We’re exactly halfway through the 2020-2021 NBA season, and the Utah Jazz are at the top of the standings. It’s been a fun season so far, and lot’s of different players have stood out. So let’s take stock of this team and what they’ve done so far.
I’ll hand out awards based on the entire first half of the season, and give grades for the players and team overall.
After the first Quarterly Update, Mike Conley was named team MVP. At this point, I believe the title has been handed off to the Man in the Middle, Rudy Gobert. This is not due to a decline by Conley, but rather to the dominant play of Gobert. With averages of 14.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks, this has been a classic Rudy Gobert season. While those numbers are great, those who watch the Jazz play know that there is so much more to Gobert’s game than shows up in the box score.
The Utah Jazz are 9.4 points per 100 possessions better when Rudy Gobert than when he sits. Gobert leads the team in win shares, while only being third on the team in minutes. In short, Gobert remains the most important player on the Jazz.
This is Gobert’s title to lose, and he won’t be losing it any time soon.
Gobert should be the clear frontrunner for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, a prize that he is quite familiar with. The Utah Jazz have an elite defense, and the number one reason for that is Rudy Gobert. Opponents just can’t get good shots off against Gobert. When he is on the court, opponent effective field goal percentage drops by 3.6%. Gobert’s ability to warp the shot chart of his opposition is rivaled by nobody. Teams shoot 5% less of their shots at the rim, and 5% more of their shots in the long mid-range when Gobert is on the court.
Gobert has also shown an incredible ability to defend without fouling. As John Schuhmann of nba.com pointed out, Gobert has 98 blocks on the season, and only 82 fouls.
Defensive Impact x Foul Trouble %— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) March 6, 2021
Which defenders have been most impactful this season, and how does that compare with the percentage of their minutes they've played while in foul trouble?
Explore more at https://t.co/3Xagb3XCzp. pic.twitter.com/AaBqdQ4XMy
Gobert is the anchoring the Jazz’ elite defense, and he’s doing it better than ever.
I think the entire NBA knows at this point, that Jordan Clarkson is a bucket. He’s getting all of the buzz around the league as the lead candidate to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. And let’s be clear, he deserves that buzz. Jordan Clarkson has been incredible. He’s the second leading scorer on the team, with almost 18 points per game, and he’s scoring efficiently, with a career high 58% True Shooting. So many times this year have the Jazz been saved by Clarkson’s unrivaled determination to just get a bucket. Due to all of that, Clarkson gets the nod as the Sixth Man for this Jazz team.
Before we move on though, another bench player deserves some recognition. Joe Ingles has been playing arguably the best season of his career. Last year, many wondered if he was able to be effective in a bench role. Well, he’s answered that question. Ingles is shooting the lights out from every part of the court. 46.5% from three. 52.2% from the field. 89.5% from the free throw line. All career highs. He is scoring 140.8 points per 100 shot attempts, best among NBA forwards. He’s putting up a true shooting percentage over 70%. That’s elite elite territory. That man is an Aussie bush fire just waiting to ignite.
Clarkson still wins this, but it’s closer than many may realize. On just about any other team, Joe Ingles would be the best bench player by a mile. The Jazz having two elite bench players is a luxury, and has been a huge reason for this team’s improvement from last season.
Most Improved Player
Last quarterly update, I decided not to give this award to Mike Conley because his improvement was more of a return to form than a straight upgrade. At this point, however, it would just be silly to not give Conley the award.
After being snubbed year after year, Conley finally received the honor of being named an NBA All-Star. He earned that recognition by being the most valuable player on the best team in the league for long stretches. Conley has been the steady hand for Utah. Scoring, passing, defending, leading. Conley’s jump from last season’s struggles to this season’s success has been nothing short of spectacular.
Coach of the Year
Of course, Quin Snyder wins this by default, but he also wins it by merit. The Utah Jazz roster didn’t change a whole lot from last year to this year, but the team’s performance took a massive leap. Some of that credit belongs to players simply playing better, but I think most of it needs to go to the mastermind behind the on-court performance. Coach Snyder is beloved by his players, and respected throughout the league.
Coach Snyder is on the short list of candidates for the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, and he might even be the frontrunner. If he wins, he’ll join Frank Laydon as the only Utah Jazz coaches to have been named Coach of the Year.
Game of the Year
This is a tough choice. The Jazz have won a lot of games, and very few of them have been close wins. Blowout victories are certainly fun for fans of the winning team, but they aren’t really “game of the year” material. So that rules out great wins against the Lakers, the Bucks, and many others.
I ultimately decided that the win against Boston was the best and most entertaining of the year. It was close throughout, it was on national tv, it was full of highlights, and the Jazz stars stepped up in the big moments and won the game.
It always feels good to watch the Jazz beat the Celtics, but it’s extra special when
Rudy Gobert: A-
(Last Quarter: B)
Rudy Gobert has been a leader on and off the court for the Jazz. The All-Star has been having arguably his best defensive season, and a very good offensive season. The reason that he has an A- rather than just an A is because he’s seen his scoring volume and efficiency take a dip from recent years. Now, he’s still incredibly efficient, but it is a slight step back from where we know he can be.
Donovan Mitchell: B+
(Last Quarter: B+)
Mitchell has been up and down. He’s always had hot and cold streaks, so this is not surprising, but it would be nice to see him grow into a more consistent player. Mitchell is a star player. He has been very good this year. But he hasn’t been as good as many of us had hoped. Overall, he gets a positive grade, but it would be great to see that rise up to an A.
Mike Conley: A
(Last Quarter: A)
It’s hard to find complaint with Conley’s game so far this year. He’s been exactly what we all hoped he’d been when the Jazz traded for him. He gets an A.
Bojan Bogdanovic: C+
(Last Quarter: D-)
Bogdanovic has had a rough season. The good news is that it has been trending up overall. The bad news is that it has been a slow rise. He is such a great shooter, that even with his struggles, he’s shooting over 40% from three. But everything else on the court has been difficult. We’ve seen multiple teams attack him as the weak point in the defense. Hopefully the All-Star break has been good for his injury recovery and he can continue his upward trend.
Jordan Clarkson: A
(Last Quarter: A+)
Clarkson is still lighting teams up. His shooting numbers have cooled off a little bit from his scorching start, but they’re still really good. He has come back to Earth, but his low points right now are higher than the average sixth man can dream of.
Royce O’Neale: A-
(Last Quarter: A-)
Royce O’Neale has been the perfect role player for the Jazz. In a word, he’s reliable. He takes the toughest assignments on defense, and hits threes on offense. Rarely does O’Neale have an off night. His rebounding has been invaluable for the team as well. In order to move his grade up even higher, I’d like to see Royce raise his three point attempts.
Joe Ingles: A+
(Last Quarter: B+)
Ingles has been everything fans could have hoped for this year, and more. He’s shooting ridiculous percentages, he’s still dropping dimes in the pick and roll, and he’s stepping up when needed. When Mike Conley or Donovan Mitchell have missed games, Joe Ingles has stepped into the starting lineup and gone nuclear. In the nine games Ingles has started, he’s averaged 16.4 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.8 rebounds, while shooting 54.3% from the field and 49.2% from three.
Derrick Favors: B-
(Last Quarter: B)
Derrick Favors is a consistently solid backup center. He’s not going to blow you away with his stats, but he’ll do his job. So far he’s done his job adequately, though I would like to see him get back to the level he’s been at defensively over the last couple of years.
Georges Niang: B+
(Last Quarter: C-)
Niang has probably shown the most improvement from the first quarter to the second. Not only has he found his shot, he’s been showing impressive effort on defense, and he has been effective. Lineups with Niang have been killing opposing teams, and he’s been a big part of that. He’s a threat from outside the arc, he’s a good and willing passer, and he’s been a plus defender. All of that put together makes for a great 9th man.
Let’s not overthink this. The Let’s not overthink this. The Jazz are 27-9, and hold the best record in the league. They’ve had multiple extended winning streaks. They’ve won games against the best teams in both conferences. They have the best net rating in the league. They have three All-Stars, a leading candidate for Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year. In short, the first half of this season has been a dream run for Jazz fans. This team easily deserves an A for the work it has done so far.
Stats via: nba.com, basketball-reference.com, cleaningtheglass.com