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Utah Jazz Mailbag! Questions and Answers on Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum and More

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It’s time to answer your questions on the 2018-19 Utah Jazz.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are in the midst of a six-game winning streak, but that doesn’t mean all the questions about this team have been answered.

So, let’s dive into the mailbag to answer some!

Listen, I might have tried to make sense of Jabari Parker being on the Utah Jazz this past summer (I did), but this season has been illuminating.

At the time, I thought, “Fit, cost and injuries are all legitimate concerns, but it’s not crazy to think the Jazz could talk themselves past all three.”

I’m glad they didn’t.

A total of 284 players have crossed the 500-minute threshold this season. If you sort those players by the average of their ranks in 10 different catch-all metrics, Jabari Parker slots in at No. 258.

I thought Quin Snyder might be able to teach Parker how to defend and play a more efficient brand of offense, but this season has shown the risk probably outweighs the reward.

Oh, and in regards to this specific trade package, Chicago’s not going to exchange expiring contracts to trade down in a front-loaded draft.

That’s would I’d love to see, but I’d be shocked to see it (barring injury). Snyder has placed an unfailing trust in Rubio over the last two seasons, even through the weeks-long shooting slumps that can cripple the starting five’s offense.

If we can’t get that, I would at least like to see more possessions in which Mitchell is the conductor. The problem there, of course, is that Rubio and his lack of shooting make little sense for pure floor spacing. At least Dante Exum can attack a closeout.

When everyone’s healthy, it’ll be really interesting to see which Snyder goes.

Derrick Favors is posting career highs in Box Plus-Minus, Win Shares per 48 Minutes and True Shooting Percentage. In the same average rankings exercise referenced in the answer to the Jabari question, Favors is pushing top-50 value. He’s having a stellar individual season.

Having said that, Favors has averaged fewer minutes per game than Jae Crowder since the latter was acquired last season. And, for the second year in a row, the Crowder/Rudy Gobert pairing has a significantly better Net Rating (team’s net points per 100 possessions while given players are on the floor) than the Favors/Gobert pairing.

When there’s more of a stretch/playmaking/combo 4 out there, Utah’s defense is a little more switchable. And the mere threat of a three bends the defense outward a bit and opens up the middle for Gobert’s rolls or Donovan Mitchell’s drives.

If Favors and his team-friendly non-guaranteed second year can help the Jazz net a starting-caliber combo forward, they’ll have to think about making a deal (Otto Porter anyone?).

If I had to guess, though, I don’t think he’ll be traded.

It’ll probably come as no surprise to those who follow me that I’d love to see Exum starting at the 1 next season. I really think he’d look much better surrounded by Ingles, Gobert and Mitchell.

And his size and explosiveness make him much better suited to positionless basketball than Rubio is.

As for the cap space, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Utah pick up Favors’ option and go for less heralded free agents like it did with Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh and Jonas Jerebko a couple years ago.

I would say right around what he’s doing in this recent stretch as a starter. Maybe a little better.

Royce O’Neale has started the last five games. He’s averaging 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.2 threes and 1.2 steals in those five games. And he’s 11-of-22 from three. He sort of looks like the quintessential 3-and-D guy right now.

I’m going with Khris Middleton, and I don’t even think that’s very realistic.

Frankly, I’d be stunned if the Jazz lured a major difference maker in free agency. But with so much cap space out there this summer, maybe this is the year they find someone.

Generally speaking, I think the teams in smaller NBA markets can only build contenders through the draft and trades.

How high can they climb? I’ll say second. Jacob Goldstein’s latest playoff probabilities gave the Jazz a 6.7-percent chance at the No. 2. And that was posted two weeks ago. That chance is almost certainly better, since the entire six-game winning streak has taken place since then.

How high will they climb? I’m going to be optimistic and say fourth, with the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets ahead of them.

Maybe not a traditional 1, but I do think he should initiate most of his team’s possessions.

Ideally, he’d be surrounded by switchy defenders who can shoot. And he’d get better at finding the open man when defenses blitz his drives (something he already seems to be figuring out).

Utah’s 13-3 this season when Mitchell has at least five assists (13-18 in all other games).

I thought trading Rubio made sense before these games. But I’m the mayor of Exum Island. So, what did you expect?

I sure hope that’s what happens. But an all-time great (yeah, I’m going there) spending his entire career with one team is so rare these days.

Rudy himself gave some good thoughts on this in his recent appearance on Chris Haynes’ podcast.

I actually wrote about this earlier this season, when I asked “Are the Utah Jazz the least consistent team in the NBA?

At the time, Utah’s point differential in wins was 15.5. It’s point differential in losses was minus-13.3. That 28.8-point swing was the biggest in the league.

And guess what... They’re still first there!

Now, the Jazz are plus-16 in wins and -12.1 in losses. That’s a swing of 28.1. The Spurs are closest at 26.9. So, unfortunately, there’s still a decent argument that Utah’s the league’s least consistent team.

But I’ll answer anyway.

  • J.R. Smith’s first two seasons: 17.3 PTS, 3.8 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.3 STL and .022 Win Shares per 75 team possessions, .490 TS%, -3 Box +/-
  • Donovan Mitchell’s first two seasons: 23.3 PTS, 4.1 REB, 4.1 AST, 1.7 STL and .065 Win Shares per 75 team possessions, .534 TS%, 0.7 Box +/-
  • J.R. Smith’s two-year peak: 20.5 PTS, 6.1 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.7 STL and .099 Win Shares per 75 team possessions, .518 TS%, 1.5 Box +/-

So, there may be some similarities. But Mitchell’s first two seasons and general demeanor suggest he’ll be much better by the time he gets to his two-year peak.


Sincerest apologies to those of you who submitted questions I didn’t get to. I’ll try to get you next time!


Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass or ESPN.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for SLC Dunk and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewDBailey) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Dan Favale.