It’s the last day of 2018. What a hell of year it has been for the Utah Jazz. In just the year 2018 alone, they have been a lottery team, a 2nd round playoff team, a team with expectations, a team with a Defensive Player of the Year, a team with a Rookie of the Year runner-up, and a team with the most difficult schedule in the NBA by a wide margin. This team has taken Jazz fans on a roller coaster, and I’d dare say few would have asked off of it. Here’s my top five Utah Jazz events of 2018.
1. The Historic Turnaround
Back in January at the start of 2018, it looked like the narrative for Utah was going to be where they’d select in the lottery, not who’d they matchup against in the NBA Playoffs. On January 22nd the Utah Jazz were 9 games under .500. Before Utah, the only team 8 games or more under .500 on January 22nd of any season to finish with an above .500 record was the 1982-1983 New York Knicks. Talking about the turnaround while it was happening, I said this:
If Utah finishes at 47-35, not only would they have a chance at the 4th seed in the playoffs, they will have executed the greatest playoff push of All-Time or at least in the modern era of basketball. They will have finished the season 28-7, winning an insane 80% of their remaining schedule. This is the type of finish that gets people Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year awards. This is special. This is historic. Enjoy it.
Utah would finish with a 48-34 record to end the season. They fell just one win against the Trail Blazers short of having the 3rd seed and home court in the 1st round. That turnaround was fueled by my second favorite thing of 2018.
2. Rudy Gobert wins Defensive Player of the Year
It’s easy to forget that Rudy Gobert played in only 56 games last year considering the impact that he had on the court. Utah’s insane defense once he returned from injury allowed Gobert to take Defensive Player of the Year despite missing 26 games last year due to injury.
Adding to what will eventually become a Babe Ruth-like urban legend in Utah for years to come, Gobert called Utah’s shot when everything was falling apart with the “We will be fine” tweet.
We will be fine— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) January 6, 2018
But it wasn’t always like that. Rudy Gobert himself lost hope after the now infamous loss in Atlanta.
“For me, at this point, I was looking at the standings,” Gobert recalled, “and I was like, ‘OK, there’s no way we can make the playoffs. There’s no way we can win that many games. We lost to Atlanta.’”
But then Utah put it all together. Danny Chau of The Ringer had this to say about Rudy Gobert’s finish to last season:
After losing Gobert to injury for stretches of 11 and 15 games earlier in the season, the Jazz have been absolutely dominant, allowing just 98.1 points per 100 possessions. Extrapolate that over a season, and the Jazz are one of the two best defenses of the NBA’s “Light-Years Ahead” era. As much as the team serves as an emblem of old-timey basketball principles, it is also oddly a perfect defense of the times.
Rudy Gobert was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year award for his efforts and he wore a beautiful BRIGHT pink suit. For a man that can never blend in due to his height, it was the perfect choice. Rudy Gobert had said he wanted to be the defensive player of the year from the onset of his career and he got it.
And for those worried that he might get complacent this season ... just look at Rudy Gobert’s numbers this season. The Utah Jazz have the 5th best defensive rating in the league despite playing the NBA’s most brutal schedule. He has an eFG% of 65.5%. He is averaging 15 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 2.1 blocks a game. He leads the league in dunks with 143. For those who thought he was an offensive liability, he has an offensive rating of 133.1 per 100 possessions to go with a defensive rating of 101 per 100 possessions.
Rudy Gobert has become a dominant center in a league built around the five out offense. We may look back at Rudy Gobert as one of the last true giants at the center position years from now, so enjoy it while it lasts. Gobert could be an endangered species, but he’s still flourishing in the wild.
3. Donovan Mitchell leading Utah to a 1st round playoff series win
By the end of 2017, Donovan Mitchell had burst onto the scene. He was already being rumored for the Dunk Contest—which he won in style—and by the end of the season, he won the NBPA’s Leader of the New School award. An award given to the top young rookie and voted by his peers.
While the awards and the second place finish for Rookie of the Year are nice—even the signature shoe deal is worthy of its own bullet point—it’s the playoff heroics that won my heart and a place on this list. Donovan Mitchell showing out during the regular season was amazing, but many predicted the young rook to hit a brick wall once teams could scout Donovan Mitchell.
In the playoffs he averaged 24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.9 steals. He even had to take over full-time point guard responsibilities after Rubio went down with injury in Game 5 of the playoffs. He helped lead Utah to a major upset of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs who had home court advantage—THANK YOU, CARMELO.
Then in the 2nd round, he led Utah to an upset in Houston in Game 2. He even had this AMAZING BLOUSES DUNK.
While Donovan Mitchell may be struggling a bit this season with an incredibly difficult schedule and defenses keying in on him more, we know that this type of greatness is within him. He’ll settle down and we’ll see it again soon enough on a consistent basis.
4. Quin Snyder becoming a top 5 coach
When the Utah Jazz landed Quin Snyder as a coach, it seemed like a hand in glove fit. He knew the value of the G-League having coached in it. He had survived his own life’s ups and downs. He knew the meaning of a second chance and extending it when applicable. He knew how to develop young talent.
In Gordon Hayward’s last season in Utah, Quin was able to mold rotations around Gordon Hayward’s strengths in an effort to help him have the best season possible. He helped fuel Hayward’s All Star season, and coached Utah to the 2nd round of the playoffs after an upset of the LA Clippers.
But then Hayward left, Utah had a hodgepodge roster of castaways, misfits, and unproven young players. Even for a great coach, that seemed like a recipe for disaster.
Somehow Quin turned a non-shooting point guard in Rubio into a complimentary off ball shooter. He identified the greatness in Mitchell and had the balls to turn over the entire Utah Jazz offense to a rookie. He was able to inspire Rudy Gobert not to give up in January and ultimately helped fuel his DPOY level run into the playoffs. He helped Jae Crowder find confidence in himself again after struggling for much of the season in Cleveland. He turned an undrafted rookie in Royce O’Neale into a solid role player. He managed the ego of Derrick Favors who knew he was more talented than most guys on the roster yet had to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. He handed most of Gordon Hayward’s responsibilities to Joe Ingles and said, “Have fun.”
He did all of that and it turned Utah into one of the best teams in the NBA. If you would have told Jazz fans before the 2017-2018 season that all of that would happen, they would have thought you were crazy. If you told them in January of this year all those things would happen, they would have said you were crazy. Quin did that, and by doing so, Quin has probably earned the benefit of the doubt of all of his decisions for the next decade.
5. The City Uniforms
The Utah Jazz’s city uniforms united this team with the fanbase in a way few could have explained. While the Jazz have always been Utah’s—sorry, New Orleans—it has always felt like Utah was missing some sort of connection to Utah. We love the note, but in past efforts to connect the Jazz to Utah—remember the Mountains logo?—it felt like it wasn’t the right fit. Then came those beautiful gradient jerseys.
But it wasn’t just the jerseys. It was the court, that beautiful court with the striking Utah beauty.
But it wasn’t just the court. Remember that first playoff game with the entire crowd in varying colors of red and gold? That was magic. That was gorgeous. I mean just look at these photos.
Seeing the Utah Jazz and their crowd in these amazing colors was like seeing your superhero finally get to wear their full costume. These were so popular that Utah bucked the trend of a new City uniform every year and kept them for another year. Our hope is in 2019, these uniforms are part of the regular rotation. Before 2018, no one could have imagined the Utah Jazz sporting every gradient of red and gold, but now? It seems wrong to have them wear anything else.
What were your top 5 Utah Jazz moments of 2018? What did I miss?