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Utah Jazz should be considered a favorite for the NBA Championship

Jazz players were just as surprised as we were.

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

The headline of this piece almost feels blasphemous. Even in the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone, no one said those words aloud. It almost felt like saying Macbeth in a theatre. It was a curse, a plague to future success. But today the Utah Jazz must embrace it. The Utah Jazz are title contenders and should be assumed the frontrunner to be the Western Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals.

The Utah Jazz locked down Bojan Bogdanovic first, then landed Ed Davis next. They garnered additional assets for Derrick Favors through a trade to the Pelicans. Those moves while bringing Ricky Rubio back would have made them a force to be reckoned with, but before Day 1 of NBA Free Agency even began, Utah landed Mike Conley. Utah has torn itself down rebuilt itself in the NBA’s modern image. Like an AI that has become self-aware, the Utah Jazz are learning at an exponential rate what is required to take over the NBA. This machine is about to take over the NBA.

Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are one of the best backcourts in the NBA

Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell last year combined for 44.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. That was when they were their respective teams only shot creators on the offensive side of the ball. Now teams will have to keep a close eye on the other as they are going to work. Turn a blind eye to focus your attention on Mike Conley or Donovan Mitchell in the pick and roll and you have either guard cutting to the rim for an easy layup.

This backcourt is insanely dynamic. The scary thing for opposing defenses is Donovan Mitchell is STILL getting better. Teams know how scary Mike Conley is and are familiar with his sky high offensive and defensive ceiling. Donovan Mitchell on the other hand could render last year’s scouting report void if he continues to improve throughout the offseason. Opposing defenses had a way they could stop both of these players last year that won’t be available to them this year, however.

Bojan Bogdanovic has become Utah’s contra code to a clear painted area

Opposing teams will no longer be able to pack the paint against Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. Both Conley and Donovan are lethal in the pick and roll, but teams knew they didn’t have to worry about Memphis’ or Utah’s floor spacers as Jae Crowder was a sub 35% three point shooter, Royce O’Neale was up and down throughout the season, and Joe Ingles was slumping. Now ... that whole thing has changed.

Bojan Bogdanovic is in the 92nd percentile when it comes to spot up shooting. Add him to a lineup of Joe Ingles or Royce O’Neale and now opposing defenses are in a death trap when Utah runs the pick and roll. Look at this beautiful shooting map from Kirk Goldsberry for Bogdanovic.

That’s before you realize he’s a great finisher at the rim as well. Bojan is custom built for Utah’s offense. He’s an above average defender too. At points two seasons ago, he was shutting down LeBron James. He’s good. He allows Utah to counter the Los Angeles Lakers in the event they land Kawhi.

Bojan Bogdanovic has brought the Utah Jazz roster into the 21st century and will allow Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell to absolutely feast in the pick and roll.

Rudy Gobert has not had this much spacing since George Hill, Gordon Hayward, and Joe Johnson were spacing the floor

It’s been two years since Rudy Gobert has had the type of spacing he will have next season. That’s a big deal because Rudy Gobert has never been as good offensively as he was last season and he was working with terrible spacing. Teams clogged the paint by sagging off of Rubio and Favors. The paint was like a men’s restroom after lunch hour. Now that sucker will be cleared out.

Last year Rudy Gobert set the NBA’s dunk record with 306 and had 100 alley oop dunks. That was operating with very little spacing. Now imagine teams having to decide whether to ditch Bojan Bogdanovic AND Joe Ingles in the corners to disrupt a Utah Jazz pick and roll. Now imagine that the Utah Jazz have a floor general like Mike Conley reading the defense as teams react to such a play. Now imagine Donovan Mitchell cutting to disrupt the play even further.

Rudy Gobert averaged a career high 15.9 points on an NBA best 66.9% field goal percentage. Next year, that insane shooting percentage could be even higher. There’s a REAL possibility Rudy Gobert could be a 20-10 player while putting in the same Defensive Player of the Year performance.

But what about the loss of Derrick Favors? Who’s going to back up Rudy Gobert?

Enter Ed Davis. Ed Davis was actually the 2nd best player—behind Rudy Gobert—when it comes to defensive box plus/minus. He doesn’t rack up blocks, but he’s in the right place at the right time. He defends the paint and does it well. He will be an amazing backup to Rudy Gobert and at two years $10 million, he’s a great value play.

Ed Davis averaged 8.6 rebounds a game in only 17.9 minutes a game. That’s not a typo. He contributed 5.7 win shares to the Brooklyn Nets. He’s a fantastic defensive player. He’ll be able to provided Rudy Gobert with plenty of rest while allowing Utah to get about 95% of the defensive rim protection that Derrick Favors provided.

The Utah Jazz will still miss Derrick Favors offensive production. Favors was an amazing finisher around the rim, a monster offensive rebounder, and an absolute beast in the paint. That will never be duplicated, but Utah can make up for it in the aggregate. The one thing Ed Davis will not be doing is playing power forward. So who will be starting at the four for Utah?

Get ready for Royce O’Neale the Power Forward

This one isn’t just a pipe dream. Joe Ingles is getting older and Utah can’t risk allowing him to get hurt or put unnecessary miles on that beautiful balding body. That means Bojan Bogdanovic will start at the three. Most expect a very used lineup for Utah will be Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert. That lineup will most certainly close out most games. But who will start?

Royce O’Neale. You may think that Royce O’Neale is too small for the position but he’s actually the same height as Jae Crowder and rebounded at a similar rate to Jae Crowder (6.1 rebounds PER36 compared to Crowder’s 6.1 PER36). Royce O’Neale also shoots better from three than Crowder. Crowder shot 33% while Royce O’Neale shot 38% from distance.

The biggest thing is can Royce O’Neale keep up those numbers over the grind of a full season playing 25-30 minutes a game? Possibly. If not, Joe Ingles is ready to pop off the bench.

Joe Ingles, next year’s sixth man of the year?

Joe Ingles will definitely be getting the minutes and the off the bench requirement to be in for the sixth man of the year award next season. He’ll probably see a 5-7 minute reduction to stay fresh throughout the season, but this could improve his efficiency and hopefully incentivize him to let it fly when he comes off the bench. He’ll be able to take advantage of opposing bench players or attack starters who have begun to get fatigued before their first substition. This seems like a great role for Utah as he is about to turn 32.

Staying healthy throughout the offseason

The only potential hurdle Utah has to get through this offseason is the FIBA World Cup in China. Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Bojan Bogdanovic will all be participating in it this year. That’s four out Utah’s five starters that will playing additional minutes before the training camp even begins. Utah’s front office will be praying that they all can stay healthy and avoid Dante Exum or Paul George like injuries as they compete so they’re ready to hit the ground running next season.

Utah has a formidable squad next season. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with—offensively and defensively. Quin Snyder has never had a more talented squad and there’s still a lot of time left in free agency for Utah to acquire additional ring chasers. Get your popcorn ready, Jazz fans. The Utah Jazz are a title contender and should be considered a favorite.