We’re just days away from the Utah Jazz beginning the 2017-2018 season. A lot of people are down on the Jazz due to the loss of their starting point guard and All-Star small forward. We here at SLC Dunk are not down on this roster. In fact, we’re more excited than ever to get this season started.
And so are players.
Looking over this roster, you’ll see that there are a lot of reasons for guys to be motivated this year. We have an impressive combination of players in contract years, players seeking redemption, players with something to prove, and players vying for more minutes. Let’s go through them so you can see what I mean.
I’ll start from the top. Rudy Gobert is arguably the best center and the best defender in the NBA. At worst he is a top 20 player, but Dennis Lindsey’s metrics had Rudy as the 9th best in the league. Yet somehow he still doesn’t have the national respect he deserves. The GM’s just voted him as the 5th best center. 5th! He was also voted only the 3rd best defender, despite posting the most defensive win shares last year. The Stifle Tower will be out for blood this year as he seeks to build his reputation further. Can he contribute more offensively and prove the haters wrong? Will he win Defensive Player of the Year?
The silky smooth lefty is about to see his role increase dramatically. With the (terribly executed) exit of Gordon Hayward, Rodney will be asked to do a lot more this year. He has had spurts of fantastic play, but has yet to put it all together. Health and consistency will be the key for the young guard this year. He’s on the last year of his rookie deal, and a lot could be weighing on his performance this season. Will he bet on himself and hope to cash in on a bigger deal next summer? Can he help lead this team and score 20+ a game?
Rubio has yet to play for a winning basketball team in his entire NBA career. While his advanced stats show he contributes to winning, playing for the Timberwolves hasn’t let him actually win. Now is his chance. He’s long been considered a passing wizard that just cannot shoot the ball. It’s said that he does things that helps a team win despite his achilles heal of not being a scoring threat. Is this the year he proves people wrong? Will he show the league that he can be the starting point guard of a playoff team?
Man, that was a rough year. Favors never seemed right and his stats support that observation. His numbers took a major dive, averaging 9.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks. That’s definitely not what he was hoping for. He is a free agent in the summer, so this is a huge year for Derrick. Can he prove he is still that 16 and 8 All-Star caliber player? Will his health allow him to do that?
Alec Burks has only played in 100 of 257 possible games and 2,349 total minutes over the last 3 seasons. It has been a rough few years for the still-young SG out of Colorado. Mostly forgotten in NBA circles, the 2 years and 22 million dollars left on his contract don’t look near as good now as they did a few years ago. He finally seems healthy and ready to go, and I’m sure he is dying to get back out on the court. It wasn’t too long ago that he was averaging 14, 3, and 3. Can he work his way back into the rotation and fit in Quin Snyder’s system? Will he be able to prove he is worth keeping as part of the core of this team again?
Devastated. If that’s how Jazz fans feel I can’t imagine how Exum must feel. He may be out for 6 weeks, but he could be done for the season. If he is able to make it back and play this year, he might be the player with the most to prove. Having missed his entire 2nd year due to an ACL tear, he finally had a full offseason and looked ready to go this year. He is also nearing the end of his rookie contract, so this could be a huge year for the 22 year old. Dante definitely looked like he belonged in preseason, so hopefully he can get back out there and show everyone that he was in fact worth taking with the #5 overall pick in 2014.
Partially or Non-Guaranteed Contracts
Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh, Jonas Jerebko, Raul Neto, Joel Bolomboy, Royce O’Neale. Every single one of these guys is in a prove-it contract. They are either already partially or non-guaranteed, or will be after this season. They have millions of reasons to put in the work and show that they are worth it. I expect them to give the extra effort to improve and show value. This is awesome to have that much incentive for the bench depth guys.
As you can see, this group of guys have a lot to play for this season. Heck, you could also argue that Joe Ingles will be plenty motivated as well. He may have his extension in place already, but like Rudy Gobert, I don’t pin him as the type of players that now sits back and relaxes. I think he will want to show to everyone, not just Jazz management, that he is worth every penny. And we have no reason to believe he won’t be able to deliver.
Let’s not forget that rookies Donovan Mitchell and Tony Bradley will have a lot to prove as well. Mitchell is coming in with a lot of hype and will certainly not want to lose that momentum. He’s played well so far and I think he has the attitude that it takes to be a star in this league. Bradley is a late 1st round draft pick that has to earn every minute he gets. I’m sure he will be working tirelessly to learn the game and get himself on the floor.
I feel like this Jazz team will be similar to the 2003-2004 team. With very little talent outside of Andrei Kirilenko, and expectations that they would be bottom-dwellers in the west, Jerry Sloan guided a 42 win season. That took both individual effort and great team chemistry.
Obviously there is a lot more talent on the current roster. The reason I make the comparison is that the expectations for this team have come down quite a bit since July 4th. The offense is supposed to be unbearable. They are supposed to take a big step back and certainly shouldn’t get back to the playoffs.
But I don’t buy it. The amount of passion this team will play with, no matter where that motivation may be coming from, won’t allow them to miss the playoffs. Other teams are going to be circling the dates on their calendars when they have to play the Jazz. And by circling, I mean dreading worse than one would dread the worst dentist in the world.
Like it’s fearless leader in Rudy Gobert, this team will have intensity. They will have emotion and energy. This team will have fire.