The 2018-19 NBA off-season was a tumultuous one that saw a lot of changes. The West got stronger with Lebron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers; the Spurs and Raptors shook up their rosters by trading Demar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard; but for the Utah Jazz the off-season brought very little change.
The Jazz, for the first time in almost 20 seasons, managed to re-sign their best best free agent Not since the start of the 2000 campaign when the Jazz managed to re-sign Karl Malone and John Stockton have the Jazz been able to keep their best free agent. Every year since then the team has lost it's top off-season priority. Last year they lost Gordon Hayward, The year before that they lost Trevor Booker, a few years ago they lost Paul Millsap, they lost Carlos Boozer, Shandon Anderson, Donyell Marshall, Howard Eisley and yes even the Mailman himself left after the 2003 season. But this July, the Jazz managed to re-sign every single one of their free agents.
The Jazz started the off-season by re-signing starting power forward Derrick Favors. They followed that up by re-signing Dante Exum and Raul Neto. The Jazz roster going into this season will look a lot like the roster that took the Houston Rockets to six games in the 2018 NBA playoffs, something Hoops Lab Blog didn't think was possible going into the series. Of the 15 players on the Jazz at the end of last season, 13 of them are back. The only players who will not return are Jonas Jerebko, who the Jazz released and whom signed with the Warriors; and the son of former Utah Jazz great John Stockton-David Stockton, whom decided to play in Europe and was waived by the Jazz. Taking their rosters spots are first round pick Grayson Allen and former two-way player Georges Niang.
The Jazz are banking on internal improvement, most notably for rookie of the year runner-up Donovan Mitchell and Defensive player of the year winner Rudy Gobert. Mitchell took the league by storm in the latter half of the 2018 season and guided the Jazz to the best second half record in the league and the 5th spot in the west.
The Jazz have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA and the best defensive team in the NBA. While everyone else in the league is trying to match the Warriors offensively, the Jazz took a different approach and decided to try and stop them defensively and to slow the game down. This was a very effective tactic last year, which allowed the Jazz to beat the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
Another player the Jazz are banking on to take the next step is Dante Exum. The Jazz paid him this summer and are hoping he came live up to his 5th overall pick billing. Exum has shown flashes in his young NBA career, but he cannot stay on the floor due to injuries. Exum missed all of his second NBA season with a torn ACL, and missed the majority of last season with a shoulder injury. Should Exum stay healthy he could win Most Improved Player and propel the Jazz to the next level in the western conference.
Injuries are going to be a factor for the Jazz again this year. The team has not been healthy in years, and last year Gobert, Exum, Sefolosha, Burks, and Neto all missed significant time due to injuries. These injuries caused the Jazz to fall 14 games below 500 in January of last year, but when the Jazz got healthy they went on a tear and ended up 14 games above 500. If the Jazz stay healthy this year expect them to challenge the Rockets and Warriors for the top spot in the west. Even if the Jazz have injury issues this year they have enough depth to compete. The two exceptions to their depth will be if Gobert or Mitchell miss significant time, as neither player can be replaced.
Team MVP: Donovan Mitchell. Expect a big year from Spida, as he makes his way into the conversation of best player in the NBA. He should finish the season averaging around 23 points a game.
Team DPTOY: Rudy Gobert. The reigning NBA DPOTY will be the Jazz best defensively player once again. Gobert is slightly below average on offense, but his impact on the other side of the ball is what made the Jazz one of the best teams in the NBA at the end of last year.
Team Sixthman: Dante Exum. Exum will come into his own this season. He will play both guard spots and gives the Jazz a lot of defensive energy.
Surprising Star: Royce O'Neale. Not a lot of people paid attention to the un-drafted Baylor swing-man last year, but he is one of the Jazz best players and his style fits the Jazz perfectly
End of the Road: Thabo Sefolosha. Its been a nice career for the defensive journeyman, but injuries and suspensions are going to doom him. Everything he provides, the Jazz get from Royce O'Neale for a much cheaper price. Do not be shocked if the Jazz move him.
C: Rudy Gobert | Ekpe Udoh | Tony Bradley
F: Derrick Favors | Jae Crowder | Georges Niang
F: Joe Ingles | Royce O'Neale | Thabo Sefolosha
G: Donovan Mitchell | Alec Burks | Grayson Allen
G: Ricky Rubio | Dante Exum | Raul Neto
TW: Naz Mitrou-Long | Tyler Cavanaugh