The regular season is upon us and the Jazz are about to embark on their annual 82 game journey through the NBA.
Are they ready?
The preseason was fun from an observation standpoint. The Jazz were integrating a bunch of new pieces, and trying to at least get a start on how they will all fit together.
But how much do we really know about this team? Read on for some answers:
The Jazz are indeed going to play faster.
At the very least, they will attempt to. The Jazz have scored at least 105 points in every preseason game and they’ve played; they’re playing at a pace not seen at Vivint Smart Home Arena in the Quin Snyder era.
It remains to be seen whether the quicker Jazz translate to the regular season. After all, every team tries to play faster in the preseason. But this just makes sense. Point guard Ricky Rubio’s best strength is his ability to push the ball in transition and find open teammates. Rookie Donovan Mitchell and Alec Burks are both very good when running the floor, and the Jazz could use a few more easy baskets per game. The pace tends to slow down a bit in the regular season when teams actually start trying defensively. However, the Jazz have looked a bit different than they have in the past. The results were intriguing.
Regular season opener
Jazz at Nuggets
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
The injury gods still hate Utah
Another year, another major injury for the Jazz, this time Dante Exum. The separated shoulder was bad enough, but adding insult, Exum damaged ligaments as well. He’s expected to miss significant time.
As of Thursday, Exum and the Jazz are still figuring out whether surgery is needed. For Exum, the injury couldn’t come at a worse time, as it looked like he finally had found his footing at the point guard spot. Now, the Jazz are robbed of a talented — and still developing — backup point guard, and will have to play patchwork when Rubio goes to the bench, at least for the time being.
“He’s got a lot of resolve,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Exum. “There’s a toughness that’s he’s developed through experience. And it’s probably always been there. Sometimes, situations draw these things out of you. Whatever medically happens going forward, I think what we’ve seen out of Dante the last few weeks is a guy who’s become a really good competitor.”
Donovan Mitchell is the real deal
In his first game against real NBA competition, Mitchell came off the bench and shot 3 of 16 from the field in 26 minutes. Jazz fans couldn’t have been happy with that. But looking deeper, Mitchell was able to generate a quality shot anytime he wanted. He just didn’t make them.
Those shots have now started to fall, and it all came together in a 26 point performance Tuesday against the Lakers. Mitchell will have his ups and downs like any rookie. But Jazz fans will be hard-pressed to remember a more dynamic and NBA-ready rookie in recent franchise history. Not even Deron Williams, who would go on to be an all-NBA performer, shined in his first season. Mitchell will get plenty of chances to do just that, and for a potential playoff team to boot.
“I’m aware of the hype surrounding me,” Mitchell said. “But I’m just really worried about trying to be as humble as possible. I worry about the defensive end and trying to be the best player that I can be.”
The depth is real
Utah will have a bunch of internal competition this season, even with Exum out of the lineup.
How deep are the Jazz? Alec Burks has played exceptionally well in the preseason, save the Lakers game, and is still on the edge of Quin Snyder’s rotation. Burks has a little more breathing room with Exum out, but had Exum stayed healthy, he probably wouldn’t be playing. The Jazz have been running guys at the opposition in waves, and there has been little drop-off in the second unit.
“We have a lot of guys who can play,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said.
This puts the Jazz in unique position to mix and match according to their competition. If they are facing a bigger team, they have the option of playing Gobert and Derrick Favors together. If they are facing a smaller team, Utah can throw out a plethora of wings in rebuttal. Without a proverbial go-to guy on offense, it’s the way the Jazz have to play. There’s a lot of interest in seeing how how it all turns out.
The Rubio/Gobert pick-and-roll could be fun
Throughout the preseason, those two have developed a chemistry, unlocking an entire offense. It starts at the top of the key, where Gobert sets a screen for his point guard. Then he rolls down the lane, where Rubio has become adept at finding the Jazz center for lay-ups and dunks.
Gobert scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on Tuesday against the Lakers. He’s been his typical dominant self defensively, and his offensive game seems to be improving. He’s catching the ball more cleanly, he’s finishing at the rim with force and making his free-throws. Gobert and outgoing point guard George Hill didn’t always see eye-to-eye last season. It will be interesting to see if he and Rubio get along better on and off the floor.
There are also some things we don’t know. Some items to ponder as the season gets under way:
Is the preseason success for real?
For all of Utah’s preseason success — the Jazz won all five games — there is still a lot of mystery.
Their competition simply wasn’t good. Two games came against mid-level international teams. Three came against the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, both of whom are widely predicted to struggle this season. When the Jazz face the Denver Nuggets in Wednesday’s opener, they will be experiencing a major step up in competition.
Are things good in the Hood?
The Jazz are expecting big things from Rodney Hood, their starting shooting guard. He has played well, scoring easily and efficiently.
Still, the Jazz have been careful with him. Quin Snyder has given him a light workload. He hasn’t played heavy minutes, and they have sat him at the slightest sign of discomfort. Hood simply hasn’t had to exert himself.
So, while he has shot the ball well, there’s still a question as to whether he can carry the Jazz through a rough scoring stretch. Can he go out and get 30 points? We’re not there yet, but we’ll soon find out.
Will Favors play closing minutes?
He’s still a mainstay in the starting lineup. But Snyder basically plays him in tandem with Gobert for the first six minutes of each half, and then the two substitute for one another.
This may be just a preseason thing. But if Snyder is committed to giving Joe Johnson closing minutes, Favors may in fact be squeezed in fourth quarters.