Utah Jazz to blow it up|
As Bojan Bogdanovic's potential game winning three bounced off the rim, and the Utah Jazz once again faced another miserable defeat in the playoffs, many could not wonder if this was the end for the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz had been the NBA's most consistent team the past 6 years. Both in the regular season and in the playoffs. The Jazz where a shoe in to win 45-50 games. A give me bet if you would. But equally, they were an easy out come playoff time.
In the six seasons from 2017 until 2022 the Jazz had seen very little success in the post season, despite having some of Utah's best regular season showings outside of the 1990s. The Jazz did have an epic 7 game series win over the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017, but that was a different Jazz team than the team that walked off the Vivant arena floor last April. But in six playoffs the Jazz have only 3 series wins; one against a Doc Rivers coached team; one against a Westbrook-George-Melo led Thunder mess; and one against an 8th seed an very young Grizzlies team.
The Jazz success the past six seasons has been remarkable. In 2017, the Jazz had just recovered from the rebuild after trading Deron Williams in 2011, when it looked like another rebuild was in order when all-star Gordon Hayward skipped town after finally rising to prominence. Yet, the Jazz had gotten lucky and drafted Donovan Mitchell just prior, and got lucky again with Rudy Gobert's assentation to NBA stardom.
The Hayward departure may have been a blessing in disguise. It allowed the Jazz to develop Mitchell into a 3 time all-star and superstar scorer. It also allowed them to add key pieces such as Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. This all led to the Jazz getting the #1 seed in the west for the third time in franchise history and the first time since 1998.
Going into the 2021 playoffs everything looked good for the Utah Jazz on the surface, and going into game 3 of the second round things still looked good. But that is where the wheels seem to have fallen off. The Jazz lost 4 straight games and the top seeded Jazz were out. In game six vs the Clippers they blew a 25 point lead, their second time in 3 years doing so.
Following another disappointing playoff ousting in 2022 the writing was on the wall for the Jazz. There were whispers of team disfunction and many well publicized feuds between stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. There were cracks in the dam, and it was only a matter of time until the whole dam failed.
The first major sign that things were changing in Salt Lake City was when Quin Snyder abruptly resigned. A month later the Jazz traded defensive star and future hall-of-famer Rudy Gobert for a plethora of draft picks. Now rumors of Donovan Mitchell's imminent departure dominate the airwaves.
Losing a top teir coach, a hall-of-famer, and a three-time all-star may seem like a death sentence to a team, and in a way it is. But it is also what the Jazz need. The Utah Jazz under Snyder, Mitchell and Gobert were never going to win an NBA title, they were never really going to ever compete for a title. Their top record in 2021 was fools gold. The Jazz got the best record that season because they stayed healthier than everyone else in the regular season, and because the team was the NBA's patient zero for the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2021 Jazz did not have any Covid issues and thus simply had a better roster than everyone else.
Having a better roster is key to understanding the Jazz failures in this era. They won at the rate they did in the regular season because they had depth, and generally survived injuries. Not until 2022 did any of their key rotational guys suffer a season long injury. Playoffs they did suffer, most notably in 2021, they also somehow seemed to lose their starting point guard every playoffs, But the Jazz none-the-less had good players and they could beat up on bad teams.
One thing that drove Jazz fans crazy about the Stockton-and-Malone Jazz, is how often it seemed the team would lay an egg and lose to a terrible team, which usually cost them seeding in the playoffs, This same problem persisted into the Deron Williams era. But the Quin Snyder Jazz never really had this problem, especially after the all-star break in 2018. The Snyder led Jazz beat sub 500 teams at the best rate in the NBA in 2019-22. The Jazz also didn't just beat these teams, they often times annihilated them. Five of the Jazz top 10 biggest wins came under the tutelage of Quin Snyder.
The Jazz struggled against good teams however. They usually lost season series vs other top 4 teams in both conferences, and often teams finished 2-2 against other western playoff teams.
The Jazz also struggled to close out games. Since 2017 the Jazz have a .329 win percentage in games within 5 points either way at the 2 minute mark. Take out 2017 and 2021, where the Jazz actually were decent in this category, and it falls to .179; the worst in NBA history. Oddly enough, in the same situation in the playoffs the Jazz are .598, which would be the third best in that time frame behind only the Warriors and Heat.
Blowing leads has also been a hallmark of the Jazz. Quin Snyder coached 636 regular season games in 8 seasons with the Jazz. They blew a 10 plus point lead in 516 of those. Of those 516, they lose 210. They blew a 20 point lead 41 times, which they lost twice in the regular season. They three times let a 30 point lead get down to single digits, and in a preseason game managed to blow a 44 point lead and end up down, before finally winning. Snyder coached 51 playoff games, and just like the regular season the Jazz blew leads. In those 51 games the Jazz blew 10 point leads 27 times, in which they lost 17 of those games, and blew 20 point leads six times, and lost 2 of those games.
Snyder was routinely outcoached in the playoffs. Only Doc Rivers and Billy Donovan did not run complete circles around him when they faced him in the playoffs. Snyder would not adjust the Jazz scheme and opposing coaches would simply take Rudy Gobert out of flow of the game, and Snyder could never get the Jazz back into the game.
The Jazz defense numbers wise looks good, and that is because of Rudy Gobert. You do not win 3 DPOTY awards if you are not that good. Rudy Gobert has been THAT good. The rest of the Jazz defenders have been subpar at best. In the playoffs the Jazz backcourt has defended like a pack of matadors on sleep aids.
The game has changed too. Big men need to be athletic and versatile. Something that Rudy Gobert is not. Sure he is athletic, but not to the same extend other superstars are. It is the same reason why the Denver Nuggets never seen post-season success. You can only go so far in the modern NBA with a 7 footer who is limited in one aspect of the game.
Now the Utah Jazz are doing to smart thing and blowing up their roster. They traded Royce O'Neale to the Nets for a first round pick, they traded Gobert for five first round picks and more players they can flip for picks. They are likely trading Donovan Mitchell for between four and 8 first round picks. They will likely get first round picks for Bogdanovic, Conley, and Patrick Beverly.
Things will be rough for the Jazz next season. Free sports picks, has them winning just 25 games. That is actually a good bet since the Jazz are the only NBA team who has never lost 60 games. But if the Jazz can pull of their tank correctly, and rebuild quickly, they could be a good team again in just a few short years.