That groan was heavier this time for multiple reasons. This was another first round exit for a team with multiple all stars. To go all in like the Jazz did for this season only to lose in the first round again is painful and it hurt even more because the Jazz gave up a 3-1 series lead. And finally, in the final three games of the series, outside of Donovan Mitchell, Utah was out-played and out-coached.
Now that the season is over, Utah is looking at an incredibly important offseason. After this disappointing playoff loss, here are some of the questions they need to answer.
Is Rudy Gobert part of Utah’s future?
It was an up and down series, and season, for Rudy Gobert. The loss to the Nuggets summed up the season for Gobert in a lot of ways. There were games that Gobert dominated and those were the games Utah won handily in the Nuggets series. There were also games that Utah needed a lot more from Gobert and they lost those games.
Before Game 5 and 6, Gobert found out he wasn’t going to win the DPOY award for a third straight season. It seemed from that moment on Gobert’s impact on the series wasn’t as strong. He didn’t have a lot of force until the second half of Game 7 where he nearly helped the Jazz advance out of the second round on his own.
It may very well have been scheming from the Nuggets, along with some insane three point shooting from Jokic, that lessened Gobert’s impact, but it was hard not to see an up and down effort from Gobert. For multiple games Gobert looked invisible and then in Game 7 he dominated. If he had not played like he did in that Game 7, the narrative would have been that Gobert had checked out. That type of up and down production makes things tricky for the Jazz.
Utah faces an important offseason decision with Gobert. Gobert is eligible for a supermax extension after next season which Utah is not likely to offer. If it’s supermax or bust for Gobert, then we could see some sort of trade.
But if Gobert is willing to sign something that makes both him and the Jazz happy, Utah would be wise to take it. When Gobert is dominating a game, it changes everything for Utah. It also looks like Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are in a good place. From Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix:
An obvious positive: The relationship between Mitchell and Rudy Gobert has been rebuilt. Team sources have described the vibe between the two stars as “great” these last two months. Both seemed to have moved past the drama that unfolded last March, when Mitchell and Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, with Gobert admitting to recklessness when it came to the coronavirus. The two have never been best friends, but by all accounts, Utah’s two cornerstones are in a good place.
That’s a great sign for Utah. If they can couple a reasonable contract for Gobert alongside Donovan Mitchell’s reported upcoming max extension, Utah has two core pieces to build off of year after year.
How do the Jazz fix their bench?
When Utah signed Jordan Clarkson midway through the year, he became that sixth man they’d been looking for. Coming off the bench for Utah, Clarkson averaged 15 ppg game on good percentages for a Jazz bench unit that struggled all season.
In the regular season that seemed to fill the holes for the bench, but in the playoffs, it was a different story.
Against elite defenders, Clarkson struggled at times to positively impact games, especially Game 6 and 7. How much of that was his fault is the question.
Utah filled one hole on their bench when they signed Clarkson but they also had holes at every other position, especially center. By the end of the season Utah ran out of fingers and it sunk their ship against Denver.
Tony Bradley was not ready for the playoffs this season, and may never be. On top of that, Utah’s offseason signing of Ed Davis was a massive disappointment. It’s a hole Utah has to fill. Utah could go after Derrick Favors this offseason to become the full time second-unit center. That may be the move that fixes the entire bench. Signing Favors would allow the second offense to center around the Joe Ingles/Derrick Favors pick and roll that was so deadly the year before. Favors would also be a huge defensive upgrade.
If the Jazz sign Favors, it probably makes it more likely to re-sign Clarkson because of the upgraded pieces around him. It’s obvious Utah would like to re-sign Clarkson, hopefully they can do it with a reasonable contract that pairs with Derrick Favors.
Is the Jazz coaching good enough?
It’s now been two years in a row that the Jazz have been knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
This year was supposed to be different. The Jazz went all in on the Mike Conley trade and the free agency acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic. If Utah had Bogdanovic, it’s very likely they’re playing in the second round. Although, maybe we shouldn’t be so sure.
Watching Jamal Murray absolutely thrash the Jazz and come back from a 3-1 deficit was hard to watch. What was harder to watch was the rigid rotations that never changed until a minor change from Tony Bradley to Juwan Morgan in Game 7.
The series changed after Game 3 when Mike Malone moved Torrey Craig and Michael Porter Jr. to the bench and started Jerami Grant and Monte Morris. With those adjustments, Malone improved on one of their weaknesses and was able to attack the Jazz with a bigger focus on the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokic pick and roll.
Denver used that pick and roll incessantly till it got them the come from behind series victory. Not only did Quin Snyder resist any real changes to the lineup, he also should have played his starters for longer minutes. Outside of Rudy Gobert, Snyder played all the Jazz starters below 40 minutes until Game 7. For context, in the Raptors Game 4 win over the Celtics, Nick Nurse had Kyle Lowry play 43 minutes, Fred VanVleet play 44 and Pascal Siakam play 45.
Not until Game 7, in complete desperation, did Donovan Mitchell get above 40 and played 42 minutes. Considering Utah’s very weak bench, why wasn’t this more of an emphasis?
These refusals to adjust quickly have cost the Jazz games in multiple series now, not just this year. Against the Houston Rockets last season, Utah moved Jae Crowder to the starting lineup to replace Derrick Favors in the starting unit after two blowout losses. That next game, Game 3, the Jazz lost a heartbreaker and then won Game 4 before being finished off in Game 5.
It’s very unlikely Utah makes any sort of change at coach, but this rigid refusal to adapt and game to game has got to change. I mean, maybe there will be a point where the Jazz could even make substitutions for a single possessions. One can dream.
This offseason for Utah has the potential to be filled with a lot of change. It’s unlikely much happens except on the fringes, but if they do make a change, it’s completely warranted. One thing is for sure, the Jazz need to decide quickly if they think keeping things as is makes them better than a first a round exit every year because, the last two seasons, that’s all they’ve amounted to.