There’s no standard way to evaluate NBA players after a season ends. There is no rubric to follow or formula that would spit out a definitive and inarguable grade.
As I’m the one doing the grading, I set out to come up with my own system. But, as soon as I began, I ran into a problem. There are some things that are weighted differently from one player to the next.
So, I’ve done my best to be judicious in grading each player and providing an explanation for those grades. So, without further ado, here are the final season marks for each player on the 2020-21 Utah Jazz roster.
Donovan Mitchell: A
There’s no other way to say it, Donovan Mitchell is a bona fide star. With an injured ankle he scored 32.3 points per game during the playoffs, shooting 43.5% from 3-point range. What Mitchell was able to do during the postseason, under less than ideal conditions, was impressive by any standard, and that came after a regular season in which he again improved nearly every aspect of his game.
Mitchell’s game slowed down this season, he got to the free-throw line more, picked his spots, increased his assists and offensive rebounding numbers, took and made more 3s, fouled less and was a leader on the No. 1 team in the league.
In Mitchell’s fourth season he proved that he was more than worthy of the max extension that kicked in this summer.
Mitchell sprained his ankle on April 16, which left him unable to play through the rest of the regular season and hampered him during the playoffs. But that injury is not the reason that Mitchell does not get an A+ for the season.
If there is any knock to Mitchell’s game it is that he has slipped slightly on the defensive end. It is understandable that a player with his offensive abilities is not a lockdown defender, but it’s the last piece of his game that hasn’t seen the same type of increased improvement.
In every other area, Mitchell has excelled.
Rudy Gobert: A-
In evaluating some players, one of the most important questions to ask is, did they do what was asked of them, and how well did they do it?
Rudy Gobert is not a perfect player, but he does what is asked of him and does it better than almost anyone else.
This season Gobert became a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, earned his second All-Star bid, led the league in total plus-minus and was arguably the most reliable piece of the Jazz’s roster throughout the regular season, playing in 71 of the 72 games.
The reason the Jazz have coveted Gobert so much is because of his defensive prowess and Gobert has never given anyone a reason to doubt him in that area.
It is fair to say that Gobert doesn’t fare as well against five-out lineups, and that he was not as impactful defensively during the Jazz’s second-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. But it is also important to note that Gobert did what was asked of him and that, in large part, the Jazz’s defensive deficiencies were not his fault. Had the Jazz’s perimeter defense been better, Gobert would not be under so much scrutiny, would not have been responsible for cleaning up so many messes and would have been able to recover or close out with more certainty.
I don’t think it’s fair to blame the Jazz’s defensive problems on Gobert. It’s roster construction that puts so much responsibility on Gobert’s shoulders, and no matter how broad those shoulders are, he can’t defend five people at once.
However, I do think it’s fair to wonder what it would be like if Gobert had better touch around the rim, if he had a baby-hook shot at his disposal, or if he were stronger on pick-and-roll drives. Gobert’s offensive flaws have long been documented and the Jazz do not rely on him for scoring the way that other teams rely on their centers. Even so, there are things that Gobert can improve on and as the years go by it gets harder to defend him when there are small changes to his offensive game that could help the Jazz.
All that being said, Gobert did what the Jazz asked of him and then he did more.
Mike Conley: A-
After a 2019-20 season that was unstable, many wondered whether Mike Conley would be able to contribute to the Jazz in a meaningful and consistent way.
Conley silenced all doubters throughout the regular season, earning his first ever All-Star bid and having one of the best seasons of his 14-year career. He was a crucial part of the Jazz’s offense and was underrated for his defensive performance throughout the year. He took and made more 3-pointers than he ever has in his career and did so while still leading the Jazz in assists.
As cliche as it sounds, Conley’s presence on the court provided a calming and controlled aspect to the offense. The Jazz were without a doubt worse off without him and that time came at the worst time possible when a nagging hamstring injury sidelined him during the second round of the playoffs.
Father Time is undefeated and as NBA players age, those type of injuries are harder to manage. But the injury was not Conley’s fault and when he was on the floor he provided everything that the Jazz wanted from him and more. It seemed like he’d been on this team for years with the way his chemistry with nearly every other player on the roster flowed.
There are certainly concerns moving forward about Conley’s longevity, and those will be discussed when the Jazz enter free agency talks with Conley this summer. But as far as the 2020-21 season is concerned, Conley performed admirably.
Bojan Bogdanovic: A
After nine months away from the game following wrist surgery, Bojan Bogdanovic needed some time to get back to normal. But throughout his early struggles — the fear of falling on his surgically repaired wrist, shooting while taped or wearing a brace, ups and downs from the 3-point line — Bogdanovic improved on his post game and stepped up for the Jazz when they were missing their All-Star backcourt at the end of the season.
He didn’t miss a single game this season, became a lethal scoring threat at nearly every spot on the court, found ways to get his game going even when his shot wasn’t falling, notched a career high 48 points against the Denver Nuggets in May, and then shot 46.1% from 3 during the playoffs.
The Jazz did not acquire Bogdanovic two years ago because of his defensive game. The Jazz needed shooters and Bogdanovic is one of the best in the league, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Bogdanovic improve this season on the defensive end.
Through the regular season there were games here and there where Bogdanovic made impressive defensive plays, and those were seen as a bonus to what he was able to do on the offensive end. But, when Bogdanovic caught Kawhi Leonard on a switch during the playoffs, he was outstanding. He’s not the Jazz’s answer to the wing defense problems that the team has, but he should be applauded for what he was able to do.
He shot the lights out, he stepped up and took on more offensive responsibility when the Jazz needed it, and he improved other areas of his game along the way. There’s not much more you could have asked of him after a surgery and isolated offseason of rehab.
Royce O’Neale: B
When evaluating Royce O’Neale, for nearly every good point, you could point to something that needs improvement or was lacking.
The Jazz need O’Neale for his perimeter defense and a lot is asked of him as the best perimeter defender on the team. O’Neale leads the league in minutes against the opponent’s top players. Almost every night O’Neale is tasked with guarding the other team’s top scoring option and that doesn’t come easy. He can’t be perfect, and no one is expecting him to be. But, there are definitely times when he misses rotations or lets a guy get past him with too much ease and those moments stand out, especially in the playoffs.
This season in particular, some of the blame goes to the Jazz’s front office. O’Neale cannot protect the entirety of the perimeter by himself. Much like Gobert, too much was put on his shoulders and the Jazz didn’t have anyone else to look to when things weren’t going well.
On the offensive end, like many of the players on this Jazz roster, O’Neale took more 3-pointers and hit them at an impressive rate this season. But, O’Neale hesitates too often from beyond the arc, and when he hesitates it gives the defense enough time to settle and throws the Jazz’s offense off.
In short, O’Neale does what he does well, but at this point, he needs to do a little more.
Jordan Clarkson: A
The NBA’s 2020-21 Sixth Man of the Year was stellar for the Jazz. He was the team’s second-leading scorer all season long, and he continued to elevate his game.
There are no secrets to Clarkson’s game. He’s a bucket getter, plain and simple. That’s exactly what the Jazz wanted from him and that’s what they got. The game continues to slow down for Clarkson and when he’s playing under control he’s one of the best scorers in the game.
There are certain people who will say that the Jazz needed more from Clarkson in the postseason, but the reason the Jazz needed more from Clarkson was because the team was without one of its lead ballhandlers and offensive creators (Conley). That’s not the kind of player that Clarkson is and it’s understandable that he couldn’t pick up the slack when Conley was unavailable.
Joe Ingles: C+
Here’s where things start to get a little sticky. When the Jazz needed more creation and more production in the absence of Conley, it was Joe Ingles that should have been able to provide a boost. Ingles has the skill set and talent to make up for a missing creator and shooter, but when the Jazz needed more from Ingles, they didn’t get it.
Ingles had an incredible regular season and took over a lot of those responsibilities when Mitchell and Conley were injured before the playoffs started. He was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting and shot the ball incredibly.
When Ingles wasn’t performing well in the Jazz’s first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, the excuse was that he was fatigued by the extra responsibility he shouldered through the home stretch of the regular season. But then after some rest as the Jazz awaited their second-round opponent Ingles wasn’t as effective on the offensive or defensive side as the Jazz needed him to be.
If Ingles is at the point in his career where rest needs to be prioritized in order for him to be fresh for the playoffs, then the Jazz should make that effort if he remains on the team. But this is not the first time that Ingles’ performance has declined for the Jazz during the playoffs and if he can’t be relied upon to give the Jazz what they need at the most important time of the year, then it negates all the good work done during the regular season.
Derrick Favors: C
There is absolutely no doubt that Derrick Favors is a fan favorite, and there were high hopes in his return to Utah. But, Favors’ first season back after a one-year departure from the Jazz was disappointing on the whole.
Favors was clearly an upgrade over Tony Bradley as a reserve center, but that’s a low bar to clear and shouldn’t be the standard for someone who is on a three-year, $29.2 million contract. There were some great moments throughout the season but they were few and far between.
Likewise, there were some fantastic moments during the playoffs. But there were far more instances in which Favors was a nonfactor than those when he was impactful for the Jazz.
Georges Niang: B-
The regular season was great for Georges Niang. He improved his shooting, his rebounding, his defense was looking better than ever and with free agency around the corner it looks like he’s done enough to earn a nice paycheck.
Unfortunately, all of the improvements seen throughout the regular season did not materialize in the playoffs for Niang. He was playing in just over 11 minutes per game in the postseason, but it was clear that he wasn’t ready.
It’s important to note that this was Niang’s fifth year in the league. While it’s clear that he continues to improve as a player, it’s also fair to wonder if the Jazz should invest more time in a player that wasn’t able to deliver during the playoffs.
Miye Oni: C
After some small flashes of promise last season there were a lot of high hopes for Miye Oni coming into his sophomore NBA year. Perhaps those hopes were a little too high.
Oni’s shooting numbers declined this season as did his defensive numbers. Like Niang, Oni was not ready for the playoffs, and although he wasn’t on the court much, he was thoroughly outplayed.
The Jazz needed some of their developing players to take a jump this season and Oni didn’t really stand out as much as anyone would have liked.
Ersan Ilyasova: B+
The Jazz needed to fill a roster spot midseason and they gave that spot to Ersan Ilyasova.
There really isn’t that much to say about Ilyasova’s time with the Jazz. He played in 17 games and shot the air out of the ball — 43.9% from 3.
He played in just one playoff game and the Jazz never made him a real part of the rotation. So he did good in his limited time.
Juwan Morgan: B
As we get down to the players that rarely saw the court, it’s more difficult to evaluate them because, well, there’s less to evaluate.
Juwan Morgan played in more games this season than he did last year in his rookie season, but that’s because the Jazz had more blowout games than they did last season. Morgan was used almost exclusively in garbage time and that didn’t really give him the opportunity to flourish.
Elijah Hughes: B
As a rookie who needs polishing, it’s not easy to get time on the court with a team that’s trying to secure a No. 1 seed and has title hopes. That being said, Elijah Hughes had a few nice moments and shot the ball a little better than was expected.
The team really seemed to take a liking to Hughes and that points to him being a good locker room guy.
Udoka Azubuike: Pass
It doesn’t really feel appropriate to grade Udoka Azubuike this season. He wasn’t going to get much playing time in the first place and then in his first game with the SLC Stars in the G League bubble, he suffered a significant ankle sprain that kept him sidelined almost the entire season.
There isn’t really enough of a sample to say whether or not Azubuike did well. So with him, we’ll go with a pass/fail grade and he passes if for no other reason than being on the sideline and cheering on his team even though he couldn’t be on the court with them.
Matt Thomas: D
The Jazz gave up a second-round draft pick at the trade deadline to acquire Matt Thomas who came to Utah with the reputation of being a knock down shooter and quickly developing player.
Thomas shot just 25.6% from 3-point range after joining the Jazz and never looked good enough to become a part of the rotation.
Jarrell Brantley: B+
Based on the opportunities that Jarrell Brantley got in the bubble last season, it seemed like he might have more of a chance to break into the rotation this season, but the two-way player was a casualty of the Jazz’s restrictive rotations and mostly played in garbage time.
Even so, Brantley’s shooting numbers looked significantly better this year so he deserves credit for improving his game despite on-court opportunities.
Trent Forrest: C
The Jazz’s other two-way player got a little more of a chance at real minutes when Mitchell and Conley were sidelined and there were flashes in the rookie’s game that seemed promising as far as creation, ballhandling and driving are concerned.
But, if Forrest wants to have a spot on a roster in this league he’ll have to make some real improvements on his shooting after finishing the season hitting just 19.2% from 3.