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Taking stock of the Utah Jazz and the NBA 10 games (roughly) into the season

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul dribbles against Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) dribbles against Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) during an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

At this point, most of the NBA’s 30 teams have played at least 10 games in what is already proving to be a wild and unique 2020-21 season.

We may still be in small sample-size territory and it may still be too early to make any big observations about players or teams, but there are still things that can be observed about play so far whether trends continue or not.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what’s happening within the Utah Jazz and around the NBA.

What to make of the COVID-19 postponements thus far?

Of course, just about every conversation these days starts and ends with the pandemic, and the NBA is no exception. While a game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets on the second night of the season was postponed, the league went a few weeks with no postponements.

Since last weekend, however, three games have been postponed (another one last Saturday between the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets probably should have been) as positive test results and subsequent contact tracing have done a number on a rapidly growing number of teams.

On one hand, that growing number is not great, and team and league personnel are certainly alarmed, as groups from the players union to general managers to the Board of Governors have met in recent days to find ways to stem the tide.

On the other hand, other sports and leagues have seen disruptions to individual teams but ultimately made it through their seasons without doing anything too drastic like pausing seasons. Can the NBA get over this rough stretch without pausing things altogether?

That would be the hope.

The Jazz have been kind of all over the place with their play

Wins in their last two games have helped fans feel a little better, but there was the usual alarm as the Jazz started the season 4-4. Even now at 6-4, Utah has had good and bad moments.

On a basic level, the Jazz have been pretty average relative to the rest of the NBA. As of Monday night, they were 14th in the league in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and 15th in defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions).

Both of those need to improve as time goes on if Utah wants to have the type of season it is widely expected to have. Some of the offensive woes have to do with shots not dropping. That should even out over time with the number of traditionally good shooters the Jazz have, but some things, like figuring out how to attack when a defense applies pressure, are a work in progress.

Defensively, Rudy Gobert is going to always be the anchor inside, but Utah still can’t defend on the perimeter. It’s a problem that plagued the Jazz last season. They didn’t do anything to address it in the offseason, and it’s proving to be a problem now as numerous opposing guards have already feasted on Utah.

The thing is, as average as the Jazz have been, they’re tied for fourth in the West and just a half game out of a tie for second. Yeah, congested standings early in the season are a thing, but Utah is right in the hunt in the early going.

As might be expected, individual play on the Jazz has been mixed

Good things happen when players are playing well (duh!), and so far that’s been a mixed bag for the Jazz. As far as the starters go, Mike Conley has been excellent and Gobert has been very good. Donovan Mitchell has been so-so and Bojan Bogdanovic has really struggled. Royce O’Neale has been good offensively but struggled defensively relative to his role as a wing stopper.

LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) chase down the ball
LA Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) chase down the ball as the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers play in an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Utah won 106-100,
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The bench has mostly been solid, and quite frankly it’s a huge win that Utah has an excellent eight-man rotation after its reserve unit was pretty disastrous last season.

If Bogdanovic can get out of his early-season slump and Mitchell can be efficient, the Jazz will surely be in a position to be among the top teams in the West.

Some unexpected teams have been fun

Can we put the Phoenix Suns in this category? We’re going to put the Phoenix Suns in this category.

The Suns were just 26-39 last season before things got suspended in March, but then in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando, they came out of nowhere to go 8-0, narrowly missing the playoffs.

Suddenly everyone thought Phoenix was a real up-and-coming team, and they acted that way in the offseason, acquiring Chris Paul to be their point guard. For as much as a lot (all?) Jazz fans hate Paul, he is great, and a team doesn’t go out and get him unless it believes it can be for real.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Suns have been good, but at 7-4, they’re in a tie for second in the Western Conference with the LA Clippers, a game back of the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s pretty fun.

Utah Jazz forward Juwan Morgan (16) attempts to block a shot from Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during an NBA preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Utah Jazz forward Juwan Morgan (16) attempts to block a shot from Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during an NBA preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Elsewhere, the team that dealt Paul, the Thunder, were supposed to be bad after general manager Sam Presti traded basically everyone decent on his team in the offseason for approximately one million future draft picks, but Oklahoma City is a respectable 5-4, tied for seventh in the West with the Dallas Mavericks.

In the East, most of the usual suspects are up top, but the Charlotte Hornets were supposed to be bad and are 6-5. The New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to be bad, too, but they’re 5-6. Again, it’s early, and none of those three teams have been great, but their decent starts have been unexpectedly fun.

Some unexpected teams have been not fun (aka have gotten off to a bad start)

Generally speaking, the start of the season has been weird around the league in terms of results, and the standings bear that out. On the flip side of the teams mentioned above, there are a number of squads that have been bad that were supposed to be good.

Most notably in the West are the Nuggets. They’re 5-5 which isn’t terrible, but it’s not great for a team that has made the Western Conference Finals the last two years. Plus, they started 1-4 and 3-5 before winning their last two games. Maybe they’re figuring it out now, but it’s been an unexpectedly poor start.

And what in the wide world of sports is going on with the Toronto Raptors? They’ve been one of the best teams in the East for a long time and even won the title in 2019, but they’ve been bad so far at just 2-8.

Yes, they’ve had to relocate their home games to Tampa, Florida, because of the pandemic, which certainly has to be tough. Some results could be random, as they’ve lost two games in a row by just a point. But it’s certainly not good.