The Utah Jazz of recent years can be defined by a few simple traits. A well-run organization, a respected coach, a passionate fanbase, and... a lifetime supply of temporary, disappointingly average, point guards.
The Utah Jazz franchise was used to having a steady hand at point guard position. From 1980 to 2003, the Jazz had only two starting PGs (unless a rare injury required a reserve to make an odd start). That’s 23 straight seasons with only one change at starting point guard. Rickey Green started for six straight years before handing the reigns over to John Stockton. After that, the position belonged to Stockton. We may as well name the position after him. He played all 82 games in 17 of his 19 seasons. He led the league in assists 9 times. He was a mainstay in All Star and All-NBA teams. John Stockton was the ultimate constant point guard.
The standard was set for future Jazz point guards. Stockton’s career is an unfair measuring stick to compare future players to, but that doesn’t stop Jazz fans from doing just that. This team is one that expects excellency from its point guards.
Following John’s retirement, there were only two quick seasons of uncertainty about who would handle the position before the Jazz drafted their next franchise point guard, Deron Williams.
Deron Williams won over the starting position halfway through his rookie season. An impressive feat considering Jerry Sloan’s reputation of making young players earn their minutes. D-Will thrived in that role for the next five and a half seasons. Williams led the team to the playoffs four years in a row, including a Western Conference Finals appearance. He was an All Star, and All-NBA player, an Olympic Gold Medalist.
He was also unhappy with the team and the coaching staff. Jerry Sloan and D-Will butted heads often, and Williams had made up his mind that he would leave the team in free agency. He informed the team of that decision, so on February 23rd, 2011, the Utah Jazz made one of the most impactful moves in franchise history. Deron Williams was traded from the Utah Jazz to the New Jersey Nets.
Since that fateful day, the position of Utah Jazz starting point guard has been, in many fans minds, cursed. There have been a grand total of 14 different players to start at least one game at point guard for the Jazz from then until today. Those players are:
- Devin Harris
- Earl Watson
- Jamaal Tinsley
- Mo Williams
- Trey Burke
- John Lucas III
- Alec Burks
- Dante Exum
- Raul Neto
- Shelvin Mack
- George Hill
- Ricky Rubio
- Donovan Mitchell
- Mike Conley
Some were solid veterans. Some were savvy backups. Some were high lottery picks, bursting with potential. Some were shooting guards, taking on the role out of necessity. Regardless of who they were, none could hold onto the position for long. Ricky Rubio was the Jazz’ starting point guard for two full seasons, and that was the most stability that position experienced over those nine years. Ricky was a solid player, and undoubtedly brought much to those scrappy defensive Jazz teams. But he was never enough. He wasn’t the game changing point guard that the Jazz needed. Utah’s front office knew that an upgrade was necessary. So they swung a trade for Mike Conley, a true all-star level floor general.
Optimism abounded among the fanbase. The team looked, on paper, to be complete. The Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell pairing in the backcourt seemed like a perfect fit. Would this be the season that the curse was finally broken?
In Mike’s first game wearing a Jazz uniform, he couldn’t catch a break. his patented floater wouldn’t fall. His three point shot was rimming out. Conley went 1-16 in that game, and scored 5 points. That was the beginning of a rough season for Mike. After putting up career high scoring numbers during his final season in Memphis, he couldn’t seem to get to that level for much of his debut season with the Jazz. Whether it was injuries, a change of scenery, a new system, new teammates, or simply his age, it appeared that the Jazz point guard curse had taken its newest victim.
There’s an important note to make here though. If you look at Conley’s 2019-20 season as a whole, you’ll certainly see a down year. The worst year of his prime. But if you look at it with some context, you’ll see that there was a turning point. After Conley fully returned from injury, no longer on minutes restriction, his play changed drastically. He seemed to figure out how to fit in next to Donovan Mitchell and the rest of his new teammates. His three point shot became his go to weapon, and it was a dangerous one. This play continued into the playoffs. Down in the Disney Bubble, Mike torched the nets. He put up nearly 20 points per game, to go along with five assists and 42.9% three point shooting. The Jazz ultimately fell short, but Jazz fans began to wonder, did they have a truly reliable point guard?
Well, now the 2020-21 season has begun, and through 5 games, Conley has been terrific. It’s not only the stats he’s putting up, although those are fantastic (21.4 points, 5.2 assists, 5.2 rebounds per game). It’s something you can see. When he dances around a Rudy Gobert screen to get himself a wide open three, you see it. When he weaves through the defense and throws a bullet bounce pass to Derrick Favors for a dunk, you see it. When he relocates off-ball to the corner and hits a clutch three, you see it. You can see something tangible that you couldn’t last year.
You can feel it too. It’s a feeling of confidence when the ball is in his hands and the game clock is running down. A feeling of stability when he checks back into the game after a rest. He is finally the true point guard and floor general of this team.
Mike Conley has found his rhythm with the Utah Jazz, and no curse is getting in the way of that.