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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.