Your first place Utah Jazz. That never gets old right? With the Utah Jazz off to one of their best starts in franchise history, you can’t help but wonder if this team really has it. As John Hollinger recently said, if this Jazz team doesn’t look like a contender then I don’t know what does.
I’ve seen some people recently compare this team to the 2014-2015 Atlanta Hawks. This is actually a really interesting comparison, although I really hope that the season-end result is much different for the Jazz.
The 2015 Hawks was also one of their best teams in franchise history. They put together a 60 win (!) season that included a 19-game winning streak. They were firing on all cylinders! Because of that success, they ended up with 4 All Star selections: Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, and Kyle Korver. They finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and looked prime for a deep playoff run. Now, technically they did make a deep playoff run. Getting to the Conference Finals is no small feat. But that’s where things came to a screeching halt due to a LeBron James. A 4-0 sweep and the dream season was suddenly over.
The Hawks were coached by Mike Budenholzer at the time. They finished with the 6th best offensive rating and 6th best defensive rating. That mix of a top 10 offense and top 10 defense has the makings of a championship roster. Here were the individual statistics for the season:
With 6 guys in double figures, this was a very balanced roster. They had some pretty solid depth as well as some specialists such as defender Thabo Sefolosha and 3 point sniper Korver. Despite their overall team success, no one individual really stood out with outstanding performances to garner NBA awards. However, Budenholzer did win the coach of the year award.
Is this team a good comparison for our Jazz this year?
Let’s start off with coaching. Budenholzer and Quin Snyder both come from the Gregg Popovich tree. In fact, you could argue Quin Snyder technically comes from the Budenholzer coaching tree. Coach Snyder was an assistant coach with the Hawks from 2013-2014 before the Jazz hired him away.
Sure enough, the Utah Jazz also have a top 10 offense and a top 10 defense. Actually they are top 5 in both at the moment with the league’s 4th best Offensive Rating and 3rd best Defensive Rating. The Jazz are also on pace for a 60+ game win season if this was an 82 game season. At this pace, they would win ~64-65 games! They also already have a 10+ win streak under their belt in the early goings this year.
This Jazz team is also extremely balanced. What do you know, they also have 6 guys averaging double figures. It is a very well-balanced and deep roster with he top 8 guys being high caliber players. The case can be made, which Taylor previously did, that this Jazz team also deserves 3 or more All Stars. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are probably the favorites to repeat, but with the way Mike Conley has played he (finally) deserves an All Star nod as well. And don’t count out Jordan Clarkson, who has single-handedly transformed the Jazz bench and is the odds on favorite to win 6th Man of the Year.
There are honestly some surprising similarities between these two teams. The worst of which is the fact that LeBron James is now in the Western Conference and seems like a likely bet to make it to the Conference Finals again. If the Jazz make it there and have to go up against him, let’s hope their result is different than the Hawks at the time.
And there are plenty of reasons to believe that it would be different. Remember the cliche “The Strength of the team is the team” from a couple years back? I think that was very true of the Hawks. That’s not to say the Jazz team isn’t playing very well as a team, but I think some individuals are also just playing at a really high level right now. For example, the Hawks didn’t have the best defensive player in the planet on their team. Their overall defense was really good, but having someone like Rudy is a game changer.
Let’s take a quick look at each team’s top 8 guys:
- Mike Conley or Jeff Teague
- Donovan Mitchell or Kyle Korver
- Bojan Bogdanovic or DeMarre Carroll
- Royce O’Neale or Paul Millsap
- Rudy Gobert or Al Horford
- Joe Ingles or Thabo Sefolosha
- Jordan Clarkson or Dennis Schroeder
- Derrick Favors or Kent Bazemore
Looking down the roster I think you’d have mostly easy decisions as to which player you would take for your own team. The only super obvious choice from the Hawks here is Paul Millsap. Beyond that I’m not sure you’d really take any of the Hawks guys over any of the Jazz guys.
My takeaway from this is that this Jazz team is legit. We are 1⁄3 the way through the season and they have the best record in the NBA. National guys may put them at 6th best in the league, but this Jazz team feels like a real contender for the first time in a long time.
No matter the result in the end, this should be a fun ride!