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10 questions the Utah Jazz must answer in the 2020-21 season

Fielding a team with many of the same parts as the 2019-20 squad, will the new wrinkles be enough to push Jazz to the next level?

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder watches play during first-round playoff basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Sept. 1,2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

No team is perfect or has everything figured out before the season starts.

The Utah Jazz, like every other team in the league, will be facing questions this season that can only be answered as they start to get some games under their belt. Here are 10 questions facing the Jazz heading into the new season.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) celebrates as the Celtics call a timeout as the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell celebrates during game against Boston at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

1. Can Donovan Mitchell raise his game to another level?

He played at a superstar level during the playoffs. Watching Mitchell and Denver’s Jamal Murray battle was like watching an offensive clinic.

Now, fresh off signing a max extension, expectations for Mitchell are higher than ever. The Jazz did not invest the kind of money they did this offseason to get to the same place and go through another early playoff exit. A lot of the responsibility for the Jazz being successful is going to be on Mitchell’s shoulders.

Not only is he going to have to continue to be the Jazz’s leading scorer, he very likely has to turn things up on the defensive end and prove why he was drafted for his potential on that side of the ball.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) looks to make a pass around Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) during an NBA game at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 9, 2020.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert looks to make a pass during game against Toronto at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 9, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

2. In order to elevate the Jazz to another level, can Rudy Gobert do more?

The Jazz made sure to lock up both of their main players with long-term extensions this offseason. Much like Mitchell, Gobert has been promised an incredible amount of money, and like Mitchell, Gobert has dominated on one side of the ball but will have to elevate things on the other side.

For Gobert, his defensive abilities are never in question. He anchors the Jazz and has won DPOY twice for a reason. But, there are shortcomings on the offensive side. He has trouble finishing sometimes, and can lack consistent strength when he goes to the basket. He said that during the offseason he’s been working on his finishing and his free-throw shooting. We’ll see if his work has paid off.

Denver Nuggets’ Monte Morris, left, and Nikola Jokic defend as Utah Jazz’s Mike Conley makes a pass during game, Tuesday, Sept. 1,2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

3. Can Mike Conley’s success from the playoffs and late last season carry over to this season?

Through the final 13 games of the 2019-20 regular season Conley averaged 17 points and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 41.8% from 3-point range. In his five playoff games with the Jazz he averaged 19.8 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 52.9% from deep.

That level of efficiency and production was a welcomed evolution from where Conley started the season. He struggled to figure out his place within the offense and to adapt to a new defensive scheme, but eventually came around.

Whether Conley is able to thrive this season will have a large impact on the success of the team.

Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2), left, sits on the bench to start the game as the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles, left, sits on the bench as Utah Jazz and prepare for game against Boston at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

4. Will Joe Ingles be able to operate effectively off the bench?

Ingles admittedly had a little bit of trouble coming off the bench and doing so without having Derrick Favors next to him. This season he’ll still be coming off the bench (when the entire starting lineup is active and available) but this time Favors is back and adds some familiarity and comfort for Ingles.

If Ingles is able to be as productive on offense and as effective on defense with the second unit as he was with the starters then the Jazz could have one of the best benches in the league. If he flounders in a reserve role this season, the Jazz might have to think about going in a different direction.

Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell lies on the court after being fouled during first-round playoff game against the Denver Nuggets Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool

5. Will the Jazz be able to adapt when the going gets tough?

This season is going to be hard. There are going to be players who are in and out of the lineup because of the COVID-19 protocols the league has put in place, there are going to be injuries and the schedule will be rough.

With back-to-backs and a truncated schedule along with all of the other challenges this year will present, the Jazz will need to be able to adapt quickly. If they want to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference they won’t be able to go through long skids or to use any of the hardships as an excuse. The great teams find a way to push through.

Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike (20) makes a shot against Phoenix Suns forward Johnathan Motley (12) during an NBA preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike makes a shot against Phoenix Suns during preseason game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

6. Who from the end of the bench will take a leap this year?

For all of the reasons listed above (protocols, injuries, the schedule) there is likely to be a lot more opportunity for some of the end of bench players to take a big step this season and earn a larger role. Georges Niang, Shaquille Harrison, Juwan Morgan, Miye Oni, Udoka Azubuike, Elijah Hughes, Jarrell Brantley and Trent Forrest are all going to have a chance.

Portland Trail Blazers forward Wenyen Gabriel (35) attempts to block Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) going for a layup at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
Portland Trail Blazers forward Wenyen Gabriel attempts to block Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson going for a layup at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

7. Can the Jazz maintain the fast-paced offense they showed off in the preseason?

If space and pace is the style of offense the Jazz are going for, which is what we saw on display during the preseason, then we are in for 72 games of gunslinging.

The question isn’t about whether the Jazz have the personnel to maintain a massive amount of 3-pointers and early shot-clock offense. They do. The question is what happens if Bojan Bogdanovic goes through a shooting slump or is out for a few games? What happens if Ingles, as he’s been known to do, passes up open shot opportunities? Can the rest of the roster pull them out of a rut in order to maintain pace and efficient shooting? And, if not, will they revert back to late-clock offense and the blender?

Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) tries to block a shot from Phoenix Suns guard E’Twaun Moore (55) during an NBA preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors tries to block a shot from Phoenix Suns guard E’Twaun Moore during preseason game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

8. Where are the Jazz defensively?

The Jazz made a concerted effort to increase their offensive fire power in the summer of 2019. That plan worked, but the defense suffered. The Jazz went from being one of the top defensive teams in the league to a pretty average defensive team.

This season, the emphasis from the top down has been defense. The players are preaching the need for defensive consistency, head coach Quin Snyder is calling for defensive effort no matter what happens on the other side, and the front office made moves to put defensive-minded players on the roster. So when it’s all said and done, can the Jazz get back to being one of the best defensive teams in the NBA?

Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale defends Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso as the Utah Jazz and Lakers play at Vivint Arena in Salt lake City on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.
Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale defends Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso as the Utah Jazz and Lakers play at Vivint Arena in Salt lake City on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.
Scott G Winterton,

9. Can the Jazz hang with the best in the West?

I’ve said this before, the Jazz are going to be doubted every step of the way this season. Largely the same team they were last season, they are banking on small adjustments and progress to push them to the next level but they aren’t just competing against what they’ve done in the past several years. They’re of course competing against a stacked conference.

Can they hang with the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers, the Golden State Warriors, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks? Even then, there are other teams on the rise and those who have the chance to make noise in the West in the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets. And who knows what’s going to happen with the Houston Rockets?

If the Jazz want to be considered a contender, they’re going to have to play their tails off through the regular season.

Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, center, goes up to shoot as Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant, left, and Paul Millsap defend during first-round playoff game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Aug. 30, 2020
AP Photo/Ashley Landis

10. Can the Jazz make a deep playoff push?

Once the regular season is over, the Jazz will be looking to prove that they are not just an early exit playoff team.

That’s not the reputation they want, but one more first-round loss and it will be really hard to shake the impression that they’ve given to the rest of the league.

Can they do more than just make it to the playoffs? Can they make a deep playoff push? It’s possible, but they’re going to have to answer all the other questions from above in order to have a chance.