Things are going great for the the Utah Jazz have won 9 of their last 10.
One of the reasons is the emergence of Donovan Mitchell as a point guard. Where last year Mitchell struggled taking on all the duties of being the primary playmaker, this year he’s figured it out.
Personally, I was nervous when Mike Conley went down because I had seen how teams blitzed Mitchell and Joe Ingles forcing long range shots from Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors. Instead, since Mike Conley went down with the initial hamstring injuiry, Mitchell has been slinging 5.5 assists per game. Before the injury? 3.6 assists per game. The Jazz in that stretch have also gone 9-3.
It’s exciting to see the growth from Mitchell! But because of that growth there are people wondering if the Jazz might not even need Conley. It’s just not the case.
Even though Mitchell has thrived in the absence of Conley, one specific Jazz man took a dip in production that coincides right when Conley went down.
Take a look at Bojan Bogdanovic’s numbers before and after the Mike Conley’s injury.
Hello and Happy New Year! Here are Bojan Bogdanovic's percentages before and after Mike Conley's injury:— James Hansen (@hansenjames) January 1, 2020
Before (20 games): FG% 47, 3P% 44
After (12 games): FG% 38, 3P% 40
It’s not hard to see why either. With Conley on the floor Bogdanovic was either the third or fourth option at all times. So while Conley and Mitchell soak up the focus of opposing defenses every night, Bogdanovic would be the third and fourth option. And we know what Bogdanovic can do with that level of freedom.
It’s also not particularly surprising to see Joe Ingles flourish in his role with the starting unit. Bogdanovic is taking the secondary ball handling duties, the ones that Conley and Mitchell shared before, and it’s leaving a lot of options for Ingles.
It could be that Ingles is simply having a fantastic stretch right now, but it’s worth noting how much that third and fourth option seems to flourish in the Jazz offense. It’s certainly helping Royce O’Neale who is having a career year.
So maybe a dip in production for Bogdanovic is worth a hypothetical Conley trade?
Despite some recent solid play because of the acquisition of Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz have had a notoriously bad bench all season.
Before the Mike Conley injury the Jazz were running Donovan Mitchell with the backups and it didn’t work very well. A lot of that can be attributed to a team that didn’t have enough chemistry at the time, but some of that was also talent related.
After the Clarkson trade the Jazz waived Jeff Green. Those moves provided a boon to the second unit that has been palpable. But the Jazz are still relying heavily on Emmanuel Mudiay. To his credit, Mudiay has been focusing more on being a facilitator and it has worked pretty well. We’re also seeing Tony Bradley play surprisingly well with the second unit which has stabilized the rim protection and rebounding for the bench. He’s also providing solid points as the rolling big in pick and rolls. These things are all related, but it’s all added up to a better second unit. Yes, the competition has been easier recently but that didn’t stop the bench from being terrible before.
Anyways, when Mike Conley returns, you’re essentially upgrading those second unit minutes from Mudiay to Conley and O’neale which takes things to another level. Having Mike Conley with Jordan Clarkson and Donovan Mitchell handling the ball puts incredible pressure on defenses at all times. The Jazz will look like the team Jazz fans will have expected all season.
And with the level of play that Ingles has been playing with on the starting unit, combine that with a Conley return, and you’ve got a team that has the potential to go all the way.
But all this doesn’t happen until Mike Conley returns.