The NBA regular season is right around the corner. The Utah Jazz have gone through training camp and the preseason and there are only a handful of days that remain before the 2021-22 campaign begins.
Shortly before the Jazz headed to Las Vegas for training camp back in late September, I posed nine questions that I thought could be answered by before the regular season began. Today, I bring you the answers.
From the health of the team and possible rotations to what can be expected from new additions to the roster, here’s what we’ve learned.
Are Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley healthy and pain free?
Donovan Mitchell suffered a pretty significant ankle sprain at the end of last season, which hampered him through the playoffs and left many wondering what the Jazz might have been able to accomplish if he’d been healthy.
Not helping matters was that Mike Conley was injured at the same time, nursing nagging hamstring strains that he couldn’t seem to get past.
The good news is that both players are pain free, healthy and ready to go.
Mitchell said the recovery time from his injury was prolonged, but he came to training camp fully healed and in great shape, having been able to return to action before he got back to Utah.
Rest was all that Conley needed and he got plenty of that following the Jazz’s postseason exit. Now the question is what can the Jazz do to prevent the same thing from happening again? And that brings us to our next preseason question.
What is the plan with Conley this season?
Conley wasn’t playing in both games of back-to-back sets last season and he expects that the same will be true this season. He also made a point of saying he thinks his rest days should be spent differently. Rather than taking the day to do nothing and rest, he thinks he’ll find better results by conditioning and doing strength exercises on rest days so that he doesn’t come back into the next game cold.
The veteran guard took up yoga this offseason and said he has been really dedicated to it and is already feeling the benefits. He’s hoping the addition of yoga to his regular routine will help to fend off some soft tissue injuries.
The Jazz are staying pretty quiet about anything more specific, but the depth of the team does make it seem like there will be more opportunities for the more experienced players to take it easy this season.
Is Jared Butler going to be ready to be part of the Jazz rotation?
Prior to the preseason games, the only time we’d been able to see Jared Butler in action was when he was at Baylor.
He played in three of the Jazz’s preseason games (missing one due to a non-COVID-19-related illness) and he was really impressive. Butler’s handles and court vision, strength and defensive instincts make him seem wise beyond the experience of a rookie, so it’s hard to imagine that he’s not a part of the Jazz’s rotation moving forward.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder has been pretty strict with his rotations and he’s pointed to how experienced the top nine players on the Jazz are this season, which will make it difficult for other players to find time. But, that doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunities.
Butler is just too good to not play. So he’ll probably get a chance in spot minutes here and there and then will likely be the Jazz’s first option when players like Conley or Joe Ingles take a night off.
What are the Jazz getting out of having training camp in Las Vegas?
For the first time since 2008 the Jazz hosted training camp outside of Utah, choosing instead to head to Las Vegas. There are three reasons the Jazz wanted to have training camp somewhere other than Salt Lake City.
First, Snyder liked what he saw when the team was in the Orlando bubble and they were more or less forced to spend time with one another without going home after practice and having the comforts and distractions that come with being at home. He wanted the team to be in an environment that expedited bonding.
Second, Snyder didn’t want to just hop into a new season without addressing what the team had gone through the past two seasons. In less than a year the Jazz had blown a 3-1 lead in the first round to the Denver Nuggets and then a 2-0 lead to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the playoffs. He wanted the team to process everything together, again away from the comforts and distractions of home and family.
Finally, there were some renovations that were taking place at the Jazz’s practice facility and they needed some finishing touches, so the Jazz leaving town was just serendipitously convenient.
Did they Jazz get what they wanted out of their destination training camp? So far all signs point to yes. Ingles said the team talked through what happened in the playoffs the last two years and that even the newcomers to the team added what they’d seen from the outside. Hassan Whiteside said this is the most close-knit team he’s ever been a part of and he’s only been here a few weeks. Those are good things to hear just two weeks after the trip to Las Vegas.
What was Quin Snyder’s summer like?
It turns out that Snyder’s offseason wasn’t much different than some of the players.
A short time away from the game with his family was a salve after the playoffs and then it was time to get back to work.
It’s not like Snyder was in the gym working on his defensive angles or his jump shot, but he was spending countless hours watching film and dissecting things from last season so he could implement things that would make the Jazz better.
What is Snyder’s plan for Rudy Gay?
This question probably won’t properly be answered for a little while, because Rudy Gay won’t be playing for a little while.
During training camp we learned that Gay had an offseason procedure to clean up some problem areas in his right heel. The procedure will hopefully leave Gay feeling better than he has in years after playing through pain caused by bursitis and bone spurs, but it will take some time for him to heal.
That said, we can probably expect for Gay to take over the Georges Niang minutes and to play some small-ball five when the matchup calls for it. We saw the Jazz use Eric Paschall in that way during the preseason a little, so that’s some indication of what to expect, but to really know we’ll have to wait and see.
Can Udoka Azubuike compete with Hassan Whiteside for reserve minutes?
Through the Jazz’s four preseason games it was pretty clear that Udoka Azubuike needs some more time to develop.
It’s unfortunate that he was injured through so much of last season because some game reps would really help get him up to NBA speed on understanding where he needs to be on both sides of the ball, but that’s where we are. He needs more time.
The Jazz gave their final two-way deal to Justin James. What do they see in him?
The Jazz gave their final two-way deal to Justin James, and then they took it away. The Jazz have kept their reasons for moving on from James pretty quiet, but no matter the reasons, it means the Jazz have a two-way deal up for grabs.
It seems like the Jazz might have found something they like in Malik Fitts, who joined the team while they were in Las Vegas and has had some really nice moments throughout the preseason.
The Jazz’s 2021-22 roster is going to be finalized on Monday afternoon.
Will the backup point guard rotation change this season?
The short answer is no.
The Jazz’s lead ballhandlers — Mitchell, Conley and Ingles — are going to continue with the lion’s share of playmaking duties.
Sometimes they’ll look to Jordan Clarkson to initiate some offense and sometimes when Ingles or Conley are resting the jazz will probably turn to Butler or Trent Forrest, but I wouldn’t expect any major changes.