The Utah Jazz are one of the best teams in the league
The Jazz are rolling right now and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down any time soon.
Some will say that it’s continuity of the roster that has created more chemistry between the players on the floor, and there is some truth to that, but it is more their style of play that is creating huge advantages on the floor. Utah is the #3 team in 3-point attempts at 42.4 per game. They’re also #3 in the league at 3-point percentage at 39.8%. Those two things combined have the Jazz as the #1 team in the league at 3-pointers made at 16.9 per game.
3-Point Shooting By Team. Hello, Utah. pic.twitter.com/xGzpP8CwKZ— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) January 31, 2021
It’s been a very winning formula and Utah isn’t just winning, but winning big. The Jazz are currently #3 in the league in net rating behind the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks. That means that not only the offense is humming (currently the Jazz have the #5 offense in the NBA), but the defense as well. Utah is currently at #6 in the league in defensive efficiency behind perennial DPOY candidate, Rudy Gobert.
Having a top 10 offense and defense in the league makes you an easy playoff contender. Having a top 5 offense and nearly a top 5 defense? That makes you a title contender.
But can they win in the playoffs when things get more difficult? That brings us to our next point.
Donovan Mitchell is key to taking this team over the top in the playoffs
Donovan Mitchell recently missed a couple games because of concussion protocol and the Jazz didn’t miss a beat. Behind the stellar play of Mike Conley, who has been a revelation this year, Utah won both games with ease.
Does that mean the Jazz don’t need Donovan Mitchell? Not even close.
The Jazz have found a system this year backed by the perfect blend of talent. Every shooter on the Jazz is shooting around 40% from three and the Jazz’s system has been set up to get them as many shots from three as possible. It’s a formula that is devastating teams this regular season. But will it carry over into the playoffs?
That depends on Donovan Mitchell.
Every playoff team needs a guy that can transcend the defensive intensity of the playoffs. A team can have an incredible system that beats all the average and low-level teams in the league during the regular season, but you need a guy that can overcome specific schemes designed to blow up a teams rhythm. If you can’t do that you become known as a system team really quick.
Donovan Mitchell is the key to helping the Jazz overcome that playoff hump. Teams are going to throw everything at the Jazz in the playoffs and Mitchell has shown that he can transcend those defensive schemes. In the playoffs you need a guy that can get you a bucket when things grind to a halt and Donovan Mitchell can be that guy. The key for him is knowing when to play within the flow of the offense and when he needs to shoulder the offensive load when the system isn’t working. His ability to figure that out will be the key to Utah’s title chances.
Royce O’Neale has taken a leap
Royce O’Neale is doing things we’ve never seen him do before. He’s showing up in a big way in multiple categories this year. He’s posting career highs in points (8.8), rebounds (6.9) and 3-point percentage (45%). He’s been the answer Utah has been looking for at the 4 for so many years.
We already know what he brings on the defensive end guarding the opposing team’s best wing night in and night out, but O’Neale’s development on the offensive end is what is really exciting. He’s making passes we’ve never seen him do. Like this pass to a cutting Bojan Bogdanovic.
He’s also penetrating and then either kicking out to open shooters or just finishing at the rim.
This level of play from O’Neale has been a big part of Utah’s success this season and it’s likely this will be the norm. When you consider that O’Neale will usually be Utah’s 4th or 5th option on offense, he’s usually drawing weaker defenders and that makes this level of play sustainable.
Rudy Gobert is a passing big man and should do it more
During the offseason Rudy Gobert signed a near supermax extension. His scoring has gone down this season, and that’s a good thing. Sort of.
With his new contract Gobert looks much more at peace on the court and more willing to make the winning play rather than the one that gets him better stats. What is that winning play? Passing out of the pick and roll.
Rolls to the rim for Gobert would almost always end in Gobert taking a shot, whether it was good or bad. To defend this teams are dropping their bigs and crowding the paint to remove that easy layin for Gobert.
Gobert creates a ton of gravity on these plays from players trying to swipe the ball and block the shot and it opens up three point shooters. Last year, Gobert would almost always take the shot whether it was good or bad. This year, he’s making the pass to those open shooters and it’s creating even more 3-point looks for Utah.
Here’s an example of Gobert getting gummed up inside near the basket. Instead of forcing an almost certain miss, he hits Joe Ingles for a corner three.
For Gobert, this doesn’t make up a large portion of his game but it is contributing to more three point shots for Utah, and we know how good Utah is at taking threes.
If Gobert manufactures 3-4 more points per game by doing this, it makes for big long term dividends both in the regular season and in the playoffs. It will get even better if Gobert finds ways to pass out of the pick and roll even more.
Bojan Bogdanovic is back
Bogdanovic’s struggles to start the season have gone largely under the radar because so many players on the Jazz are having big years. But after three strait big games, including two clutch end-of-game threes against he Pistons most recently, it appears Bojan Bogdanovic is beack.
In his last three games Bogdanovic is shooting 56% from the field, 55% from three and scoring 26 points per game.
This is the version of Bogdanovic that the Jazz were missing in the playoffs and if he continues to put up these numbers, the Jazz offense will continue to be one of the tops in the league.
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