Midseason review: Grading each Jazz player at the halfway point
After a strong start to the season and some rough patches too, the Jazz are 29-16, fourth in the Western Conference standings. Here’s how each player graded out
Before a season begins, expectations are set for every player on an NBA roster. At the end of the season, we grade those players based on how they performed relative to those expectations.
Well, this year we are checking in midseason for a performance review of every Utah Jazz player and handing out midseason grades for the 2021-22 season.
Donovan Mitchell — B
There are certain players who have to be held to a higher standard. Donovan Mitchell is one of them. A two-time All-Star who is making max money, it is expected of Mitchell to lead this Jazz team. With those expectations comes the understanding that in order for the Jazz to reach the pinnacle of the basketball world, Mitchell would have to improve year after year, even now.
Even Mitchell himself has said that he has to be better, especially on the defensive end, if the Jazz are to contend for a title. But, one of the buzz words of the season for the Jazz has been inconsistency and Mitchell is a part of the reason why.
His points, rebounds and shooting percentages are all down compared to last season, while his turnovers per game have increased. And, despite some signs in the early weeks of the season that he was focusing more on the defensive end, there have been too many games where Mitchell’s focus on defense has waned.
If you were to look at Mitchell’s stats, and if he was any other player, there would be very little room for criticism. Mitchell is routinely a high-scoring delight to watch on the court. But, he has to be more than just a scorer and more than just a highlight reel in order to take the Jazz to the promised land. He shows flashes and glimpses of being that player, but he still has untapped potential.
Rudy Gobert — A
After winning a third Defensive Player of the Year award, it’s hard to imagine that Rudy Gobert could look better than he did last year, but he’s done what seemed nearly impossible and has proven his value is even higher than previously believed.
Though he won’t be the popular choice, and he’s unlikely to win the award, Gobert has garnered some Most Valuable Player buzz, in a season where the MVP race promises to be quite crowded.
Gobert’s value to the Jazz cannot be overstated. He is the anchor to everything they do defensively, he is the person who cleans up and tries to minimize the defensive flaws the Jazz have on the perimeter, and on the offensive end he is the sun. The gravity he provides allows the other Jazz players to orbit in space and find open opportunities to punish teams that collapse around him.
Gobert is averaging a career-best 15.2 rebounds per game, is hitting shots at a career-best 71.4% and is on pace to have his most efficient free-throw shooting campaign.
If Gobert had stayed consistent and been playing at the same level he had last season, he would probably be getting an A for his efforts, because he’s that good. The fact that he has improved and looks even more impressive makes the grade an easy one.
Mike Conley — A
This season, perimeter defense has been a hot topic for the Jazz, because it’s the one area they could improve and the one area that seems to be holding them back from entering an elite tier. But Mike Conley is often a lone bright spot for the Jazz even when they are struggling in that realm.
Of the Jazz’s perimeter players, Conley has arguably been the most consistent and the best defender.
Despite being 34 years old, Conley has shown almost no signs of aging in the way that he plays the game. He is still agile and quick and can be matched up against rookie guards that are destined for greatness and lock them up.
While other players have seen shooting dips this season, and Conley is coming off of a 2020-21 season that was his most efficient, Conley is on pace to blow his previous numbers out of the water.
Conley has been the Jazz’s best 3-point shooter this season, hitting at a career-best 43% from deep while making 2-point field goals at a career-best clip of 50%. His shot attempts are down just a hair and as such so are his point totals, but so are his turnovers.
Bojan Bogdanovic — A
In 2019-20, Bojan Bogdanovic’s first season with the Jazz, the forward averaged a career-best 20.2 points per game. Though his 2021-22 midseason average is slightly less (18.2 points per game) he is playing more efficiently and effectively at all levels.
Through the first 41 games of the season Bogdanovic shot 41% from 3-point range, a great metric by anyone’s standards. But, Bogdanovic, who is known as a 3-point shooter, has elevated his interior game. He’s hitting 2-point field goals at a career-best clip of 54.3% this season while also rebounding a career-high 4.2 rebounds per game.
Bogdanovic has been a steady contributor and has continued to cut down his turnover rate in each season with the Jazz. While not considered a lock-down defender, Bogdanovic has proven to be useful in situations where a matchup calls for him to play against larger forwards. But it’s the gravity that Bogdanovic provides on the offensive end, and the spacing he provides that is most meaningful for the Jazz.
Though there hasn’t been huge changes in his game, there are incremental improvements to his post work, handling and interior finishing that have made this a positive season for Bogdanovic.
Royce O’Neale — B
Royce O’Neale is supposed to be the Jazz’s best perimeter defender. That’s his job.
O’Neale is tasked, more than any other player in the league, with guarding the opposing team’s No. 1 option, which has to be tiring considering the wide range of skills that each player he defends has on any given night. That, paired with the fact that the Jazz’s perimeter defense is often broken due to inefficiencies surrounding O’Neale, means that he is asked to do probably too much.
Nevertheless, O’Neale is up to the challenge — most of the time. But there are nights when he doesn’t look like the Jazz’s most versatile wing defender and instead is a part of the problem. Whether that is a function of him having too much on his plate, or because he is losing some of his prowess is up for debate.
All that being said, O’Neale is one of the more athletic players in the Jazz’s starting rotation and has also stepped up his game on the offensive end, as he’s done in each year with the Jazz. Behind Conley, O’Neale has been the Jazz’s second most efficient 3-point shooter and has improved in finishing at the rim and getting to the free-throw line.
Hassan Whiteside — B-
Expectations for Hassan Whiteside were low before the 2021-22 season began. Really what the Jazz needed was an upgrade over Derrick Favors, which after last season was not a particularly high bar to clear.
Whiteside, through the majority of the season, has been a pleasant surprise for the Jazz and has served as a reliable backup for Gobert at a level the Jazz haven’t had for many years. Whiteside has been unexpectedly accepting of his bench role and has dominated in those minutes for large stretches of the season.
What is concerning are the few instances when Whiteside looks disinterested, completely unengaged, and sometimes downright unwilling to play at the level that he shows on other nights.
For the most part, Whiteside has lived up to and exceeded expectations. The question remaining for him is, which Whiteside will the Jazz get when the postseason rolls around?
Jordan Clarkson — C
After an amazing Sixth Man of the Year campaign in the 2020-21 season, it was going to be difficult for Jordan Clarkson to replicate that performance this season, but it was expected that he would continue to succeed at a similar level.
Unfortunately, Clarkson has seen dips in nearly all major statistical categories this season. His points, rebounds, assists and steals are all down and so is his free-throw shooting percentage, his 3-point shooting percentage and his at-rim field-goal percentage.
On the plus side, there have been games this season where Clarkson’s passing acumen and his defensive effort have exceeded expectations and proven that he’s giving effort in areas outside of scoring, but it was his electric scoring off the bench that was so valuable for the Jazz.
He’s still averaging more than 15 points per game, but halfway through this season Clarkson seems to be having a bit of an off year.
Joe Ingles — D
There’s probably not a player on this Jazz roster that is more beloved by the fanbase than Joe Ingles, which is why it’s so unfortunate that he is having one of his worst seasons.
Ingles’ 3-point shooting percentage is 37% this season, his lowest mark since his rookie NBA year in 2014-15 and he’s averaging just a hair above seven points per game.
Even if his shooting numbers were better, Ingles just seems to have lost a step in his game. He’s no longer the same kind of threat in the pick-and-roll that he once was and he is not the same kind of defender that he once was.
After running neck-and-neck for the Sixth Man of the Year award with Clarkson and finishing as runner up in the voting for the award, there has been a steep drop-off for Ingles this season.
Rudy Gay — B
If we think back to Conley’s first season with the Jazz, there were some significant growing pains. It took quite a while for Conley to be able to figure out where he fit into the Jazz’s system. The same seems to be true for Rudy Gay. Even so, the 16-year NBA veteran clearly still has value and demands so much respect from opposing teams that he has been valuable for the Jazz.
There are certainly areas where the Jazz would hope that Gay improves. His shooting percentages are down just a bit and he is averaging single digits in points for the first time in his career, but he’s also coming off foot surgery and is trying to find his way in Quin Snyder’s complex system.
After just half a season with the Jazz, Gay is performing just fine. Hopefully, like Conley, he continues to carve out a role in which he can shine.
Eric Paschall — A
Eric Paschall started out the 2021-22 season as a part of the Jazz’s regular rotation, playing for Gay as he worked back from offseason surgery. In the minutes he played to start the year, he did a great job — he was a willing shooter, defended well, moved the ball and played hard.
When Gay returned to the lineup, Paschall fell out of the rotation completely, earning garbage time minutes at best. But, when injury or illness have meant that the Jazz needed someone to step up, Paschall has been more than ready. There never seems to be a difference in his attitude or his level of effort and commitment, no matter how limited his opportunities have been.
Paschall has been a pleasant surprise and adds valuable depth to the Jazz’s bench.
Trent Forrest — B-
On his second two-way contract with the Jazz, Forrest has been given a small role in the regular rotation so that Conley’s minutes can be kept down through the regular season as the Jazz look to preserve their veteran point guard for the playoffs.
Forrest has been just fine in that role, but there hasn’t been much improvement from what he looked like last season. Particularly, there hasn’t been any signs of significant development in his perimeter game, which is where he needed improvement the most.
Forrest has been more aggressive scoring the ball and has been reliable in his short stints, but there hasn’t been anything that’s really stood out as impressive.
Elijah Hughes — A
If there is one end-of-bench player that has impressed this season it’s been Elijah Hughes. He rarely sees the court and gets very limited opportunities, but when he does it’s clear that he’s been putting in a lot of work.
He is a natural scorer and has the build of a player that could develop into a fierce defender.
Udoka Azubuike/Jared Butler — Pass
There haven’t been too many opportunities for Udoka Azubuike or Jared Butler this season and it would probably be unfair to assign them a letter grade based on how very little time they’ve been given with the Jazz’s regular rotation.
With that in mind, it’s fair to give them both a passing grade for stepping up when they’ve been called up and for the work that they’ve put in with the SLC Stars this season.