Everyone knows the Utah Jazz’s Go To Guy is Gordon Hayward. Gordon led the team in points per game (19.7) and assists per game (3.7) last season. He is widely considered to be one of the top small forwards in the league as we near the start of the 2016-17 season. Utah, however, will be without Hayward to start the season as he continues to rehab a broken finger. The Utah Jazz will need others to step up and fill the scoring void created by Hayward’s absence. The obvious choice to do this is Derrick Favors, who was second on the team in scoring last season with 16.4 per game, but due to leg and knee issues, he may not be ready for big minutes at the start of the season.
With last season’s top two scorers potentially shelved for a while, the best option for the Jazz now (and when both are healthy) is to play solid team defense and keep opposing teams from reaching the century mark as often as possible. Playing in the up-tempo Western Conference could make this a challenge, but Utah has the players to get it done and it all starts with Rudy Gobert in the middle.
Gobert was one of the leading rebounders in the league last year, averaging 11 per game. He also averaged two blocks per game, but wasn’t the imposing defensive presence he had been the year before. This season, Gobert with renewed energy is ready to stand tall and be the imposing defensive force the Jazz need down low. He will hopefully be able to contribute a little on the offensive end as well. Gobert has spent a lot of time working on his free throw shooting and the career 58% shooter from the line has hit 78% of his free throws during the preseason. If Gobert can stay healthy and play up to his potential, he could be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
While Gobert is making life tough for anyone who comes down the lane, the Jazz figure to also be strong on the perimeter thanks to the strength of their point guards. George Hill arrived in a trade with the Pacers (his arrival was rated as the most underrated player acquisition by NBA GMs) and Dante Exum has returned from his knee injury to give the Jazz a tandem who can score and defend. If Hill and Exum can force opposing players to shoot contested jumpers more often, the Jazz will be in good shape with Gobert waiting to grab the rebounds. And if they funnel those players inside, Gobert, who was voted by NBA GM’s as the second-best interior defender in the league, will be waiting for them.
This all sounds great, but it is also a work in progress. Hill and Exum are going to need time to gel and learn to play together. Exum is also trying to go from a potential star to an actual one and only time will tell if Gobert’s free throw shooting holds up. On paper when fully healthy, Favors, Gobert, Hill and Exum give the Jazz a solid supporting cast to go with their all-world small forward, possessing a solid mix of scoring prowess and lockdown defense. With Hill having the mindset of a true point guard and wanting to get Hayward the ball in great position to score, if it all comes together, the Jazz could easily reach the 50-win mark and be in line to host a first-round playoff series.