As the NBA offseason approaches, it’s clear that more change is on the horizon for the Utah Jazz.
Who will be the future coach and what changes the team will make are not yet known, but the performance of each Jazz player through the 2021-22 season is going to inform the decisions that the Jazz front office will be making. Here we grade those performances and how it positions each player heading into the offseason.
Donovan Mitchell — B
The Jazz are largely going to be defined based on how good Donovan Mitchell is and they have been since his rookie season.
When Mitchell burst onto the NBA scene as an electric rookie, the Jazz made the playoffs and surprised many with how good they were. As the years have passed, Mitchell has played at an All-Star level and has been pretty consistent in how he plays. While there have been improvements and tweaks to his game, he hasn’t revved up his game to be considered a top-tier player. Though he’s had some really amazing performances, he hasn’t pushed through to that place where he would be considered one of the best players in the league.
That’s kind of where the Jazz have been. They’ve seen some really amazing moments over the last few years, and while there have been changes made, they haven’t really broken through from being a middling playoff team.
The Jazz are only going to be as good as Mitchell is so long as he is on the team, which is not a bad thing considering Mitchell’s ceiling. But he has to be better than he was this season if the Jazz have any hope of advancing to the Western Conference finals or beyond.
If you’re just looking at stats alone, Mitchell seemed to regress a little offensively in the 2021-22 season. Compared to the previous season, Mitchell was a better finisher, improving his two-point shooting percentage, and he was a hair better from the free-throw line, but that’s where the improvement stopped. He scored fewer points, turned the ball over more, wasn’t as effective at rebounding the ball and his 3-point shooting percentage slipped.
But there was definitely a concerted effort from Mitchell to take on a greater defensive role this season. His steal numbers improved, but he still wasn’t quick or strong enough to stay in front of his man when the going got tough.
There’s an argument to be made that Mitchell has been asked to do more with less. It’s fair to wonder what Mitchell would be able to accomplish with the right supporting cast, but it’s also fair to criticize him for not adapting to his current situation and making the most of it.
By all accounts and reports, the Jazz aren’t going to be shopping Mitchell any time soon, so as they look toward the 2022-23 season, they’ll again tie their success to what Mitchell is able to accomplish.
Rudy Gobert — B
There are many people who are angry about the fact Rudy Gobert has not developed more of an offensive arsenal than purely finishing at the rim. Why doesn’t he work on a little hook shot, a floater or anything other than a dunk? The truth is, for whatever reason, Gobert is not that player and it’s not what has been expected from him internally. Gobert is not a back-to-the-basket center and the offense is not going to run through him.
What is expected of Gobert? Protect the rim, run the floor better than anyone else at his position and kill it on the glass. He did what was expected.
Gobert was once again a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and with three DPOY trophies already under his belt, he’s likely to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer someday purely based on his rim protection.
Gobert also improved his free-throw shooting in the 2021-22 season and finished with career highs in rebounds and field goal percentage. He was elite at what he was asked to do and what was expected of him.
That said, it’s certainly not easy watching a player with the size and skill of Gobert unable to punish smaller players despite his 7-foot-9 wingspan, which has happened time and time again, including against the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs.
The bottom line is that Gobert’s faults are often not his fault, but they do keep the Jazz tied to a certain type of basketball without a lot of wiggle room.
There doesn’t really seem to be a lot of room for improvement from a team standpoint if the Jazz were to continue with Gobert, which is why there have been so many reports of the Jazz being willing to shop Gobert on the trade market.
Mike Conley — B
When the Jazz first traded for Mike Conley, it took the veteran guard a while to carve out his role with a new team. Once he got into a groove, it was great. Conley’s 2020-21 season was arguably the best of his career and earned him his first All-Star appearance.
In his third season with the Jazz, the league and what the Jazz needed seemed to move past him.
The Jazz’s backcourt duo of Mitchell and Conley is just too small for the teams that are being fielded. It’s obviously not Conley’s fault that he’s on the smaller size for a guard, but the Jazz are at a point where they need to get longer and more rangy on the wings.
Add the roster needs to the fact that Conley was a smidge less efficient, it all seems to lead to the Jazz needing to put the ball in Mitchell’s hands full time and move on from Conley.
The Jazz didn’t have much of an option in re-signing Conley. As a luxury tax team, they wouldn’t have been able to afford a guard of Conley’s caliber had they let him walk. But at this point, they’d be doing a disservice to their star player if they were to keep Conley.
There was a point, even in the 2021-22 season, when Conley provided a calming strength to the Jazz, no matter his production, and he was a consistent defender who offered a veteran example to the rest of the roster. It seems that midway through the season, that strength and example weren’t enough to keep the Jazz on track.
Bojan Bogdanovic — A
It had become sort of a trend for the Jazz to look for a way to make an adjustment and to turn to Bojan Bogdanovic. His role changed probably more than any other player on the roster from one season to the next and from one playoff series to the next, and each time he adapted with ease and excelled.
Bogdanovic again took on more defensive responsibilities during the playoffs for the Jazz and rose to the occasion. But, as he was expending his energy guarding Luka Doncic, his shooting suffered. That’s not really something to dock Bogdanovic’s grade for. If anything, it’s a testament to his willingness to take on challenges and an admonishment of the front office for not having more players in place to take on the defensive assignments that were eventually handed to Bogdanovic.
Through the season Bogdanovic maintained his role as a sniper, a capable post-up player, a consistent presence across the board, and as someone who made no excuses for any situation. All of these things make him one of the Jazz’s most valuable players, but also makes him one of their most valuable assets should they decide to approach the trade market.
As the team evaluates who they will be willing to part ways with, they’ll have to weigh if they will be getting enough back to make up for the consistency and adaptability that Bogdanovic provides.
Royce O’Neale — B-
If anyone is looking for an example of the Jazz’s ability to develop from within and find talent in places where other teams have missed, look no further than Royce O’Neale. From an undrafted player to a starter on a playoff team, he’s a testament to hard work and a culture that will reward that work.
But, there is absolutely no denying that O’Neale still has room to grow and there is no debating that at times this season, O’Neale did not look like the defender that he has been in years past. Part of the blame should again be laid at the feet of the front office. O’Neale is a good defender on certain types of players, but because of the lack of defensive versatility on the roster, it meant that O’Neale had to guard smaller players that he is not great at staying in front of.
But O’Neale is also guilty of continuing to pass up offensive opportunities. He is a strong and athletic player who is very good when he gets into the lane and he’s also one of the best shooters on the Jazz, when he shoots the ball. He probably wasn’t given as many offensive opportunities as he should have been given, but he also didn’t take as many as he should have either.
At the end of the season, many were left wondering if O’Neale should be in a starting position or if he would be better suited coming off the bench. The answer largely depends on how aggressive O’Neale is going to be, but the fact that it is a question that is more pronounced now than it has been in a couple of years means that O’Neale has some work to do.
Jordan Clarkson — A-
Following his Sixth Man of the Year 2020-21 campaign, Jordan Clarkson had some small dips in his efficiency throughout the regular season but he largely remained consistent and was still one of the most reliable bench players in the league.
Additionally, Clarkson spent a lot of time this season actively trying to improve his defense by watching a ton of film and working with the coaching staff and his work yielded some positive results, even if the differences weren’t huge.
Most importantly, Clarkson was one of the Jazz’s most consistent and reliable players during the playoffs. Of the Jazz’s regular rotation players he was the leading 3-point scorer for the team in the postseason and the third-leading scorer overall behind Mitchell and Bogdanovic.
Clarkson has improved his game in each season with the Jazz and done exactly what has been asked of him. There are a lot of teams who would be happy to have a player who can easily score 20 points every night and is capable of going off for 45, while also being incredibly coachable and that makes him a valuable trade asset for the Jazz. But, much like with Bogdanovic, the Jazz will have to weigh what they are getting back should they decide to part with Clarkson.
Hassan Whiteside — C
Adding Hassan Whiteside to the roster as a backup for Gobert was always going to come with some risk. The risk being, Whiteside has earned a reputation for being exceptional when he wants to be and confusingly unengaged on other days.
So, there were absolutely no surprises when Whiteside was exactly what he had been billed as. He had some really great moments for the Jazz, some even surprisingly great moments and was a solid backup center. He probably earned himself another couple of years in the league in a backup role with how he performed for the Jazz.
But, ultimately Whiteside wasn’t going to be as good as Gobert and there were times when he looked so disinterested that a third-string option seemed better.
If you go out and get a player and everyone tells you exactly what type of player you are getting and then that player is exactly what everyone said he would be, then you can’t really be mad about it.
Danuel House Jr. — A
After signing multiple 10-day contracts with the Jazz when they were battling COVID-19, Danuel House Jr. earned a spot on the roster for the rest of the season. He would go on to be one of the best 3-point shooters for the Jazz through the regular season and play the seventh-most minutes during the playoffs for the Jazz.
The worst thing that happened to O’Neale this season was having House on the team to be compared to. House proved that he deserves to be on an NBA team and that he is capable of contributing in a big way, especially on the defensive end.
He came to the team and was willing to work hard and earn everything he got and his skillset, which is highly coveted around the league, were desperately needed by the Jazz.
Juancho Hernangomez — A
Hernangomez finished the season as the Jazz’s best perimeter shooter and even when he was playing limited minutes he would find a way to impact the game, which is what every coach is always searching for.
He was a great locker room guy, would fight for rebounds, was smart with his movement off the ball, and was key in some of the Jazz’s better moments through the latter half of the season.
Rudy Gay — D
Rudy Gay was billed as the player that was going to solve a lot of the Jazz’s problems and then he turned out to not solve any of them. There’s no way around it, the Gay signing did not work for the Jazz.
It was clear that Gay was losing his spot in the rotation as Hernangomez started getting his minutes as the season went on and Gay ended up not playing a single minute for the Jazz in playoffs.
What was supposed to be the Jazz’s big free-agent acquisition, turned out to be a move that didn’t do much of anything. It wasn’t that Gay was bad — he shot the ball well and had some good moments — it was just that there were other players who were younger and better and more skilled.
Trent Forrest — B-
Trent Forrest finally, at the very end of the season, earned a full-roster spot when the team converted his two-way deal to a standard NBA contract.
Unfortunately, Forrest went through a series of injuries at the tail end of the season, but his body of work up to that point was what the Jazz rewarded when they converted his contract.
Over the past two seasons, Forrest has established himself as a reliable backup point guard who is sound defensively and is a strong playmaker. His flaws today are the same ones he has always had — he still isn’t a threat from the outside and needs to work on his jump shot.
While the other areas of his game improved, Forrest shot the ball less and at a lower percentage than he did last season.
Eric Paschall — A
Eric Paschall deserves a lot of credit for the role he played for the Jazz this season.
When Gay had offseason surgery and started the year off on the sideline, Paschall stepped up as a replacement and was solid in that role. When Gay returned to play and Paschall lost his spot in the rotation, he stayed ready and positive and never publicly questioned the situation. Then, when he was asked to come in for a minute here or there when Gay eventually lost his spot in the rotation, Paschall provided energy and enthusiasm and fearlessness that some of the other Jazz players frankly lacked.
Paschall is not the most skilled Jazz player and he wasn’t always perfect, but he continued to improve despite being put in a hard position as far as the rotation was concerned.
Jared Butler — B+
Stuck behind Mitchell and Conley and Forrest and spending most of his time cheering from the sidelines, it was not easy for Jared Butler to stand out this season and it’s not easy to evaluate him for that very reason.
Butler remains an incredibly interesting prospect who has a ton of upside on both sides of the floor and if the Jazz end up parting ways with Conley and Forrest (or one or the other, or both) Butler could be in a position to have a much larger role in the 2022-23 season.
Udoka Azubuike — A-
Through those stretches when it looked like Whiteside would have rather been anywhere else other than on a basketball court, Udoka Azubuike grabbed ahold of that opportunity and gave it absolutely everything he had.
Azubuike has been plagued by unfortunate injuries through his first two seasons in the league, but his joy and effort have shined through when he’s been able to play.
In his first NBA start, Azubuike was tasked with taking on two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, and he held his own. When Gobert was later sidelined, Azubuike started ahead of Whiteside and showed that he has improved in areas where he was doubted even as recently as 2021-22 training camp.
Azubuike isn’t a star player and he might not even end up being on this roster or any other, but he answered the call this season for the Jazz when they needed him.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker — Pass
Nickeil Alexander-Walker can’t really be evaluated for his time with the Utah Jazz. He played a total of 149 minutes for the team after he was a part of the deal that sent Ingles to the Portland Trail Blazers.
There’s a lot of upside for Alexander-Walker, but he played less than any other player on the Jazz’s roster that was not a two-way player, so we aren’t going to fail him, but we also can’t necessarily grade him.
Xavier Sneed — Pass
The only player to play fewer minutes than Alexander-Walker was two-way player Xavier Sneed.