to me in the wake of all that went down last month…



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Utah Jazz hit top five of ESPN's offseason power rankings

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The Utah Jazz are getting some love as one of the top squads in the entire Association, showing well in ESPN’s post-NBA Finals power rankings.

Although there were people in and around the Salt Lake Valley that thought the Utah Jazz could rebound from the loss of Gordon Hayward, the expectation nationally was largely that of doom and gloom. I’d wager that the group that thought the Jazz could win nearly 50 games and a first-round playoff series was even smaller.

But here we are. Thanks to the meteoric rise of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert‘s paint dominance, a career year from Joe Ingles, the machinations of Quin Snyder and a host of other factors, the Jazz band rocked the 2017-18 campaign. Whatever expectations fans and pundits had were shattered.

It was a feelgood year for the West’s unlikeliest powerhouse, but the chances of the Jazz catching the basketball masses off-guard next season are slim. Already, the team has shed its rep as a renegade squad of plucky upstarts. Now, the perception is that they’re rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème of the conference.

Scratch that — it’s probably more accurate to say the best teams in the NBA.

In their post-NBA Finals power rankings, ESPN has the Jazz ranked as the No. 5 team in the Association heading into the offseason. Here’s a snippet of the Worlwide Leader’s write-up on Utah’s spot in the pecking order.

Via Royce Young —

The Jazz will strengthen their position in the West just by coming back as is. Year 2 for Donovan Mitchell as he continues his ascension into superstar combined with crossing fingers for good health for Rudy Gobert and the Jazz should feel good about climbing the standings next season. But there’s always an opportunity for more, and with the way the NBA is set up, the need for stacking talent on talent is always a priority no matter how good it appears you might have it.

Young’s assessment on standing pat stands true. While the Jazz won 48 games this past season, injuries put a major cap on the team’s potential. Per Man Games Lost‘s calculations, the Jazz lost a league-high 12.9 wins to injury. That number puts them around the 60-win mark had they remained fully healthy.

While an entire year of full health is a pipe dream, the law of averages would suggest that the Jazz are overdue for good tidings in that department. That alone should bring an uptick in the W column without tweaking the roster.

Moreover, the Jazz still have massive potential for internal improvement. Heading into year two, one would expect Mitchell to really plant his flag as one of the game’s ultimate go-to guys. His rookie status is officially no more and he’s on the fast track to superstardom. Meanwhile, mid-season acquisition Jae Crowder should hit another gear, too. A full offseason and training camp in the system will do wonders for his integration.

Also — Ricky Rubio is trending toward reaching his true prime after averaging 15 points, six assists and five rebounds per contest while shooting 44 percent overall and 41 percent from 3-point range from December 30 through the end of the regular season.

And that’s just a smattering; there’s room for improvement up and down the roster.

As Young alludes to, getting more talent is still of definite import. However, the Jazz may elect to go with incremental upgrades this summer and shoot for a big-name free agent in the summer of 2019. Unless, of course, they can find something in the trade market.

Either way, though, Utah’s underdog days are seemingly done. ESPN’s top-five billing aside, the hoops world has taken note. The Jazz are back in their familiar spot as one of the league’s top squads.



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Donovan Mitchell has become the vocal point of Utah’s offence.

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THE month of December hasn’t been overly kind to Ben Simmons as the Philadelphia 76ers experience a real test of their playoff credentials.

Simmons appeared to take a stranglehold on the Rookie of the Year race in October and November as the Sixers negotiated a tough early season fixture to position themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference postseason race.

But with star centre Joel Embiid missing a chunk of recent games the team has won just two of nine this month and despite an increase in minutes Simmons’ scoring and rebounding has dipped.

He’s averaging 14.3 points, 9.6 assists and 8.4 rebounds in December, still exceptional numbers for a first-year player. But it’s a dip from the 18 points a game he was pouring in earlier this season and in some ways beginning to open the door for ROY challengers.

As the Sixers struggle, three impressive threats have emerged elsewhere — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma.

DONOVAN MITCHELL, UTAH JAZZ

Before bruising his big toe this week, Mitchell was on a scorching scoring streak.

After averaging just 9.3 points per game in October he’s become the Jazz’s go-to-guy, pouring in 23.6 points per game in December, including five games of 26 points or more.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor described the shooting guard as a “young Dwyane Wade” after a 41-point outburst against the Pelicans as his productivity even catches his own team off-guard.

“I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball. Necessity is the mother of invention,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey told The Big Show. “We thought Donovan could take a few possessions. This many possessions? I’d be lying to say, ‘Hey, I knew it’d play out exactly how it’s played out.’”

Unfortunately that hasn’t equated to many wins. The Jazz (14-18) have won just one of their past eight games but remain in the Western Conference playoff race in ninth position.

KYLE KUZMA, LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Kyle Kuzma is doing what Lonzo Ball was supposed to do — just without the fanfare.

The unheralded Lakers rookie wasn’t the prized selection by Los Angeles in the 2017 draft. At pick No. 27, he was considered a stretch, a wait-and-see type who potentially could blossom into a useful piece. Instead, he is producing numbers that hint toward a budding star.

Kuzma’s 38-point explosion against the league-leading Houston Rockets made him look like the second coming of Kobe Bryant in a streak-snapping 122-116 win.

The 22-year-old shot 7-of-10 from the three-point arc while grabbing seven boards and four assists, a monster night that’s only been done once before by a Lakers rookie — Magic Johnson.

“He can score from every level, his size definitely helps him a lot (and) when he’s knocking down the three-ball, it’s hard to stop him,” said Ball, of his teammate.

Kuzma has improved his rebounding as the season wears on but is also playing for a well-below .500 team (the Lakers are 11-18).

JAYSON TATUM, BOSTON CELTICS

Tatum is the only Rookie of the Year contender starting for a team that will certainly feature in the playoffs.

He’s been ultra-steady while averaging 13.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for the East-leading Celtics and is hitting more than 50 per cent of his three-point attempts.

“He shoots it really easy,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “When we had him in for a workout, he shot the lights out. It didn’t matter if he missed the last one, he had the mentality of a shooter. He had the mentality of a scorer … He’s got a good emotional way about him. I think that that helps when you talk about not riding the wave of emotions from shooting.”

Simmons remains the cream of this year’s rookie class, but this is a talented bunch.

— with NY Post’s Kyle Schnitzer

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SC7: Long December, How Good Are the Jazz, Passing History & More

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Despite having just two games since our last installment of the Salt City Seven, this was an eventful week in Jazzland. The losing streak continued, players coming back from injury exacerbated the ongoing lineup discussions and jerseys leaked.

But before we go there, let’s discuss that big “open for business” sign hanging on the front door of NBA general managers’ offices.

A quick(ish) exploration of a prominent theme from the week or the current state of Utah Jazz basketball.

Welcome to trade season.

December 15 is the date that most recent signees become eligible for trade, which means that starting today, more than 90 percent of the NBA is up for discussion by their teams. That includes all 15 Jazz players.

(Having trade conversations while Utah is licking their wounds from a 4-game skid is bound to seem reactionary. That’s not what this is; we’re delving into the topic on December 15 because it’s the day that the trade season begins in earnest.)

As we do every year at this team, we’ve ranked the 15 Jazz players in terms of the likelihood they’re dealt before February’s trade deadline. This isn’t about who Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey wants to deal. Rather, it’s a ranking that takes several factors into consideration. How much market demand is there for each player in question? How palatable is the player’s remaining salary? What specific contract quirks make the Jazz more or less likely to work a particular guy into a deal? And yes, to what degree is the player redundant or indispensable to this current version of the Jazz?

The result of all that is the following ranking, split into five categories.

Off limits

Very few players are truly untouchable, but the Jazz wouldn’t trade these two young stars for anything less than a surefire superstar.

15. Donovan Mitchell: 2 years and $5.7 million remaining, followed by two team option years and then restricted free agency

How insane is it that Mitchell needed fewer than 30 NBA games to turn himself into arguably his team’s most untouchable asset? His scorer’s instinct has been indispensable to this year’s Jazz, and as of this writing he is leading both his team and the rookie class in scoring. More importantly, he has shown the potential to grow into a star and the likability to be a franchise face in the process.

14. Rudy Gobert: 4 yrs, $97M1

Among the silliest reactions to the Jazz’s recent funk is the suggestion that they should consider trading Gobert. Not happening. When an All-NBA talent lands in your lap via the 27th pick in the draft, you thank the basketball gods every day and hold on tight. Which is exactly what the Jazz will do. No, he hasn’t had his usual impact so far this season. That’s hardly a reason to overreact. Gobert will be a Jazz man for a long time.

Uniquely situated veterans

After those two comes a pair of older vets with eight-figure salaries. These guys aren’t untouchable, but they’re very unlikely to be dealt.

13. Joe Ingles: 4 yrs, $50M

12. Joe Johnson: 1 yr, $10.5M

It’s fair to say Jingles is probably more valuable to the Jazz than he is on the trade market. That and his remaining salary make it pretty tough to find deals that make sense. It’s not that he’s blatantly overpaid — he makes non-star starter money or high-end rotation player money, and that’s his tier.

Johnson’s expiring contract makes it slightly more likely that a playoff team would take him on as a rental. But most contenders don’t have a way of absorbing that much salary. Also, he’d first have to show that he can play basketball. He has missed 21 games, and teams will want to see how the 36-year-old looks before they they invest, even in a late season rental.

Small contracts

If any of these three players move, it will likely beas an attachment in a larger deal. For that reason, this group of bargain-priced youngsters automatically ranks less likely than the eight guys above them.

11. Tony Bradley: 2 yrs, $3M, followed by 2 yrs TO and RFA

The Jazz’s other first-round pick had some nice summer ball moments and has been showing well in the G-League. But he has yet to look like an NBA player when he’s around other NBA players. Utah knew he would have a more gradual learning curve, so they’re not giving up on him, but his value right now isn’t enough to move the needle as anything but a sweetener.

10. Royce O’Neale: 3 yrs, $3.8M (second and third year guarantee on 1/10), followed by RFA

This undrafted rookie has earned his way to the fringes of the Jazz’s rotation, getting called into duty whenever injuries or struggles send Quin Snyder looking for another guy who can defend on the wing and hit open threes.

9. Raul Neto: 1 yr, $1.5M, guarantees on 1/10/18

Neto only comes out as more likely than Bradley and O’Neale because of his contract situation. Technically, he’s still on a non-guaranteed deal until January 10, which makes him an option if the Jazz and a trade partner need to get creative about lining up salary.

Who knows?

Here is where things start to get interesting. The official prediction here is that it’s more likely than not that these three remain in Utah past the deadline.

8. Dante Exum: 1 yr, $5M, followed by RFA

7. Rodney Hood: 1 yr, $2.4M, followed by RFA

These two were the hardest guys to place, by far. Both are young, have looked really good in stretches, and are headed to restricted free agency. So for a team willing to match all reasonable offers next summer, trading for these guys now gives them some long-term control.

People whose read on the situation I trust are pretty split when it comes to reading the tea leaves on Exum. Some believe the Jazz — and Lindsey in particular — still believe in him enough to have him bordering on the “off limits” group with Gobert and Mitchell. Others see Exum as the consummate deal-sweetener because of his unique tools and matching rights after this season.

The version of Exum that has mostly existed up until now in people’s imaginations is a perfect fit next to Mitchell. If the Jazz still have faith in that vision of the 6’6″ Australian, it will be hard for them to move him.

Similarly, talk to different people about Hood and you’ll either hear that he’s undoubtedly part of the core and indispensable on a scoring-starved team — or that he’s one of Utah’s best trade chips. He was starting to really find a rhythm as a bench scorer before his latest injury setback took him out for close to three weeks. If he gets back to filling it up like he was, Utah could get some phone calls about him.

Utah won’t trade either unless it’s for a real impact player, and those trades are less common in general terms. But their names will come up in when Lindsey feels his peers out.

6. Ricky Rubio: 2 yrs, $29.2M

Rubio hasn’t quite fit in the way Utah they hoped — at least not yet. His value is also in a weird place right now. Some GM out there undoubtedly sees past his day-to-day struggles, but the reality is that most teams that are competing this season already have a starting PG roughly in Rubio’s tier (or better), so I’m not sure where the market demand would come from. He’s younger than Ingles or Johnson so he doesn’t quite belong in the expensive older veteran category, but his contract and place in the PG pecking order make it hard to envision a return that would make the Jazz pull the trigger.

Value vets

These three are cheap, have played well, and possess contracts that offer financial flexibility.

5. Thabo Sefolosha: 2 yrs, $10.5M (second year guarantees on 7/1/18) 

4. Ekpe Udoh: 2 yrs, $6.8M (second year guarantees on 7/9/18)

3. Jonas Jerebko: 2 yrs, $8.2M (second year guarantees on 7/9/18)

Of the three, Sefolosha is the most likely to stay in Jazz colors past the deadline, because frankly he’s been really good. His raw numbers may not show it, but he has had an underrated impact on the court, on the bench and in the locker room.

I slotted Udoh next since he’s a bit more of a specialist in an NBA setting, so teams will mostly show interest if they need someone with his niche skills. Jerebko could draw some interest after fighting his way back into a rotation role, and Johnson’s return from injury cuts into the Swede’s role, too.

Names to watch

2. Alec Burks: 2 yrs, $22.4M

For salary reasons alone, it has always seemed logical that the Jazz would ask around on Burks. Before his recent resurrection, it seemed as though Utah might have to spend an asset to get someone to take his $22M deal. But this 7-game stretch where Burks is averaging 20 points on 42 percent shooting from three may have stoked some interest.

Counterpoint: it also could change the Jazz’s own calculus that the player in whom they’ve invested for the past six seasons is finally producing. But Burks’ value hasn’t been this high for years. Utah has to see what’s out there.

1. Derrick Favors: 1 yr, $12M

It feels a bit wistful to put Utah’s longest-tenured player in this spot. Favors is a unique, two-way player and someone who has been part of the Jazz’s heart and soul for a long time, so it’s natural to hope that he and the Jazz figure out how to continue the relationship.

But let’s be honest here: it has been a struggle for the Jazz to carve out a consistent role for Favors when Gobert is healthy. Fav put up 17 & 8 (rounded) for three weeks while Rudy sat, and since then is averaging 8 & 6 with his shot attempts cut nearly in half. Snyder’s preferred style of play is tough to pull off with two traditional bigs, and Favors is just too good to be used exclusively as Gobert’s backup. He’s also heading into free agency, which means the Jazz have to make a calculation as to the likelihood he stays.

And if all that weren’t enough to land him in the “likeliest to be dealt” spot, there’s also significant market demand right now for starting-caliber centers. Teams have been sniffing around the likes of DeAndre Jordan for weeks, and some of those teams would have to consider the younger Favors a viable alternative.

Overall, I’d guess the likelihood of a Jazz trade is higher than most years. But it won’t be a deal designed to right the ship in the short term. The Jazz want to be good, but they know they’re not competing for titles right now. As such, a strictly “win-now” deal, while what many fans want, isn’t likely going to be the aim.

 

Words from a Jazz player or coach about a relevant or timely topic.

“We’re not a good enough team to overcome some of those moments where we lack urgency or focus. There’s a lot of little things that you just have to do, that we have to do a better job of.”

– Snyder, to KSL’s Andy Larsen after Utah suffered a fourth straight loss on Wednesday

What a great quote to sum up Utah’s current slide. It’s easy to get caught up in the big things — lineups, struggling starters, macro themes. But winning or losing more often comes down to plays like this one.

With 18.4 seconds left, the Jazz’s only hope here is a quick foul, but they miscommunicate on the switch and it takes them three full seconds to get to the ball. Justin Holiday even chuckles about it at the end of the clip.

Those three seconds could have come in handy. Let’s pretend the Jazz fouled quicker but everything else went the same way until the last play: then the Jazz would have had six seconds to find a good look on a tying three instead of having to settle for the one-handed fling that Mitchell could get off on a rushed final possession.

For that matter, on the ensuing Jazz possession, why did they go for a layup with so little time left and no timeouts remaining?

These are very granular examples meant to illustrate a very broad point, but you get the idea. The Jazz are simply making mental mistakes that winning teams don’t make. They’ll sort it out, but this isn’t a team that can afford to miss what Snyder calls the little things.

 

Stats and figures that help tell prominent stories from the week.

1-11

The Jazz’s record when they shoot under 37 percent from 3. By contrast, they’re 12-4 when they reach that figure. “Make or miss league” is a cliché and too often lets teams and players off the hook for not executing to generate the right types of shots. But that’s a pretty stark difference and tells the story of the Jazz’s season so far.

 

A quick dissection of an awesome bit of Jazz offense from the week.

The week featured just two games, and they happened to be two of Utah’s worst nine offensive performances of the year. But the Jazz briefly found something that worked in Milwaukee, turning the Bucks’ trapping defense against them.

The Jazz got Gobert dunks on consecutive plays by having him to set pindown screens on the weak side of the court. (A pindown is a screen set toward the baseline for a cutter to pop out toward the perimeter.)

After Gobert fakes a backpick for Sefolosha so he can come to the ball, Thabo’s side of the court becomes the strong side. The weak side is empty except for Ingles and eventually Gobert, who goes to set the pindown for him. Ingles catches off the pindown, and the Jazz execute it like a pick-and-roll from that point. Since Milwaukee likes to trap, both defenders jump out on Ingles, and there’s nobody behind the play in a position to help.

The weakside isn’t as empty on the second play, but other than that, it’s the same exact situation. Gobert sets the pindown and it flows right into P&R action on the catch. Both Bucks defenders trap, and Rudy finds the alley where he can cut behind the strong-side help and before the weak corner guy comes over.

And, it worked well enough that later when Gobert cuts in looking like he was preparing to set another weakside pindown, the defenders kind of freaked out and don’t really know who’s screening for whom, and Gobert got another dunk — think time via the alley-oop pass from the strong wing.

 

Doling out credit for Jazz wins, one imaginary Spalding at a time.

Alas, an empty game ball section. And there’s no guarantee we’ll have leather to dole out next week, either. Friday is the start of a 5-in-7-nights stretch, and Utah will be the underdog, per FiveThirtyEight, in the first four. The fifth is a home game, but it’s a back-to-back with travel, and it’s against a Spurs team that now has their 2017 MVP candidate back in Kawhi Leonard.

 

A look at the Jazz’s postseason probabilities

Utah’s now looking up at eight teams, but predictive models still like the Jazz’s chances at wrestling somebody out. They’ve got a 68 percent chance or better in the three models I pay the most attention to2. But those percentages will continue to drop if the losing streak gets stretched out.

Plenty of other teams fighting for West playoff spots are experiencing their own bad stretches and fundamental problems, so it’s not time for doom and gloom yet. But Utah needs to defy the oddsmakers during this tough stretch of games.

 

Because, at the end of the day, this should be fun.

Well, we finally know what the top half of the Jazz’s new “city series” kit will look like. I believe it was Twitter’s Kung Fu Kenny who first shared an accidentally leaked screen shot from NBA 2K.

One humble columnist’s verdict: this is a much better execution on the idea than the earlier guess. That version had entirely too much yellow, not even hitting Southern Utah orange until you got to the shorts. If anything, this one actually looks redder, so much so that when the Fanzz website accidentally posted premature pictures of a new hat, some thought it might be University of Utah-related.

Which leads to my biggest criticism of this jersey. There’s nothing about it that says Jazz, literally or figuratively. No note. No wordmark. If it weren’t for the NBA logo, someone could think this was the Runnin’ Utes’ new alternate.

They also didn’t really make the Southern Utah connection very evident. An arch or hoodoo silhouette would have helped explain the concept to outsiders. Some have pointed out that the accompanying court design may do that, but if the jerseys only make sense to casual observers with Larry Miller Court as the backdrop, then they don’t really function as desired outside of Salt Lake City.

So my review is mixed. It could have been a lot worse, but this design doesn’t really directly link to the Jazz or the part of the state they were reportedly trying to recognize.

Salt City Seven 2017-18 Archive

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton


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