It’s that time again! With the NBA regular season kicking off today and the Utah Jazz beginning tomorrow, I thought it would be a good time to check in on the final preseason power rankings from around the web. As usual, we’re tracking five subjective rankings from the national media, as well as USA Today’s Sagarin ratings and FiveThirtyEight’s analytical projections.
It seemed like tradition for much of last year that this space was used to complain about a lack of respect from the national media toward the Jazz, but to begin 2018 I’m almost concerned that Utah is getting too much hype. They’re nearly top 5 across the board.
Best case: 56-26
If the Jazz can stay healthy -- reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, in particular -- this doesn’t seem too far-fetched. After all, Utah finished the season with a 29-6 run that started soon after Gobert returned from his second extended injury absence. It’s worth noting that Ricky Rubio, a point guard opponents have dared to shoot over the course of his career, hit a sizzling 43.6 percent of his 3s during that stretch.
(You can see ESPN’s worst case scenario for Utah as well as commentary on the toughest stretch of schedule at the link above.)
Speaking of elite defense, a healthy Jazz is as good as it gets. Donovan Mitchell’s ascendance to NBA superstar is well on its way. The Jazz are one of the best-run franchises around.
This team is not going to have the .789 win percentage it did to close out last season after Rudy Gobert got healthy, but Utah will win a lot more games early in the season than it did last year. Donovan Mitchell is no longer a rookie, and I don’t look forward to him showing up to games in “Sophomore” hoodies, but seeing how he improves as a No. 1 scoring option will be a good time.
The Jazz played three of their five games against international teams and the Kings, so take their gaudy preseason point differential (a league-best plus-27.6 points per 100 possessions) with a grain of salt. They were outscored by five points against Toronto when Kawhi Leonard was on the floor and by 22 points against Portland when Damian Lillard was on the floor, so it wasn’t as perfect a preseason as the overall numbers might indicate. Still, this team has continuity, an elite defense, and depth. It’s another year where we wonder if Dante Exum will stay healthy and become an impact player, except this time he’s getting paid like one.
I honestly had a really hard time after the Warriors coming up with more teams that I am 100% positive are better than the Jazz right now. I ended up settling on 4th, behind the Warriors, Rockets and Celtics. Seeing Utah finish as the second best team in the Western Conference wouldn’t stun me, though. I think everyone is underestimating how much worse Houston got this summer, but I’ll leave them at No. 2 until it is proven on the court.
One thing is for certain, and that is that the Jazz are the deepest team in the NBA. I don’t think it’s that close. Utah is going to have DNP-CD players that would be playing 20+ minutes a night for some teams.