The offensive juggernaut Utah Jazz from the NBA Bubble has gone missing. In Utah’s first four games, their offense ranks 16th in the league and their defense isn’t even in the Top 10. They are a Donovan Mitchell game winning shot from being 1-3 with losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Phoenix Suns. When NBA pundits said the Utah Jazz would have been a different team in the Bubble had they had Bojan Bogdanovic healthy they never meant this. Utah is a team without an identity once again.
The addition of Derrick Favors and the Alec Burks’ free agency of Bojan Bogdanovic was supposed to patch up the weaknesses of Utah’s 2019-2020 season. Without Favors, Utah’s bench suffered and their team defense fell off a cliff when Rudy Gobert left the floor. Without Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah’s offense was Donovan Mitchell plus one of Mike Conley or Jordan Clarkson, depending on who showed out that night.
In the Bubble, Donovan Mitchell turned into D-Wade and helped Utah overcome not having Bogey out on the floor. Unfortunately, Tony Bradley stayed Tony Bradley. Rewatching last season’s playoffs seems like watching a bizarro version of Utah; it’s hard to see how this team came within a game of the second round. It is getting much easier to see how this team blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets.
Bojan Bogdanovic thus far looks not like Bojan Bogdanovic of last season. The wrist definitely is not 100% there and—even if it is—his 50-40-90 shooting appears 2-3 months away. In a condensed season, that’s the trade deadline. Bogey exploded against OKC after getting hit in the wrist, but afflicting Bogey every night with additional pain in his wrist is not a long term strategy any person with a soul wants to pursue. Right now when Bojan is on the floor, the Jazz’s offense is in the 38th percentile for points per 100 possessions and 67th percentile for points allowed per 100 possessions. It isn’t great.
Derrick Favors is still acclimating himself to the team again. The hope for a plug and play improvement for the bench hasn’t shown results yet. Derrick Favors’ best minutes come when he takes the place of Gobert and is out on the court with 3 or more starters. Add additional bench guys and the Jazz are getting the score run up on them. Favors at least is showing some bright spots and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel for him.
The problems for Utah don’t end with Favors’ integration and Bogdanovic’s re-integration. Donovan Mitchell has been a train wreck. If you think I’m being harsh, he was harsher. He said he was shooting like “shit.” He isn’t wrong. He’s shooting 34.1% from the field and 29.7% from three. His play so far this season looks more like he wished on a stone for the bubble and now the monkey’s paw has come for what is owed. He’s not passing the ball as much as he should and he’s trying to do it all himself. Mitchell isn’t the only one not passing the rock.
Here is the assist rate to usage ratio for Utah Jazz’s ball handlers:
- Donovan Mitchell - 0.63 (19th percentile)
- Mike Conley - 0.91 (24th percentile)
- Bojan Bogdanovic - 0.29 (8th percentile)
- Royce O’Neale - 0.27 (15th percentile)
- Joe Ingles - 1.26 (96th percentile)
Joe Ingles is the only one willing to pass the rock. He’s really the only playmaker out on the floor. Unfortunately for Utah, he’s not a shotmaker anymore. He is only making 31.6% of his three point attempts. That’s if he even takes the shot. Joe Ingles is so much of a playmaker that he is giving up great shots to make a play of lesser efficiency. Ingles is making up for Utah’s selfishness by not being selfish enough.
One thing we must stop doing is pretending as though slow starts for Utah are not typical. Here are the last 6 seasons under Quin Snyder and the Jazz’s record through the first 25 games:
- 2015-2016 - 11-14
- 2016-2017 - 15-10
- 2017-2018 - 13-12
- 2018-2019 - 12-13
- 2019-2020 - 14-11
- 2020-2021 - 2-2
Utah has only come out of the gates more than 5 games over .500 once after 25 games. Most of the time, however, Utah is just an average team. Quin Snyder should be criticized for his team’s slow starts. Regardless of who is on the roster, Snyder’s teams have trouble staying consistent with the offensive system and staying disciplined on defense during the team’s first 25 games. If Utah has been consistent in anything over the past six seasons is they are consistently average through the first 25 games of any season. When Utah gets their act together to start the season, that’ll be when we know they finally have a title contender. Until that time, the dye is already cast on a 3rd-7th finish in the playoffs.
It is not all doom and gloom. Donovan Mitchell will turn it around. We have four seasons of sample size that show that this isn’t the real Donovan Mitchell. Bojan will get healthier and more in rhythm. We have many seasons that show that Bojan Bogdanovic is not this Bojan Bogdanovic. Derrick Favors will get more integrated with the team. By the beginning of February, this Jazz team will give anyone a tough 48 minutes. The only question is can they break the cycle of slow season starts faster than they normally do? Here’s to hoping they do.