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Utah Jazz Quarterly Update: Awards, Grades, and More

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Taking stock of the Jazz 16 games into the 2020-21 season

Golden State Warriors v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The Utah Jazz have played 16 games. They are 12-4 and currently tied for the second best record in the league. They have the fourth best net rating, or second best when you filter out garbage time. Basically, they’re in a groove.

MVP

When this season started, the only players in contention for team MVP were Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Rudy has held this title for quite a while, but after Donovan’s unbelievable playoff series, he looked poised to make a run for Rudy’s throne. Taking this into account, it may come as a surprise that neither of those two are leading the race so far. So who is the MVP of the Jazz after one quarter of the season? Michael Conley Jr.

New Orleans Pelicans v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

After his first less-than stellar season with the Jazz, expectations for Conley around the league dropped significantly. Mike has shattered those expectations. He’s been one of the most consistent and solid players in the league. Conley is putting up 16 points per game and shooting 42% from three, all while leading the Jazz in assists and steals per game. Mike is also showing up well in the advanced stats. He’s leading the team in Win Shares, VORP, Box Plus-Minus, RAPTOR, and On/Off Efficiency Differential. In short, when Mike Conley has been on the court, the Utah Jazz have been elite. He’s shooting the lights out, he’s setting teammates up for good shots, he’s playing solid defense, and he’s steadying the team.

I personally expect that one of Rudy or Donovan will end up as the undisputed MVP of this team when all is said and done, but what a luxury it is to have your third best player prove to be capable of leading the team for a quarter of the season.

Defensive Player

This will come as no surprise to anybody. Rudy Gobert is still the best defensive player on the Utah Jazz. In fact, he’s still the best defensive player on the planet.

Utah Jazz v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Rudy is the backbone of the 7th ranked defense in the league. He’s blocking almost three shots per game, and deterring even more. Rudy is contesting the second most shots per game in the league, and players are shooting 7.1% worse on those shots than they normally would. These would all be career highs for normal players, but they’re everyday occurrences for Rudy.

Sixth Man

There’s no competition for this award. The Jazz bench as a whole has been great, scoring 39.8 points per game, good for fourth in the league. But the best bench player for the Jazz has been Jordan Clarkson.

New Orleans Pelicans v Utah Jazz Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Clarkson is the team’s second leading scorer with 17 points per game, and he’s doing that on elite efficiency. Clarkson’s high level scoring ability has made him one of the most valuable players on the team, and the leader of the second unit.

Most Improved Player

This one is really tough. While Mike Conley has had the biggest statistical jump from last season to this one, he’s really been returning to normal, rather than improving. Miye Oni has climbed into the fringe of the rotation and deserves some love for that. But the player that truly improved the most was Jordan Clarkson. So here’s his second Quarterly award.

Golden State Warriors v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Jordan was good last season. His scoring punch off the bench really helped the Jazz. But 2020-21 Clarkson is on a different level. His True Shooting percentage has skyrocketed from 57% to 62%. His impact of the game is so much higher than it ever has been before. Jordan’s improvement has been a major lift to the Jazz.

Coach of the Year

Of course, there’s only one option for this one, but I don’t think it would be a true analysis of the team without mentioning Quin Snyder.

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Quin has changed up his rotation, and it has worked so far. He’s been a steady and strong coach for the Jazz since the day he was hired. His players will go to war for him, and it shows on the court. I think one of the best things about Snyder’s coaching is the trust he puts in his players. He empowers each and every one of his players to play with no fear. Quin is often heard telling his players to shoot their shots. He puts his trust in his guys, and they go fight for him.

Quin Snyder has a reputation around the league as an elite coach. On Adrian Wojnarowski’s “Woj Pod” on the 22nd, Woj asked Zach Lowe, “If you opened up all 30 (coaching) jobs, and you had a draft of coaches, he goes what, in your top five?” to which Lowe responded, “Yeah he’s top five, for sure.”

If the Jazz can continue to win and stay near the top of the standings, Quin may have a real shot at the NBA’s Coach of the Year award.

Best Plays of the Season

Through sixteen games, the Jazz have made plenty of highlights. Here are some of the top plays so far this season.

Donovan Mitchell snatching ankles and dishing to Derrick Favors.

Bojan posterizing hometown kid Sam Merrill.

Rudy dunking on Nurkic after the wicked pass from Mitchell.

Jordan sitting Augustin right down and hitting the floater.

Donovan’s game winner in OKC.

Here’s to many more highlights as the year goes on.

Game of the Year

There are three clear contenders for this award in my opinion. The game in Milwaukee was probably the least likely win, and the Jazz won in a blowout. The win at home vs. the Clippers was a big statement, and that really set the tone for the next couple of weeks. But I’m going to go with the W in Denver. That game was tough and sometimes ugly, but the Jazz fought until the buzzer sounded and came up with a win that I don’t think last year’s team would have.

This win showed the league that even if things aren’t rolling, even if Donovan or somebody else is struggling, the Jazz have the weapons and the resilience to fight through and win.

Player Grades

Rudy Gobert: B

Rudy has been good. He’s always good. He’s been incredible on defense. On offense, he’s had a bit of a down year. He’s getting almost the same number of field goal attempts as last year, but scoring three fewer points per game. Part of that is due to an uncharacteristic amount of missed shots, and some of that is due to horrific free throw shooting. Like I said though, Rudy has still been good. He’s still incredibly important to the Jazz’ success and that’s reflected in the numbers. He’s been good, but we know he can be better.

Donovan Mitchell: B+

Donovan really struggled to start the season. He’s had some rough games. But, as he always seems to do, he’s turned it all the way around. He’s now on fire and teams have no idea how to stop him. Overall, a solid start to the season. If he maintains this trajectory, he can have a better grade next Quarterly Update.

Mike Conley: A

Mike has been the best Jazz player overall, and has performed at high levels in just about every aspect of the game. He gets and A here, and let’s hope that his play continues this way.

Bojan Bogdanovic: D-

Bogey has had a really rough start to the season. Many have wondered in he hasn’t fully recovered from his wrist surgery yet. Whether or not that is the case, he just hasn’t been himself. The things you should always expect from Bojan are lot’s of efficient points. Neither his volume nor his efficiency have been near his normal standards so far. Hopefully he can right the ship and look more like himself for the rest of the season.

Jordan Clarkson: A+

Jordan has outplayed every expectation for him. He’s been undeniably great for the Jazz. He’s got GM’s all over the league wondering why they didn’t trade for him.

Royce O’Neale: A-

Royce is doing what he does. Defending, rebounding, moving the ball, and hitting open threes. He doesn’t overstep his role, he doesn’t try to do too much. He just stays in his lane and excels there. He’s a great glue guy for this team, and yet another weapon from the three point line.

Joe Ingles: B+

Despite Joe uncharacteristically missing a few games, he’s played very well. He’s made the transition to the bench very smoothly, and he’s shooting the ball at an elite level. With Conley and Clarkson often sharing the floor with him, Joe hasn’t had as much playmaking duties as he has in years past, and that’s helped him play his game more comfortably.

Derrick Favors: B

Fav has been solid. He’s providing what we hoped, relief. When Rudy is off the court, things aren’t as scary as they used to be. The bench has really stepped up, and Favors is a big part of that. Despite his rim protection numbers being surprisingly down, Favors has overall been a big help on both ends of the court for the bench unit.

Georges Niang: C-

Niang’s start to the season was not just bad, it was unwatchable. Luckily, he’s found his shot now, and that gives him value. He is on the court to score in limited minutes. Hopefully he’ll be able to continue to do that.

Team Grade

A-

Right now things are feeling good for the Jazz. During this eight game winning streak, they’ve earned an A. But let’s not forget, this team has dropped some ugly games. The four losses the Jazz have had (Minnesota, Phoenix, New York, and Brooklyn), were all games they should have won, and in most cases, they should have won easily. Of course, they have countered this in a sense by winning some games they probably should have lost, but seeing how good they can be, it makes those early losses look even worse. Hence the A-. Overall, a very good performance through 16 games, but it definitely hasn’t been perfect.

Los Angeles Clippers v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The Jazz have had a strong start to the 2020-21 season. Here’s to more winning for the rest of it.

Stats via nba.com, basketball-reference.com, statmuse.com, fivethirtyeight.com, and cleaningtheglass.com