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What Utah Jazz fans have to look forward to in 2019

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New Year. New Jazz.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If we’re being honest, the end of 2018 wasn’t a lot of fun in Utah Jazz land. After months of preseason hype surrounding the team, predictions of a top-2 spot in the West and being a true contender, the Jazz stumbled out of the blocks. The team currently sits at 18-19 and hasn’t been over .500 since Nov. 12.

But I’m not here to talk about the bad. I’m here to tell you why that’s over now. 2018 is in the rear view and 2019 has graced us with its presence. New year, new Jazz. Here are the top reasons why the start of the 2018-19 season will feel like nothing but a bad dream in just a few short months.

Easier schedule

This has been discussed ad nauseam everywhere on the interwebs for a couple of months now, so we won’t spend much time here. Just a few stats for your consideration.

Utah has had a .535 strength of schedule so far, the toughest in the league by a good margin. In contrast, they have just a .475 strength of schedule remaining, the easiest in the league.

The Jazz have played 21 road games and just 16 home games so far, meaning they have only 20 road games left and 25 home games remaining.

In January, Utah will have 8 games against sub-.500 teams and 7 against teams over .500. Compare that to December, when they played just 4 games against sub-.500 teams and a whopping 10 games against teams over .500.

The road-home split will come back around in the Jazz’s favor as well. In February, they’ll play only 3 road games. Not only that, but the only back-to-back set of road games in that month is separated by the all-star break, meaning the team won’t be spending what has seemed like weeks at a time in hotels.

This team has dug itself a little bit of a hole with its early play, but the schedule will give them every chance to dig out of it.

Dante Exum turning the corner

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Getting out of that early hole will be a lot easier if Dante Exum continues to play like he did against stiff competition in December. This is a little bit of small sample size theater, but Exum is finally healthy and playing well. His December, capped with his 13 point, 13 assist performance in his first start of the year in the blowout win over the New York Knicks, has set him up to set new career highs almost across the board.

Dante Exum Advanced Stats

Span TS% eFG% RB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% ORTG DRTG PPG
Span TS% eFG% RB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% ORTG DRTG PPG
Career 0.496 0.471 5.1 16.6 1.1 19.1 16.1 96 109 5.7
Since Dec. 2 0.613 0.56 4.2 30.6 1.5 13.5 21.9 124 104 8.4
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

It remains to be seen if he can keep it up, but Dante earned his minutes and then some in December.

Trade deadline

If the Jazz play on in January and February and general manager Dennis Lindsey decides that more changes need to be made via trade prior to the deadline, he’s constructed this team to be a versatile trade partner around the league.

The current mixture of young talent and solid vets on Utah’s roster presents some enticing options for teams looking to improve. Teams looking for help with salary cap relief will also look at Utah’s nearly $42 million in expiring and team option contracts.

The Jazz also own all of their own future draft picks, minus the 2020 second rounder sent to Cleveland in the Alec Burks for Kyle Korver trade. If Lindsey needs to throw in a sweetener to chase a difference-making player, that’s available to him.

Should Lindsey decide to sit tight at the deadline, however, that doesn’t end this section of things to look forward to in 2019. Utah’s aforementioned salary books are also positioned so that the team is looking at possible near-max cap space to play with in 2019’s free agency period, but there’s plenty of time for a closer look at that down the road.

Release of the D.O.N 1s

In December, our very own Mychal Lowman broke the news here on SLC Dunk that Donovan Mitchell would be getting his own signature shoe. Shortly after, the announcement was made official, and now the shoes, dubbed the D.O.N (Determination Over Negativity) Issue #1, will be available for purchase in 2019. A signature shoe is a huge mark of a player recognized as a star in the NBA, so this is an exciting time to be a Jazz fan.