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The new Utah Jazz: A better team with a worse record?

Three contributing factors that could worsen the Utah Jazz’s record in 2019-2020 despite added talent.

It’s no secret that the Utah Jazz front office spent the 2019 offseason doing everything in their power to open an immediate championship window. The past couple of years have produced Jazz teams that were easy to root for, excellent at playing their game, but ultimately lacked the offensive firepower to truly contend in the postseason.

I expect the additions of Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and others to change that in the 2020 playoffs. Utah is a buzzy team around the national media to contend for a championship, and this team has the talent to make good on that potential.

Having said that, it is a realistic possibility that the 2019-2020 Jazz, despite being a better and more talented team than last season’s iteration, could end the season with a worse record than the 50-32 mark of 2018-2019. Here are a few reasons that could happen.

Adjusting to New Roles

Sacramento Kings v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The influx of talent that came with the summer’s free agency and trade acquisitions will mean an adjustment for several players on this team. It looks like Joe Ingles, with the arrival of Bogdanovic, will be shifting from the full-time starting role he’s been in for the past several seasons to more of a sixth man, leader-of-the-bench role. I suspect Ingles will still close most games, but playing with primarily bench units throughout the game will be an adjustment for the Aussie.

On the other side of this coin, someone more familiar with a bench role will have to step into the starting lineup with the departure of Derrick Favors in the starting power forward spot. My pick for that would be Royce O’Neale, who could excel in the role but has only started 20 games in his two NBA seasons.

Donovan Mitchell will be playing with a ball dominant backcourt running mate for the first time in his young career in Mike Conley. You could also argue that Conley has never had as good of an on-ball backcourt partner as Mitchell either. This is ultimately a good thing; Utah will have plenty of looks to throw at opposing teams. It could take an adjustment period, though.

Maybe all of the players snap right into their new roles seamlessly from game 1, but that’s highly doubtful. The Jazz might lose some games they would otherwise win in the adjustment period.

The Health Factor

*Begins knocking on wood*

Despite a bleak outlook for a few games last season, particularly at the point guard position, the 2018-2019 Jazz actually had pretty good injury luck.

  • Rudy Gobert missed 1 game when he rested the final game of the season.
  • Donovan Mitchell missed 5 games, including resting the final game of the season. He only missed consecutive games once.
  • Joe Ingles played all 82 games.
  • Royce O’Neale, Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver combined to miss 14 games.

All of this is to say, it wouldn’t take much for this season’s Jazz to have a worse injury year than last season. A Gobert injury could be particularly debilitating for this team, without Derrick Favors to fall back on at the center position to anchor the defense.

*One more knock on wood for good measure*

Joining the “Load Management” Era?

Sacramento Kings v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Also related to the health topic, I fully expect the Jazz to join in on the load management trend sweeping the league in recent years. The entire NBA just watched the Toronto Raptors win the championship after essentially resting their best player, Kawhi Leonard, for 22 games throughout the season. This probably cost Toronto the No. 1 seed in the East since they finished just two games behind the Milwaukee Bucks. It also enabled the Raptors to have a healthy Leonard throughout the postseason, though. A trade off that most teams would take every time.

To be clear, I don’t expect anyone on the Jazz to have their loads managed to the extent of missing 22 games this season. But there are some veterans on this team who I think would benefit from a night off here and there, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles being chief among them. Particularly, for someone who has missed as many games to injury in his career as Conley has, some extra rest might be beneficial.

Love it or hate it, the load management era is here in the NBA, and I don’t expect it to go anywhere anytime soon. It’s time for the Jazz to get on board. If we have to sacrifice a few regular season wins to keep our key guys fresher for the playoffs, so be it.

I truly believe this team will be better equipped for playoff success than the Utah Jazz teams of the past. We need to all do our best to keep the long game in mind if Utah has some frustrating stretches in the 2019-2020 season. As long as the Jazz enter the postseason in fairly good health and with decent playoff positioning, nothing is off the table for this squad, even if they fail to hit 50 wins in the regular season.