The NBA is already a third of the way through this shortened season and an unlikely team sits at the top of the standings. The Utah Jazz have the best record in the league at (19-5) and look like they have taken a step as a team from last season, but do they have enough to contend for an NBA championship?
Reasons for optimism
From a roster standpoint, the Jazz aren’t too different from last year, but their chemistry finally seems to have clicked and they are getting key contributions from players all around the roster. Mike Conley has figured out his place in the offense and is playing better than he did at any point last season. Jordan Clarkson is having a career year and is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate putting up a career high 17.6 points per game. Joe ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic have been lethal shooters from behind the arc, Rudy Gobert is still one of the best defenders in the entire NBA and Donovan Mitchell continues his superstar level play.
The Jazz have the feel of a team that can beat anyone on any given night, largely due to their incredible three-point shooting. Utah leads the league in 3-pointers hitting 17 per game which would be the highest per game average in league history if they can sustain it. Utah isn’t just throwing up shots either, the Jazz are currently second in 3-point percentage, shooting an elite 40.3% from deep as a team. Clarkson, Conley, Ingles and Mitchell are all shooting career highs from being the three-point line.
The Jazz aren’t just a one way team though, ranking third in defensive efficiency the Jazz are letting up just 104.6 points per 100 possessions.
Causes for concern
With all that being said, Utah is not without problems. The Jazz record and statistics show signs of a very good team but a closer look could reveal a few flaws in Utah’s system.
Despite Rudy Gobert’s elite rim protection and their high defensive ranking the Jazz don’t really have any defensive stoppers outside of Royce O’neal. Utah plays solid team defense but in a playoff series it’s often important to have multiple defensive options to throw at the other teams best players and the Jazz seem to be lacking there.
The other problem is the need for more playmaking, outside of Mitchell Utah doesn’t have another option they can give the ball to and trust to make a play for himself or a teammate. Mitchell has proven how affective he can be in the playoffs last season but Utah’s loss to Denver proved that he can’t do it on his own.
When it comes to winning championships, defense and playmaking have proven to be hugely important and its for that reason that the Jazz are likely a piece or two away from being true contenders.
To just reach the NBA Finals Utah would have to beat at least one of the Los Angeles teams who at this point look to be on a collision course for the Western Conference Finals.
If everything swings right for the Jazz: the defense holds up, the hot shooting continues and Mitchell proves he can carry the full load of a superstar, then Utah could have a chance at beating one of the top teams but even then it feels like a stretch.
The Jazz have one of the best coaches in the NBA in Quin Snyder, a budding superstar in Donovan Mitchell and one of the hottest shooting teams in the league. Though they may be just outside the pack of true contenders, Utah is still not a team to look forward to matching up with in a playoff series but just short of the top teams in the league.
“From Our Haus to Yours