It’s been well documented that the Utah Jazz have one of the softest remaining schedules in the league. From now until the playoffs they’re going to win a lot of games.
With a tumultuous, but uneventful, trade deadline behind them it’s time for the Jazz to find a way to elevate their team without a new addition.
Kirk Goldsberry recently shared a graphic showing the efficiency landscape of the NBA.
The Efficiency Landscape: What Jumps Out? pic.twitter.com/bBv90IMg2f— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) February 25, 2019
When you look at the Jazz, it’s hard not to imagine what they’d be like with one more offensive star.
For now, they have to figure that out with the current roster. Here are some possibilities that could see the Jazz improve to a contender level.
Joe Ingles returns to form
In the first two games since all-star break we’ve seen a resurgence from Joe Ingles who has been shooting 55% from three. Up until now we’ve seen Ingles have a down year shooting just 36% from three. Ingles moving his season average from three to 45% could be the easy answer.
Ingles has quietly been the MVP of the team regardless of his downswing in shooting percentage. He leads the team in net rating and is the “glue guy” that makes all the pieces work, even when it seems they shouldn’t.
The starting unit has three shooters, but Ingles is the only elite one. When you add in the fact that he handles the ball and can run a devastating pick and roll, it makes the starting unit on par with anyone in the league.
(On a side note: When you consider the Jazz position in the standings, with Ingles slump this season, how is Quin Snyder not in the talks for coach of the year?)
All of this only works if Ingles shooting gets back to where it was last year. WIthout his wing shooting it allows defenses to cheat onto Donovan Mitchell to make his life as difficult as possible. If he’s hitting shots, it opens things up for the second year rising star.
Royce O’Neale starts
When Ricky Rubio went down with injury the Utah Jazz went 6-0. The replacement starter was Royce O’Neale.
For whatever reason, O’Neale started off the year in slump but has really turned it around. Since November 11th O’Neale is shooting 46% from three. That spot up jump shot has become a lethal weapon for Utah who has struggled to find shooting at times.
O’Neale also seems much more relaxed when he’s on the floor. On a team with some glaring weaknesses on offense, O’Neale was trying to show what he could do. It’s clear that elite level spot-up shooting is what his greatest weapon has proven to be. There are times now that if he doesn’t hit a his shot, it legitimately surprises me.
The other aspect of O’Neale’s game that helps the Jazz is his defense. When on the floor, Quin Snyder usually has O’Neale guarding the opponent’s best wing. Combine those two things and O’Neale has proven to be the ideal 3 and D wing.
The only downside is O’Neale hasn’t proven to be a reliable playmaker. He is effective on straight line drives to the rim though and will even sometimes find open shooters on the wing.
With his high level shooting, kicking out to shooters on drives may become another reliable aspect to his game. The question is, can Royce O’Neale stay consistent if he starts?
Dante Exum takes over
Probably the most disappointing thing post all-star break, besides Paul George’s game winner, was the news of Dante Exum’s bone bruise.
With the Jazz open about their willingness to trade Ricky Rubio around the trade deadline, it’s clear that the Jazz don’t see Rubio as the long term answer as a starting guard. That makes it a prime situation for Dante Exum to take over.
But can he?
If he can just stay healthy, there’s no reason he can’t. As the season progressed he improved all aspects of his game. He’s shown the flashes of potential Jazz fans are used to, but now is the time for flashes to become a constant stream of solid play.
There’s no telling what this team will look like if Exum started alongside Donovan Mitchell regularly. It’s only happened one time this season. What happened that game? Exum put up 13 points and 13 assists. Sure, it was against the lowly New York Knicks, but there was no one on that team that could stay in front of Exum. He torched the knicks at the rim and helped Rudy Gobert put up a monster line of 25 points and 16 rebounds on 10/12 shooting.
It’s not likely that Exum can put up that type of production with every outing, but what if he can get close to it? Exum rarely has had a chance to play with the best players on the team and shared a lot of time to start the year alongside O’Neale during his worst stretches of the season. What happens when you put him alongside the Jazz’s best?
It’s going to be difficult for the Jazz to change things too much before the playoffs start, but with an easy schedule, they do have a chance to try things they might not have been able to earlier this year when they were climbing back into the playoff picture.
Whatever happens, this should get interesting.