The Utah Jazz had an under the radar type of summer. For Utah, being under the radar is their brand. The Jazz have been typically forgotten, underrated, and have habitually surprised due to their underdog status. While the Utah Jazz’s free agency has been under the radar, their team’s stars have not. Rudy Gobert received the Defensive Player of the Year award. Donovan Mitchell has been seen at the NBA Finals, surprising people at BBQs, and, most recently, winning an ESPY. The Utah Jazz next season will not have the luxury of sneaking up on anybody, not after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder and getting the 2nd round. Next season they will be seen as one of the league’s premier teams. So how does Utah plan on meeting those higher expectations?
Okay, that’s not fair to say, but to the casual NBA fan Utah’s plan of attack of building on one of their most successful surprise seasons in recent memory it would seem Utah didn’t do anything. They re-signed all of their free agents: Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto. They guaranteed the contracts of all their players, minus Jonas Jerebko, on second year team options: Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh. The Utah Jazz even brought back both their two way players from last year: Georges Niang and Naz Mitrou-Long. The signed Niang to a long term deal and re-signed Mitrou-Long as a two way player. To the outside casual fan, looking at Utah’s roster from last year to present, it would seem Utah has done nothing, the status quo, but that is not true. Utah has done something that they haven’t done in 10 years: keep a 90% or higher roster continuity from year to year.
That roster continuity can play a big part in internal improvement. After all, if the Jazz have one of the best development staff in the league, they ought to let them work their magic. That’s what Utah is doing. Instead of having to focus their development on teaching their players the system, they’re allowing them to focus on getting better. No adding new faces who’ll struggle with where to be, what to do in a given situation, or how to play together. This upcoming season, Utah will be able to hit the ground running with no adjustment period.
That might not seem like a big deal, but when looking back at the only seasons in Utah history where Utah had 90% continuity or higher, the results were interesting. Keep in mind that when a team keeps a roster together that is usually an indictment on the caliber of team that they have.
Utah Jazz Continuity
|Season||Continuity||Prior Season Record||Season Record||Difference|
|Season||Continuity||Prior Season Record||Season Record||Difference|
Next year’s Utah Jazz team will have a 92% roster continuity. It will also be the first season since 2010 that the Utah Jazz have had the same starting point guard in two consecutive seasons. That isn’t a typo. Starting point guards since Deron Williams left:
- Devin Harris
- Mo Williams
- Earl Watson
- Jamaal Tinsley
- Trey Burke
- Dante Exum
- Shelvin Mack
- George Hill
- Ricky Rubio
Now Trey Burke did start the following season after his rookie year, but many will remember that Dante Exum took over the reigns midway through the year. Then that following summer Exum was hurt, and Raul Neto took over starting point guard responsibilities until the Jazz made a trade for Shelvin Mack. The Jazz have been a revolving door of a roster since the Deron Williams trade.
Last year at this time it seemed a foregone conclusion that Utah would have had even more roster turnover. After all, Gordon Hayward had just made his exit from the franchise and the trade for Ricky Rubio and the re-signing of Joe Ingles seemed out of place without Hayward staying. Flash forward to know and the Utah Jazz will bring back their actual starting lineup from Game 1 of the 2017-2018 NBA Season. Before you say, what about Rodney Hood, I thought he was the starter on game 1. Nope. Rodney Hood had left the game mere minutes before tip-off due to gastric distress. Donovan Mitchell jumped in his place and the rest is history.
There are some distinct advantages to keeping the same roster together as highlighted from Kyle Goon’s—pours one out for Goony—last piece with the Salt Lake Tribune. Dante Exum was interviewed for that piece and had this to say.
“We don’t want to be teaching guys to catch up with our system,” Exum said. “We had a lot of ups and downs. Hopefully we can continue from there.”
Go back to last season and they had to get Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, Ekpe Udoh, and Jae Crowder all caught up to speed with their offense. Jae Crowder happened at the trade deadline. It’s quite possible he was improvising his way through the system for most of his time with Utah. Many writers liked what Utah did with their wait and see approach like Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.
“I think the Jazz played a pretty smart middle ground,” said Tim Bontemps, a national NBA writer for The Washington Post. “They kept this group together and kept their flexibility for the future if it doesn’t work out.”
The Utah Jazz did the basketball equivalent of saving your video game right before the boss battle. If this season goes well and they find success they can bring the same team back and make another run. If they find out that the second half of last year’s season was a fluke, they have incredible roster flexibility to make moves or allow these players to walk in free agency while having the space to go out and chase a Max Free Agency Player. In other words, they can go right back to their last saved point next year.
Utah has a chance to pick up right where they left off. Much of Utah’s struggles in October were due to their unfamiliarity with each other. November’s were due to that same unfamiliarity and injuries. Same can be said for December. But when Gobert returned to a roster that new how to run Quin’s offense in January, that team soared to the next level. Now Utah gets to go into 2018-2019 with a roster that isn’t learning.
Ricky Rubio isn’t adjusting to all new teammates.
Donovan Mitchell isn’t a rookie anymore. The game is going to slow down even more for the young phenom.
Joe Ingles will have learned more trash talk by next season.
Derrick Favors gets to stay in his element and re-signed with Utah knowing his role for the upcoming season.
Rudy Gobert gets to have teammates who KNOW where their defensive assignments are supposed to be. Allowing Gobert to do less of covering his teammates’ ***es on defense and more of dominating on defense.
Dante Exum is finally healthy and doesn’t have PJ Tucker destroying his shoulder. He gets a full offseason to get better and he knows what his role is.
Thabo Sefolosha gets to focus on rehab and not learning a new offense.
Ekpe Udoh gets an offseason to improve with NBA resources and worry less about a new defensive scheme.
Alec Burks gets to build on a strong postseason performance.
Jae Crowder finally has a moment to breath after being traded to his second team in less than a year’s span. Crowder could have the biggest improvement year over year—aside from Dante Exum—as a result of the continuity.
Royce O’Neale is destined for big gains this offseason as he has a home in the NBA and as Donovan Mitchell’s sidekick. O’Neale surprised everyone and has a chance to focus on his development rather than fighting for his NBA career.
Raul Neto will be in his 3rd year with Utah now. He knows his role as a 3rd point guard on the team, but gets to continue to hone his craft with the best development staff in the NBA.
The list can go on and on. When a team is stacked with talent and has a development staff that knows what they are doing, betting on internal development isn’t just some buzzword to make up for a bad offseason; it’s actually the best thing for a team going forward.
So how are the Utah Jazz going to improve on their amazing season from last year? Let this team finally get the chance to roll with a healthy roster and try their best not to get in their own way.