For the last two seasons the Utah Jazz have had an almost identical roster. In those two seasons it’s been good enough to make the playoffs and even advance to the second round the former season.
Even though the Jazz have one of the most exciting up and coming stars in the NBA in Donovan Mitchell, and a perennial DPOY in Rudy Gobert, they might have hit a plateau.
This offseason the Jazz have a variety of options with what they can do. The last two seasons they haven’t been able to make moves to enhance the talents of their two best players.
Because of Hayward’s delayed decision two years ago, the Jazz were left with only a few options to shore up the roster. On top of that, they didn’t know what they had in their new draft pick (Donovan Mitchell.) Last offseason, the Jazz re-signed Derrick Favors and Dante Exum but didn’t make any other significant moves. That may have been to give the roster at the time a chance to show just how good they were, and it may also have been because they had struck out quietly in free agency.
This offseason, whatever they do, they have to make some pretty significant changes to the roster. Those changes can’t be simple upgrades at ancillary positions but changes that will enhance the talents of their two best players, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
The two names that Jazz fans mention the most as possible free agent pickups are Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris. Walker would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the point guard position and Harris would provide much better shooting and spacing than Derrick Favors provides at the 4-spot. With either move the Jazz would almost certainly have to not pick up Favors’ option for cap space.
The truth is, if the Jazz want to be built for long term success, they should consider not picking up Favors option regardless of whether they can sign Harris or Walker.
No one is arguing that Favors isn’t a high impact player, because he is. He’s been a big part of Jazz history and has more than earned his contracts for the team. His heart is unquestionable. But to re-up Favors almost ensures the Jazz will end up in the same place they are now next year. Sure, they can go out and get someone with their MLE and make some ancillary moves, but it won’t make any difference in the short term or the long term either. With Rudy Gobert in the middle of his prime, the Jazz can’t afford to waste any more seasons with an ill fitting roster.
One of the big reasons Favors has such a big impact is his ability to grab offensive rebounds and put backs. Multiple times this season Favors would dominate backup centers by grabbing offensive rebounds in traffic and then finishing strong. It was awesome every time.
But what if the Jazz just made their shots? Doesn’t that skill set become diminished?
That's obviously an oversimplification of Favors skill set. He’s also a great defender and pick and roll big. The problem is that those skill sets only manifest themselves with the second unit, usually playing alongside Joe Ingles. Those 10-15 minutes of production provided much needed offense after the starting unit would stagnate night after night.
But what if the starting unit could actually create leads and score?
I think of it like having a bathroom you need to upgrade but you have leaky pipes under the sink that need replacing. Having Favors is like having access to a plummer who’s really good at stopping leaks when they come back. Although, because you are paying so much money to the plumber, you don’t have money to upgrade the rest of the bathroom. If you just fixed the pipes you could spend every year upgrading the different parts of the bathroom.
Much has been talked about the Jazz’s most effective 5-man unit of Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert. After two massive losses to Houston in the first round of the playoffs this year, Quin Snyder moved Derrick Favors to the second unit to start that lineup. Immediately the Jazz became much more competitive, even winning game 4.
Some of that can be pointed to the defense finally clicking in with Quin’s unique game plan but the scoring boost created by the added spacing cannot be ignored. Imagine that unit with upgraded shooting at either/both the 1 and 4-spot. It would take it to an even higher level. Maybe even a championship level.
If you look at the different teams in the playoffs right now, they’ve all been built with team compositions that emphasize shooting and spacing, it’s time for the Jazz to do the same. Yes, it will be hard to make a change but, if the Jazz want to reach their goals, they have to make a hard decision. That means having shooters surrounding Gobert and Mitchell at all times to create the space to score more easily, and often.
On top of that, because of the more efficient scoring, there will be more half court sets, and we know what Rudy Gobert is able to do defending in the half court. It’s not out of the question to think the Jazz defense would be just as good with a bigger focus on scoring.
This will be a difficult change to make. Everyone loves Favors for good reason, but to get to the next level means building the team in the right way and that fixing the foundation now before it becomes too late.