What Has to Go Right for the Jazz
Updated: Sep 17, 2019
For the Jazz to achieve their potential as a Finals contender, the Jazz need several things to go right that are well within their control.
The Western Conference has long been the beast of the NBA. The last several seasons have seen the Golden State Warriors dominate the top of the standings, separating themselves as far and away the best team.
But much has changed.
Golden State’s championship streak ended at the hands of Toronto. Kevin Durant moved East, Klay Thompson lies injured, and Curry and Green are one year older.
West teams didn’t wait to react. They brought in fresh talent and shuffled existing players around the conference, all to maximize the odds of being the top dog. Few seasons has the West seen such balance, depth, and hunger.
The Utah Jazz are one of the best examples of retooling this offseason in response to Golden State’s demise.
Utah traded for an elite floor general in Mike Conley, signed a top 10 free agent wing in Bojan Bogdanovic, and rebooted their depth with the likes of Jeff Green and Ed Davis. The Jazz are truly equipped to compete with anyone in the West.
But with such a thin margin of error for every West team, it’ll take the right breaks and strokes of good fortune to secure the top spot.
The Utah Jazz must find the magic this season.
What has to go right? The Jazz have to achieve their potential in three areas in order to rise to the occasion: corner 3 shooting, transition defense, and elite play from the PG.
Corner 3 shooting
The Utah Jazz generated attempted the second most corner 3’s for the season last year, ahead of the Warriors, Bucks, Celtics, and Hawks. It’s a big part of what they do.
The Jazz force defenses into a dilemma by operating a high pick and roll with corner 3 spacing: will defenses prevent Rudy diving to the rim or leave open the corner 3?
Rudy poses a real threat having set the NBA record for dunks in a single season so oft times the defense would default to allow a corner 3.
Despite taking a high amount of shots from the corner, the Utah Jazz were just 16th in efficiency. Crowder’s 34%, Rubio’s 36%, and Favor’s 20% efficiency all fell short (some far short) of league average.
Utah’s offseason additions sport far better efficiency from the corner. Conley shot 46%, Bogdanovic 51%, and Green 39% last season. All project to get regular attempts in Utah’s offense.
For things to go right, the Jazz must capitalize on the corner 3 opportunities their offense will surely generate.
The Utah Jazz calling card has long been their defense. They’ve sported a top 3 defense over the past 3 years.
One of the weak points, however, in their defensive chain has been transition defense, in which they’ve allowed the third highest efficiency rate to opposing teams.
Their saving grace in transition was preventing teams from getting into transition, allowing the lowest frequency of any team in the league.
The Jazz did two things to stay out of transition: build a wall for the ball handler and commit the euro foul.
The wall is all about stacking bodies at angles to prevent the ball handler from attacking the rim and pushing the pace. The Jazz used it effectively on multiple possessions against OKC in the playoffs.
The euro foul is utilized when the defense isn’t in a position to stack themselves against the ball handler. In this case, a foul is committed against the ball handler on purpose while the offensive player is still in front. This allows for the defense to get setup in the half court thanks to the dead ball situation.
With their new personnel, the Jazz aren’t likely to improve their defensive talent. What they can’t do is fail to execute the two essential strategies geared to keep team’s from running.
For the Jazz to reach the heights they see for themselves, they have to continue to keep team’s out of transition opportunities.
Elite PG play
The Utah Jazz haven’t boasted an elite point guard since Deron Williams. The closest they got was George Hill who piloted the team during the 2016-17 season.
When George was on the floor in between toe injuries, the Jazz had a +8.0 which was in the 92%tile of all lineups that season. The Jazz with a big time point guard are a completely different animal.
When Ricky Rubio was at his best the last two seasons the Jazz were cooking. In the 76 games he had an above average PIE (10.3 Player Impact Estimate), the Jazz won 70% of their games.
Ricky ranked 61st in PIE (10.3) among guards last season. New Jazzman Mike Conley (15.1) ranked 10th, ahead of All-Stars like Kemba Walker, Ben Simmons, and D’Angelo Russell.
For the Jazz to achieve all they are capable of, the most important difference from last year is to have elite point guard play. Conley has to bring it every night and perform consistently.
It’s truly the biggest advantage the Jazz can have this season and the key to everything going right.
Things Have to Go Right
As many as seven teams have a shot to reign supreme atop the Western Conference. The team that actually succeeds will need things to go their way.
The Jazz need their corner 3 accuracy, transition defense, and starting PG play to go right this season for their odds to increase.
The phrase “The West is wide open” has been coined at nausea this offseason. While true there’s no overwhelming favorite, it doesn’t account for the bevy of teams at each other’s heels for the top spot.
Things will have to be going right.