Expectations make things complicated. Not just basketball, but everything in life gets a little bit trickier when expectations get involved. We’ve all been there. Whether it’s going to see a hyped-up movie for the first time, or maybe a first date, a new video game, a job, class in school, etc, the list can go on and on. We’ve all had events in our life that have been impacted by expectations, whether they be set too high or too low.
The Utah Jazz are going to have a battle with expectations this upcoming season. We got a small taste of this after last night’s preseason drubbing from the Milwaukee Bucks. Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic combined to go 0-14 and the Jazz got down early. Of course, it was a preseason game and absolutely should not be given too much weight or consideration. But, it did light a little fire among some disappointed fans on social media, and you could start to sense a little bit of worry.
After bringing in Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic this offseason, along with several other solid role players, the Jazz have bolstered their roster unlike we’ve seen for a long time. Adding those guys to a roster that has a two-time DPOY in Rudy Gobert, a rising superstar in Donovan Mitchell, and the best basketball player of all-time in Joe Ingles, you’re bound to see some very high expectations among fans, players, and the franchise as a whole. The problem with high expectations is, well, they are very high. It sets a high bar and precedent to be achieved, and anything below that is considered a disappointment. The past few years of Utah Jazz basketball have seen expectations growing, but not near the level they are this upcoming season.
In 2016 they were expected to be a really solid team, and maybe compete in the playoffs. That’s exactly what they did when they won 51 games and defeated the “Lob City” Clippers in a seven-game battle in the first round. That was about as much as anyone could have expected from the Jazz that season. They went on to get swept by the Golden State Warriors in round two, who went on to win an NBA Championship that year. No one really expected the Jazz to win a championship that season, especially right in the thick of the Warriors dynasty era and the first year with Kevin Durant. They were a good team that year and performed right along with expectations, generally speaking.
2017-18 was a different story. Gordon Hayward and George Hill left, and the Utah Jazz seemed to be on the brink of sinking into the oblivion of NBA irrelevance. They traded up in the draft and selected some kid from Louisville. They brought in Ricky Rubio, Jonas Jerebko, and Thabo Sefolosha. Expectations were relatively low. But then, something amazing happened. That “kid” from Louisville started going bonkers. Ricky Rubio started playing the best basketball that he had ever played. Joe Ingles started torching Superstars. It was unbelievable. And because expectations were low that season, everything felt so amazing. That team ended up going 48-34 and faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. Again, going up against the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, All-NBA Paul George, and a Carmelo Anthony that at the time still had something in the tank, expectations were pretty low. At this point most of us were hoping for a competitive and entertaining series. That’s exactly what we got, plus much, much more. The Jazz ended up beating the Thunder in six games, in what was one of the most memorable Jazz playoff series in the last 20 years. Again, because expectations were low, that playoff series was amazing, and just getting out of the first round that year felt like an amazing accomplishment.
2018-19 was the first year in some time that the Jazz failed to meet expectations. After the way the 2017-18 season ended, many national NBA writers and outlets started to hop on the Jazz bandwagon. Many thought that Mitchell would make a big jump in his second year. Some thought that Ricky Rubio could maintain his high level of play that we saw towards the end of the prior season. Even though the Jazz did end up winning 50 games last season, it wasn’t enough compared to the expectations that they were associated with. Mitchell didn’t make the jump that many thought he would, Rubio struggled with consistency, Dante Exum got injurred again, and the Jazz got pretty handily dominated in a five-game series against the Rockets in the first round. Because expectations were set higher, this was huge disappointment for the Jazz. It resulted in some high turnover among some of the most loved Jazz players, including Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Korver, and Jae Crowder. The Jazz sacrificed these players to bring in some new weapons in Conley, Bogdanovic, Davis, and Green.
Expectations for the Utah Jazz in 2019-20 are the highest they’ve been in decades. They finally have a point guard that is as consistent as they come in the NBA in Mike Conley. They finally have another shooter in Bojan Bogdanovic that’s been a 40% (or higher) three-point shooter over the past several seasons. They already have the most impactful defender in the NBA in back-to-back DPOY Rudy Gobert. They already have a verified bucket-getter and rising superstar in Donovan Mitchell. The pieces are all there. The Jazz currently have the highest Western Conference over-under win total in Las Vegas (54.5), and are +1200 (7th highest in NBA) to win a league championship. The NBA is as open as it’s been for several years, with the dismantling of the Warriors due to KD leaving and Klay Thompson’s injury, and several other stars have dispersed to different teams. No one really knows who’s going to win the championship this year, and that’s great news for a team like the Jazz. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s Championship or bust, but I think’s its fair to say anything less than the Western Conference Finals would be a pretty big disappointment for the Utah Jazz.
That being said, how are these expectations going to affect this upcoming season? You’re probably going to see some Jazz fans losing their collective minds if they get blown out on the road in the second game of a back-to-back. Jazz Twitter might turn pretty dark if the Jazz start the season 4-5 on a pretty difficult opening slate of games. This battle with expectations is going to last all season long. It’s just what happens to good teams. Once teams bring in other stars, get increased attention from national media outlets, get the hype from odds makers, or shoe deals, big endorsements etc, you start to open up the world of disappointment and fans might start of freak out a bit. Just like we saw on a small scale last night in a poor preseason performance, high expectations turn up the intensity quite a bit. It’s going to be an entertaining season regardless, and we will see how this battle with expectations shapes the Jazz and the fanbase, and where we all end up a year from now.