• Mpho Mutloane

Utah Jazz hitting the high notes

The Utah Jazz have become a must watch team this NBA regular season. They have gone out and surprised all to being the best team in the league with a 23 win and 5 loss record ahead of the two LA teams being the Lakers and the Clippers. The Jazz are currently on their 2nd long win streak of at least 9 games. Since losing to the Knicks on January 6, the Jazz are on a streak of 20 wins and 1 loss. They are truly hitting high notes in a very unpredictable season, but do they have the ingredients to take them all the way?

The key identity of the Jazz has been their defence they are the 2nd best defence in the league with a rating of 106.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. This has been a hallmark of Quin Snyder’s coaching in Utah. Over the past 5 seasons the Jazz have had 2 seasons where they finished 2nd in the league in defence and once 3rd. Defence has been a massive factor in the consecutive playoff runs since 2016. They have been aided by two-time Defensive Player of the Year (“DPOY”) Rudy Gobert who is a front runner in this season for the DPOY along with Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers. Gobert has anchored the defence with 13 rebounds per games (3rd in the NBA) and 2.7 Blocks per game (2nd in the NBA) which are similar levels to his back-to-back DPOY seasons. The Jazz have always been able to deny teams points but the question coming into this season is whether they could step up offensively.

The emergence of Donovan Mitchell as an All-Star level talent gave Utah a one – two punch to partner with Gobert but they were missing something to elevate them in the West. Last season’s they went on to acquire on of the most sought after 3 and D scorers in the league in Bojan Bogdanovic as a free agent. This was a massive coup for the Jazz who operate in a mid to low tier market that normally struggles to sign premium free agents. They also traded for Mike Conley who was a veteran point guard in the league to partner with Mitchell in the back court. Last season the Jazz struggled to integrate Bogdanovic and Conley even though they made improvements on the offensive side of the ball. This season Bogdanovic has added a perimeter threat that was missed in the playoffs and Conley is having his best shooting season in his 12-year career. They have also added that veteran presence to the Jazz offence that was much needed in the playoffs last year.

The settling of Conley and Bogdanovic has enabled Snyder to play a strong perimeter offense which some of the league’s best 3-point shooting. Last season we saw a glimpse of the improvement in 3-point shooting with the Jazz having the best 3-point shooting percentage in the league. This season they have now pressed the 3 ball on to their opponents which some great ball movement and sets. The Jazz are shooting 39.3% from 3, 4th in the NBA but an improvement from last season’s league leading 38%. This shooting percentage from the perimeter come with them attempting 7 more 3-point shots a game from last season. This season the Jazz have 6 players who shoot 4 or more 3s a game at an average higher than 38.5% . From the starters to the bench this team has marksmen to hurt teams throughout games.

The emergence of Jordan Clarkson who is on his way to being a 6th man of the year has been an additional layer to this Jazz team this season that they didn’t have before. Clarkson is putting up career numbers 18 points, 4 rebounds and shooting 45% from the field and 38% from the perimeter to become a reliable bench scorer for the Jazz. He is currently their 2nd highest scorer per game this season after Mitchell which really knocks the wind out of teams coupled with Joe Ingles who is Utah’s all time 3-point leader in 3 pointers made. The Utah bench ranks 7th in the league with 38 points per game which is a significant improvement from last season where they ranked 23rd with 33 points. Teams this season are not getting much production from the bench, but Utah have gone against the trend to improve in that area.

This season the Jazz are hitting the right notes as they lead the west and the league. As this season goes along it will be worth a watch to see if they translate this into a deep or even a successful playoff run. Until then, enjoy the harmonic basketball the Jazz are providing.

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