The wait is officially over!
Today, September 27th 2021, is media day, the official start to the season.
Interviews, photo ops, and clowning around will take over social media as the Jazz roster opens up about the offseason and what’s ahead. It will be the second opportunity for fans to get to know incoming Jazz men from the offseason.
And hot on the heels of media day is training camp, where the Jazz will be on the road for training camp this year in Las Vegas. Despite the rotations likely remaining consistent with last season, there will undoubtedly be some noteworthy insights trickling out of camp.
As fun as media day and training camp are for fans, we’d be remiss not to point out that such events are not too dissimilar from a sales pitch: everything is perfect, expectations can’t be high enough, and everyone else has bought in so you should too.
While thinking of media day and training camp as a sales pitch is a little cringy, it speaks to the optimistic outlook that generally accompanies something new that people want to work out well.
At this point in the process, even the Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings are optimistic about the season and proving people wrong. That should give an idea of just how much salt to have on hand for the next couple weeks.
Now with that said, there are some things we should look for throughout this process to tell us whether to get excited or grab the salt shaker. Let’s get into it.
Donovan Mitchell and defense
As much as some may wish he wouldn’t, Donovan Mitchell will undoubtedly talk about his focus on defense, either during offseason workouts or as a goal for the season.
For some of us, such talk is getting a little old and predictable.
If Donovan’s comments lack specificity and are off-hand, I caution against optimism until we see it during the season.
However, if Donovan gets into specifics about offseason work, goals for the season defensively, and the subject is a core part of his interview, it’ll be difficult to hold back enthusiasm.
Mitchell’s defensive could be a huge component to sustained success this season and into the playoffs, addressing the issue of perimeter defense that’s plagued us for a while now.
Given the ease to which he scores the ball and the mountain of offensive weapons around him, Donovan will have opportunities to get hard-nosed.
We’ll see if it happens, but for now, don’t expect much.
The young guns are impressing
In judging media day and training camp details, it’s important to ask one’s self, “Who doesn’t feel/think this way?”
For example, “Who doesn’t feel/think they got better over the offseason?” Or, “Who doesn’t think the team will prove a bunch of people wrong?”
Under most circumstances, hearing that a team’s young players are impressing isn’t really news worthy. Player development is concentrated in the first handful of seasons for most players.
Furthermore teams inherently want to reassure virtually everyone that the recent draft investments are providing good returns.
The Jazz don’t quite have those same incentives since most every position has 1-2 veterans who are a lock to play over their young guys assuming health. The success of Utah’s first and second year players won’t have much night to night impact if all goes according to plan.
Therefore, without some of the natural bias associated with such statements, we can be more confident in taking the comments at face value.
The Jazz are relatively old and devoid of young talent. Developing what talent we have is imperative.
Of all the offseason moves, Rudy Gay’s free agency signing is the only serious candidate for impacting the playoffs.
Jared Butler won’t see much run in the playoffs as a rookie, Eric Paschall isn’t as good as those in front of him, and we want Rudy Gobert playing as much as possible which limits Hassan Whiteside’s potential impact.
Rudy Gay is ace in the hole, the one addition who can potentially change the playoff rotation for the better.
Gay isn’t the shooter Georges Niang is and isn’t the scorer Joe Johnson was. The appeal of Rudy Gay is the ability to contribute in every area and adjust to the needs of every game.
We don’t want to hear that Gay is nailing his 3’s or that no one can stop him in ISO situations. We want to hear about his secondary rim defense, passing, rebounding, deflections, etc.
We didn’t get Gay to replace Niang’s shooting. We got him to do what Niang couldn’t.
When someone wins an NBA award the previous season, you wouldn’t expect them to change much of their approach to the game. However, those who do tend to be the greatest players.
Following his first MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo doubled down on what he did best and shied away from accentuating his weaknesses which led to an even better season and his second straight MVP award.
While Jordan Clarkson’s season landed him the Sixth Man of the Year award, let’s not pretend it wasn’t without its ups and downs. Jordan’s 3P shooting negatively regressed, his defense less disciplined than expected, and his usage leaped upward.
We don’t (or shouldn’t) want to hear that Clarkson is approaching the season just as every other year. We want to hear signs of him understanding in which ways he helped and hurt the team last year.
Though as mentioned in the first sentence, we probably shouldn’t expect him to.
Collective ownership of the defense
While most heaped blame on Rudy Gobert’s shoulders for the lack of defense throughout the 2nd round series with the LA Clippers, those who dug into the film and analyzed cause and effect realized most of the breakdown came on the point of attack.
This failure points to the fact that a Rudy-centric defense can only take you so far. At some point, against the best teams, coaches, and schemes, others have to take ownership of the defense.
That’s what we want to hear and see out of the team in the next couple weeks: recognition of where the collapse took place and who is going to fix it.
Much as the children’s song “kindness begins with me” indicates everyone of us must take ownership over societal good will, “defense begins with me” should be the mantra of the Jazz.
Again, it’s not enough to just hear “we gotta be better on defense”. We need to hear why, how, and personal ownership.
Though not an exhaustive list of what we want to hear out of media day and training camp, these are the subjects that can have a profound affect on the outcome of this year’s team.
It’s not enough just to hear mention of the above, but how and why they are mentioned will trigger warranted excitement from the fanbase or premature celebration.
At the end of the day, however, enjoy media day and training camp. Jazz basketball is back. We endured the lull of the offseason and the disappointment of a playoff series loss.
Now it’s time to gear up for the 2021-22 Utah Jazz basketball season!