Utah Jazz, Surprise Contenders in 2016-17

This offseason has been a great one for the Utah Jazz. Two of our key players are returning from injury, and we added 3 veterans with deep playoff experience to help round out and deepen our roster. Here are a few key reasons why the Utah Jazz will make a leap from a lottery team who barely missed out on a playoff berth to a team that will be the surprise of the NBA and lock up a top 4 seed.

Depth. This is the first, and most important difference from last season to this season. A couple of injuries last season completely sunk our team. We just didn't have enough quality NBA rotation players that could step in when some of our guys went down with injuries. Instead of fringe NBA guys stepping in to replace an injured starter, we will now have guys like George Hill, Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw (and Jeff Withey! no more Booker) to back them up and replace them. This fact alone should net our team an extra 5~ wins.

Defense. With the return of Dante Exum, the addition of George Hill, and the long term health of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert (knock on wood), our defense should return to the elite form we expected to have last season. With long, versatile players in our starting 5, and a few key bench players that are above-average defenders for their position, we should be able to switch on screens, protect the rim, close out on shooters, and cause problems for opposing ball handlers.

Balance. Our starting 5 should have a relatively balanced offensive attack. When teams have to worry about Hayward, Favors, and Hood (not to mention Hill spotting up from 3, or Gobert catching lobs or getting easy putbacks), they can't really key in on a single player. With Burks and Johnson coming off the bench, this trend should continue. We have a handful of guys that are dangerous scorers or finishers, and at least 3 of those players will likely be on the court at any given time during a 48-minute game. With such a balanced offensive attack, defenses will exert more energy than normal trying to stop our team.

Experience. Boris Diaw. Joe Johnson. George Hill. We had a young, talented, and promising roster. We've now added playoff and championship experience to that. Savvy veterans who still have enough in the tank to contribute, without expecting a ton of minutes or getting in the way of our younger players. All three seem like a perfect fit for our roster, culture, and philosophy. I know I originally hated the addition of Joe Johnson, but the more time I've spent thinking about it, the more sense it makes. I formed my opinion of Joe Johnson while he was still with Atlanta, when he looked like a poor man's Kobe Bryant. He has since transformed his game and become more efficient, embracing different roles as an aging player.

Versatility. Our roster gives us a lot of lineup flexibility. We can go small. We can go huge. We can put 5-man lineups on the floor that can switch almost all 5 positions at times, negating the PnR. We can flood the lineup with shooters. We can go all defense and still have enough offense to get the job done. We can fill the floor with closers and guys who have hit game-winners. We can force opposing offenses to slow down while simultaneously protecting the rim and closing out on shooters. We can put lineups on the floor with 3 or 4 ball handlers who all take turns attacking the defense. There are just so many options that allow us to take advantage of mismatches or mitigate another team's attempt to create mismatches.

Chemistry. The core of our team has been building on-court chemistry and off-court relationships for quite a while. They all seem to get along and play well together, and we've added a few veterans that seem to want to be here and play well with others. It may take a month or two, but I expect our team to gel and come together. They'll fight for each other. Back each other up. Support each other. Relationships and dynamics between players matter, and the fact that the Jazz have developed a culture and have filled the roster with the "right" kind of players will start to pay off sooner or later.

Agree or disagree? What are some of your reasons why/why not?

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