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Grading the Utah Jazz: Final season marks for every player on the roster

Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert (27) celebrates a defensive stop with teammates Royce O’Neale (23), Joe Ingles (2) and Donovan Mitchell (45) during the first half of an NBA basketball first round playoff game against the Denver Nuggets, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.(AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
AP

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz’s 2019-2020 season came to an end on Sept. 1 in a Game 7 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs.

Though the result was disappointing, especially after being up 3-1 in the series, it’s worth going back and grading each player individually with the regular season and playoffs in mind.

The starters

Donovan Mitchell: A

In his third season, Mitchell made his All-Star debut, posted career highs in points, assists, rebounds, 3-point shooting percentage and overall field goal percentage.

It was clear that he had taken another step offensively as the season progressed, but it was his back-and-forth battle with Nuggets guard Jamal Murray in the playoffs that showed the breadth of Mitchell’s potential.

Entering the history books with a 57-point performance in Game 1 against Denver and then with a 51-point performance in Game 4, all while hitting tough shots in high-pressure situations and cementing himself as the vocal leader of the Jazz, Mitchell proved himself to be one of the NBA’s rising stars who will lead the league into the next generation.

While he’s already considered by many to be a superstar, there are things missing from Mitchell’s repertoire and list of accomplishments that are keeping him from being recognized leaguewide as a superstar. Had the Jazz beaten the Nuggets and Mitchell been on a national stage for longer than just the opening round of the postseason, it would have gone a long way in convincing the masses of his talent. Like it or not, wins are paramount to staking a superstardom claim in the NBA.

The good thing is that this was just Mitchell’s third season, and what he’s shown so far in continued progress and development suggests that the sky’s the limit and that he has no intention of slowing down.

Though winning will come when the Jazz are more complete as a team, there are things that Mitchell can improve. Mental errors in the postseason will likely haunt Mitchell for a while and those are things that usually improve with experience.

Additionally, his defensive numbers dipped slightly this season, including his steals and deflections per game. Following Game 7 against the Nuggets, Mitchell noted that the reason he was drafted was because of his defensive skills, and while the offensive accomplishments are important, he can’t let his defense falter in the name of offensive production.

Overall, Mitchell progressed in most areas this season and took a step forward as a leader and star in the league.

Rudy Gobert: A-

Gobert’s 2019-2020 season will likely be remembered as the one in which he was the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus, leading to the NBA suspending the season before returning to play in the bubble.

While his positive test has no bearing on his overall grade for the season, the way he handled the events that followed absolutely does. The rift between Gobert and Mitchell following both players testing positive for COVID-19 was a result of not only Gobert’s somewhat cavalier attitude about the virus but also the building tension between the two.

With the league shutting down and rumors swirling about the future of the duo’s relationship and whether or not their issues could be resolved, it would have been very easy for Gobert to take everything personally, isolate himself from the team even more than the players were already isolated during long-term quarantines and create an even larger divide.

Instead, he acknowledged his shortcomings, admitted that he should have taken things more seriously, reflected on his actions and behaviors and made sure that any rift between him and Mitchell was resolved and in the past (Mitchell also deserves credit for not letting outside noise dictate how the situation with him and Gobert would play out behind the scenes).

When the NBA restarted in July in the Orlando bubble, all accounts suggest that Gobert had become more of a listening leader than he had been before. He was more deliberate and contemplative and showed an increased level of maturity.

On the court, there are certainly reasons to believe that Gobert’s game fell off a tad compared to previous seasons, but his usage and production were also offset by the introduction of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley to the starting rotation.

Like Mitchell, Gobert also made his All-Star debut in 2020 and followed up consecutive Defensive Player of the Year honors by finishing third in DPOY voting behind winner Giannis Antetokounmpo and runner-up Anthony Davis.

Gobert finished the season with a career-high in field goal percentage and rebounds per game, and he still remains one of the league’s best defenders, consistently at or near the top of every scouting report because of his ability to guard the rim and defend in space.

There are certainly moments when Gobert plays with varying strength when going to the rim or fighting for rebounds, and some consistency in those areas could improve his numbers drastically.

When all is said and done, Gobert is the defensive anchor of the Jazz and the team’s second best player who overcame a huge amount of adversity this season and came out on the other side a more mature and thoughtful player and teammate.

Joe Ingles: B

This season might have been the first time that age started to show for the Jazz’s elder statesman.

Ingles had an up-and-down season characterized by moves in and out of the starting lineup as head coach Quin Snyder tried to find a rotation that made sense for the Jazz. Ingles’ production with the bench waned, but increased when he was again inserted in the starting unit. Though inconsistencies were obvious for Ingles depending on which group he played with, he still managed to keep his season numbers extremely close to what he’s done over the last couple years.

However, the drops in Ingles’ game were never as clear as they were during the Jazz’s playoff series against the Nuggets. Ingles has always been one of Snyder’s go-to men when defending on the perimeter, but when tasked with guarding Murray, Ingles was a step too late or just a tad too slow in his recovery to keep up, costing the Jazz quite a few crucial possessions in close games.

One of the Jazz’s biggest offseason needs is finding a switchable, lengthy, athletic defender who can guard some of the league’s premier perimeter threats. Part of the reason the Jazz need a player like that is because Ingles is not as reliable in those situations as he once was.

If one thing is certain in the NBA, it is that Father Time is undefeated.

Bojan Bogdanovic: A

It is completely understandable and normal for a player to have some growing pains when they move to a new team. It is for that reason that Bogdanovic’s nearly seamless transition after the Jazz acquired him last summer was such a pleasant surprise.

In May, we learned that for nearly all of the season, Bogdanovic had been playing through a wrist injury in his shooting hand that eventually required surgery, ending the forward’s season during the league suspension.

While the surgery meant that the Jazz would be without him through the restarted 2019-20 season and playoffs, it would allow him enough time to recover and be ready for next season. The good news there is that barring any complications and with a full recovery, the Croatian sharpshooter should be just as good if not better than he was for the Jazz this season.

While injured, Bogdanovic finished the season scoring a career high 20.2 points per game, shooting 44.7 % from 3-point range, which is excellent by anyone’s standards, although it was Bogdanovic’s lowest shooting mark since the 2016-17 season.

In addition to his deep shooting skills, Bogdanovic proved he can work well off the dribble and on cuts to the basket, unafraid of playing through contact, and that’s all on top of his clutch performances for the Jazz, which included two buzzer-beating game-winners.

There is certainly room for improvement for Bogdanovic on the defensive end, but that’s not why the Jazz went after him. They knew what they were getting when they signed him, and despite his lack of defensive skills, he is still a lengthy body who requires an opponent to play over him.

Under contract through the 2022-23 season, Bogdanovic will make just over $56 million over the next three years, and for what he brings to the table, and the ease with which he fits with the Jazz, it seems like a steal.

Mike Conley: B-

If Mike Conley had hit his final shot attempt as the buzzer sounded in Game 7 against the Nuggets, he might have earned himself a better grade. However, it’s important to remember, as we have with Mitchell and Bogdanovic, the reasons that the Jazz went after Conley.

He wasn’t targeted for his clutch shooting or his ability to play under pressure in Game 7s. Conley’s experience, ball handling, shooting, defense and ability to move with and without the ball were all selling points. All of those things proved to be true of Conley in the end, but it was getting there that was the struggle.

Conley himself admitted to not adapting to the Jazz’s system very well. His difficulties transitioning were made even more obvious when it came right next to Bogdanovic, who was having seemingly no problem at all adapting to a new team.

While Conley was having trouble familiarizing himself with the defensive schemes and found himself forcing too much on the offensive end, he was also dealing with nagging injuries throughout the season.

It wasn’t until shortly before the league’s hiatus and then the resumption of the season that Conley really found a groove, eventually leading to him shooting a staggering 52.9% from distance in the playoffs.

No longer tasked with being the leading scorer or main source of production on a team as he was in Memphis for over a decade, Conley’s production dips were completely expected and understandable. It was the amount of time it took for him to really catch on and find his place with the team that hurt him this season.

If Conley’s able to carry some momentum into next season and plays like he did at the end of the 2019-20 campaign, it will be easier to forget the learning curve he faced in his first season with the Jazz.

Royce O’Neale: B

It’s difficult to be the player on a team that holds a starting spot, is often faced with some of the league’s best players and doesn’t fill up a stat sheet.

O’Neale earned his place with the Jazz by being a defender first and foremost, and has developed into the quintessential 3-and-D player, which led to him inking a contract extension with the team in January. The four-year $36 million extension is a wildly team-friendly contract for a player with O’Neale’s abilities.

Though there are lapses in consistency with O’Neale’s game, he is without a doubt the team’s best perimeter and transition defender, and in just his third year, he has a lot of untapped potential.

The bench

Jordan Clarkson: A-

The Jazz shipped off Dante Exum in December with the hopes of getting back a boost for their bench unit. What they got in return with Clarkson was a sixth man who immediately became an integral part of the rotation.

While Clarkson’s penchant for isolation-heavy basketball is sometimes not the easiest thing to watch and can bring the halfcourt game to a bit of a standstill, the Jazz don’t really have another player (outside of maybe Mitchell) who operates well in isolation sets, especially when the game calls for it.

The NBA has its fair share of players who adapt well to coaching and take criticism well, but it also has a lot of players who don’t take very well to those things. Clarkson is a player who coaches love to coach, and that’s exactly what Snyder found.

That’s a trait that can’t be taught and is completely invaluable. If the Jazz are able to re-sign Clarkson this offseason and bring him back, there’s no doubt that Snyder will be the first one celebrating.

Georges Niang: B+

In his third season with the Jazz and fourth in the league, Niang has developed into one of the most reliable 3-point threats in the game. With increased minutes come increased touches and attempts, and Niang has shied away from nothing and continued to improve.

Niang has continued to transform his body — becoming leaner — which has helped him on the defensive end. As the season progressed and then play resumed in the Orlando bubble, Niang found himself in various positions guarding players of every type, and he held his own in some tough situations.

For a player on a minimum contract playing 10-15 minutes a game, Niang is exactly the type of player that teams love to keep and develop.

Tony Bradley: B+

When grading players that are still developing, it’s important to not compare them to their starting counterparts. If you were to compare Tony Bradley to Gobert, the gap would be so wide that it would be necessary to give Bradley or any other developing player a bad grade.

But Bradley’s development this season was really great. He went from playing just 12 games over the last two season to playing in 58 regular season games and six playoff games this season.

While he still needs to work on finishing, Bradley’s lateral movement and spacing in the pick-and-roll, his instincts are great. Bradley has good bones, as the old saying goes, and you can see his potential. Also, his offensive rebounding is a huge asset.

Emmanuel Mudiay: B-

In his fourth year in the league and first with the Jazz, Emmanuel Mudiay improved his shooting efficiency, with the lone exception being a dip in his free-throw percentage. His skills are on display most often off the dribble, pushing in transition and pulling up off a jump stop. Mudiay usually does very well in those situations, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the rotation on a consistent basis, with multiple DNPs or just mop up time at the end of a game.

The biggest knock on Mudiay’s game is his tendency to push tempo to a fault, often finding himself rushing into the paint without a Plan B in place if he isn’t able to get to the rim. His ability to jump stop and hit a short jumper has mitigated some of those problems, but it would be nice to see him work a little more within a scheme rather than running roughshod into the lane.

Nonrotation players

Ed Davis: D

It’s probably less Ed Davis’ fault and more just circumstance that led to his down year with the Jazz. The team picked him up in the offseason thinking that he would be a good backup for Gobert. After all, he has a pretty strong track record in the league for being a good offensive rebounder who finishes pretty well around the rim.

But Davis never found a place within the Jazz’s system and was rather quickly played out of the rotation. The fit just wasn’t right. It would be shocking if the Jazz didn’t try to move away from him this offseason.

Juwan Morgan: B+

The rookie out of Indiana only played in 21 game with the Jazz during the regular season, but the progress he made during his time in the G League and in his short stints with the Jazz gave him the chance to prove himself in the postseason.

When Utah was down two starting players to start the playoffs, Snyder turned to Morgan. Though Morgan didn’t produce any record numbers, he was solid in his short minutes, and the power forward also gives the Jazz a small-ball center option who is comfortable shooting 3-pointers.

Rayjon Tucker: B+

A breakout year in the G League earned Rayjon Tucker a full NBA deal from the Jazz in December. His explosive athleticism and strength at 22 years-old gives the Jazz hope that future development will come easy for him.

Miye Oni: B+

Another player who spent the majority of the season on assignment with the Stars, Miye Oni got his biggest chance in the seeding games in the bubble. His 3-point shooting ability, along with his quickness, versatility and craftiness with the ball, are all enticing traits that could make him a valuable project.

Nigel Williams-Goss: C

Developing point guard Nigel Williams-Goss had a pretty good season for the Stars but barely got the chance to show off his skills for the Jazz. He wasn’t one of the players that received a lot of praise in the extra minutes garnered during the seeding games, and it didn’t earn him any more time on the floor.

Jarrell Brantley — two-way player: B+

If there’s a deep bench player outside of Oni who shined in the bubble for the Jazz, it was Jarrell Brantley. The Stars’ second leading scorer offers versatility, good defensive instincts and hustle that are all good signs for a player hoping to earn a full NBA deal.

Justin Wright-Foreman — two-way player: C-

With just four games under his belt with the Jazz, there was very little of Justin Wright-Foreman to analyze outside of his time with the Stars. It likely wasn’t enough to earn him another year with the Jazz.