Coming off arguably their best offseason in team history, the Utah Jazz are primed and ready to make a run for the team's first-ever championship.\
We're doing a preview of the season as it starts Wednesday night at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 2News was there as Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander talked about facing Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz.
Our preview includes the following categories:
- Regular season predictions
- Playoff predictions
- Player rankings
- Short profiles of new Jazz players
So let's get started with a very active offseason...
Last season Utah won 50 games (50-32) but won only one playoff game in a quick first-round exit thanks to the Houston Rockets.
In order to compete for a championship now, the Jazz overhauled their roster begging with the trade for Mike Conley.
To get Conley, the "best player to never make an NBA All-Star Game," the Jazz shipped Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and 2018 1st round draft pick Grayson Allen to Memphis.
Conley also won the 2018-19 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year and Sportsmanship award. Conley has long been known for being a "locker room" guy, and his award cements that status.
The Jazz also signed sharp-shooting forward Bojan Bogdanovic along with three mid-level free agents in Jeff Green, Ed Davis, and Emmanuel Mudiay. Utah traded their longest-tenured player, Derrick Favors (who spent the past 9 seasons in Utah) to the Pelicans for two second-round draft picks, to make room for the moves.
The Jazz added three rookies through the draft:
- F Jarrell Brantley (No. 50 pick, via Pacers)
- G Justin Wright-Foreman (No. 53 pick)
- G Miye Oni (No. 58 pick, via Warriors)
Utah signed it's 2017 second-round pick Nigel Williams-Goss to a three-year contract.
Two others, Stanton Kidd, and William Howard were signed to one-year minimum contracts called "Exhibit 10" contracts, which allow players waived by their NBA team to earn bonuses for signing and staying with that teams G-League affiliate.
The Jazz are returning seven players:
- Rudy Gobert
- Donovan Mitchell
- Joe Ingles
- Royce O'Neale
- Dante Exum
- Georges Niang
- Tony Bradley
While the Jazz added Conley and Bogdanovic, Green, Davis, and Mudiay, their stellar offseason was overshadowed in national sports media by some of the bigger moves in the NBA.
All-Star Anthony Davis teamed up with LeBron James with hopes to bring home another championship for the Lakers.
Also in L.A., NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard signed a deal with the Clippers at the same time the team brought in Paul George via trade. That's a move widely believed to have been orchestrated by Leonard.
Two Jazz villains in the past two playoff seasons, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, are teaming up in Houston.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are joining forces in Brooklyn, although Durant is expected to miss his entire first season with the Nets.
The Celtics added Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter to join former Jazzman Gordon Hayward on a team looking to secure home-court advantage in the playoffs.
We could go on. While the general NBA fan might be overlooking the Jazz this season, the experts are not. Below, we've collected some predictions from national, and local experts on the NBA.
JAZZ REGULAR SEASON PREDICTIONS
In a 2019 NBA preview, ESPN listed the Jazz as the 7th best team in the entire NBA, forecasting them to go 52-30, one win better than last season.
However, ESPN's experts say it's possible for the Jazz to win 60 games. Here's how:
Patience isn't necessarily a virtue for a team trying to earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs in the West. The Jazz dug themselves a huge hole at the start of the past two seasons and can't afford to do so again. The revamped Utah roster didn't have the luxury of working together much before camp opened, because the top three returning Jazz players (Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles) were representing their countries in the FIBA World Cup. To venture anywhere near the 60-win club this season, the Jazz will need to find a way to click, and fast.
Here's an ESPN video breaking down some "seismic shifts" in the NBA, including the "powder-keg potential" of Donovan Mitchell.
In the video the narrator says:
Mitchell is a 23-year-old rocket ship ready to launch, and Mike Conley may just be the fuel to put the Jazz into orbit. A playmaking lead guard who can also score, Conley, will allow Mitchell to play off the ball.
Also in an NBA rankings debate, ESPN's Royce Young had nothing but praise for Conley, saying he will be the newcomer who has the biggest impact on his new team. Yong says:
Conley could completely transform the Jazz. He fits in culturally and checks a lot of boxes as a player, but his steady control of the game and ability to create on his own raise Utah's ceiling. Conley allows Donovan Mitchell to slide off the ball more and play as a slashing guard, but don't sleep on Conley's takeover talent. He's a proven playoff winner and has a history of big shots and big plays.
Sporting News Australia wrote an entire piece titled: "Why the Utah Jazz will have the best record in the NBA in 2019-20," by Matthew Blum.
In the story, Blum says:
With the tectonic shifts occurring all over the NBA this summer, picking the Jazz to finish with the best record in the league is admittedly not a flashy choice. Not only do they not have a true MVP candidate, they don’t have an All-Star appearance on the roster. What Utah did do this summer, though, is preserve the core of an already very good team, have arguably the best offseason in franchise history and build one of the most balanced rosters in the league.
It's not all rosy for the Jazz, with CBS Sports pointing out the Jazz are notorious for starting the regular slow:
Utah is just going to take some lumps along the way as it sorts through a relatively messy roster. Neither Bojan Bogdanovic nor Joe Ingles makes sense at power forward full-time. Who is coming off of the bench? The Mike Conley-Donovan Mitchell fit has some kinks to work out. Where is the perimeter defense coming from? The Jazz have enough talent to eventually figure all of this out, but the Western Conference schedule is unforgiving. The Jazz draw the Lakers, Bucks, 76ers and Clippers twice in their first nine games. A slow start seems probable.
Despite all that, CBS Sports still has Utah ranked 6th in their latest preseason power rankings, which points out the Jazz's disappointing preseason defense:
Yes it's the preseason, but there has to be at least slight concern that the Jazz had the worst defense in the league in their five exhibition games at 111.4 points allowed per 100 possessions (worse than the New Zealand Breakers). Don't expect that to continue once real games start, but it does highlight the defensive adjustment the team has to make with its new players and the departure of Derrick Favors.
FiveThirtyEight's 2019-20 NBA predictions only use statistics to predict the teams with the best regular-season records. Utah is ranked 8th in the latest model, but five Western Conference teams are higher, meaning the Jazz would be a 6th seed in the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs...
JAZZ PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
After a quick first-round exit earlier this year, the Jazz are expected by many to make a playoff run, with some experts even putting the Jazz in the NBA Finals.
NBA.com's Steve Aschburner said:
Coach Quin Snyder has Utah pointed toward its fourth consecutive postseason and third 50-victory season in four years. If Gobert can stay healthy and effective -- without the help to which he’d grown accustomed from the brawny Favors -- the Jazz might be able to push to the top of the West and reach The Finals for the first time since Michael Jordan was trolling Karl Malone and John Stockton.
ESPN's Jalen Rose and David Jacoby discuss 2020 playoff predictions. Jacoby has the Jazz as the 5th seed, behind the Nuggets, Rockets, Lakers, and Clippers. The clip below starts just as Rose talks about Utah.
FiveThirtyEight playoff prediction model gives Utah an 86% chance of making the playoffs, a 5% chance of making it to the NBA Finals, and a 2% chance of winning it all.
Several lists ranking the top 100 players in the NBA have been released, and the Jazz landed the same five players (Conley, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert, and Bogdanovic) on each of the following lists:
- #17 - Rudy Gobert
- #24 - Mike Conley
- #27 - Donovan Mitchell
- #66 - Joe Ingles
- #72 - Bojan Bogdanovic
- #14 - Rudy Gobert
- #20 - Donovan Mitchell
- #24 - Mike Conley
- #48 - Bojan Bogdanovic
- #62 - Joe Ingles
- #14 - Rudy Gobert
- #28 - Mike Conley
- #31 - Donovan Mitchell
- #55 - Joe Ingles
- #83 - Bojan Bogdanovic
- #14 - Rudy Gobert
- #26 - Mike Conley
- #29 - Donovan Mitchell
- #52 - Bojan Bogdanovic
- #65 - Joe Ingles
MEET 5 OF THE NEW GUYS
Mike Conley, Jr. - The 6'0" guard was born on October 11, 1987, in Fayetteville, Arkansas before moving to Indianapolis to attend high school with former #1 overall draft pick Greg Oden. Conley and Oden led Lawrence North High School to three consecutive Indiana state championships. Conley went 103-7 during his four-year high school career. A five-star recruit, Conley, along with Oden, played at The Ohio State University for one year before declaring for the 2007 NBA Draft. In that draft, Oden went #1 to Portland and Conley went #4 to Memphis. Conley's father, Mike Conley Sr., is an Olympic gold and silver medalist in the triple jump. Conley Jr. is active in his Christian faith, crediting his mother saying:
My mother is my biggest spiritual role model. She has great faith and has always been very religious — her mother and her mother down the line. Everything she has done in raising me, I really look up to her for it. She got me headed in the right direction.
Bojan Bogdanovic - The 6'8" Croatian forward was born in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina on April 18, 1989. Bogdanovic began his career in basketball in 2004, when he was 15 years old with his hometown club Zrinjski Mostar, a team with which he played one year. The Spanish basketball club Real Madrid Baloncesto then signed Bogdanovic to a five-year deal. Bogdanovic bounced around various European teams before signing a three-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014. Brooklyn traded Bogdanovic in 2017 to the Washington Wizards here he played the remainder of the 2016-17 season. After the season Bogdanovic signed with the Indiana Pacers. Bogdanovic had a career-best year last season as he started in all 82 games and played a bigger offensive role following the injury of Victor Oladipo. That play is, in part, one reason the Jazz targeted Bogdanovic in free agency.
Jeff Green - The 6'8" forward was born August 28, 1986, in Cheverly, Md. In 2004, Green led his high school, Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md. to the state basketball championship. Green was recruited by Georgetown, a school he played three years with before he was drafted 5th overall in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. Shortly after, Green, along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West, was traded to the Seattle Supersonics for Ray Allen and Glen Davis. Allen would play a key part in the Celtics' championship run in 2008. Green would play with the Sonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise until 2011 when he was traded back to the Celtics. Green played with Boston until 2015 when he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. Just one month later, Green was again traded, this time to the Los Angeles Clippers. In the next four years, Green would sign one-year deals with four different teams; Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, and finally the Utah Jazz.
Green's coach at Georgetown, John Thompson III said the following of Green in a Sports Illustrated interview.
You'll stop and think when I say this, but it's true: Jeff Green is the smartest player I've ever coached. You would know this better than most: that's a hell of a statement.
Ed Davis - Born June 5, 1989, in Washington, D.C., the 6'9" Ed Davis won two state championships with Benedictine High School in Richmond, Virginia. Davis would win an NCAA championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2009 while coming off the bench with 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Davis decided to return to UNC for a second year, rather than declare for the NBA draft. In February of his second year at UNC, Davis broke his wrist, ending his season. Foregoing his final two college years of eligibility, Davis declared for the 2010 NBA Draft. The Toronto Raptors picked Davis with the 13th overall pick. Before signing with the Jazz, Davis would play for the Grizzlies, Lakers, Trail Blazers, and Nets. Davis' father Terry Davis, played in the NBA from 1989 to 2001 for the Heat, Mavericks, Wizards, and Nuggets.
Emmanuel Mudiay - The 6'3" Congolese point guard was born March 5, 1996, in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Mudiay's story is quite incredible. His father died when he was a toddler. Mudiay's family also faced constant fear from the Second Congo War, which made for constant instability near his family's home. His mother grew enough coffee and vegetables to feed her children. In 2001, Mudiay's mother and her sons sought asylum in the United States. Mudiay would play for two high schools in the Dallas area before committing to play for the SMU Mustangs in 2013. One year later, Mudiay decided to leave college basketball and play for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association with a one-year $1.2 million contract. In 2015, Mudiay entered the NBA draft and was taken 7th overall by Denver. In 2018, Mudiay was traded to the Knicks. On July 20, 2019, Mudiay signed with the Jazz as a free agent.