During the offseason, we wrote about it’s now or never for the Utah Jazz. This is the season to make the playoffs and establish themselves as a rising force in the Western conference, or everything they’ve been building for the last few years will fall apart into the arms of another, long rebuild.
So far, it seems like their work in the offseason, and in the previous seasons since letting both Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Enes Kanter leave, is finally paying off. The Jazz are off to a 4-3 start. Doesn’t sound that impressive, but considering they missed Gordon Hayward for the first six games, and Derrick Favors was injured as always for some of the games, their record isn’t bad at all.
Their 114-109 win on the road against the Knicks wasn’t surprising. The Jazz are suddenly deep and filled with offensive options. They’ve been playing the slowest basketball in the NBA until now (91.2 possessions on average in their games), but it’s been working for them. They’re keeping teams on just 95.9 points per game, and although the defensive metrics aren’t what they were last season, it’s going in the right direction, only with a much better offense, ranked 13th in offense rating with 106.3 points per 100 possessions.
George Hill has been their best player so far. A somewhat underused & underappreciated point guard with the Indiana Pacers, Hill is averaging 20.4 points per game while shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc while taking a much bigger bulk of shots. Things are going to change now that Hayward is back, as he doesn’t just take away shots but also time with the ball, but Hill has a much bigger role on the Jazz offense compared to his time with the Pacers, which suits him just fine.
Rodney Hood seems to have made a big leap as well. The former Duke star is averaging 17.6 points per game on 43.2% from beyond the arc. Hayward scored 28 points on his return despite shooting 6-for-17, but along with Hill and Hood, the Jazz suddenly have an excellent, dangerous two-way perimeter trio, complimenting Favors, who has had a slow start, and Rudy Gobert, maybe the best defensive big man in the league, who the Jazz would like to see do more offensively.
Joe Johnson has bee giving exactly what’s expected of him, scoring 13.1 points on 50% from the field. Boris Diaw has been a massive disappointment: 0.7 points per game in almost 23 minutes a night. It makes you appreciate Gregg Popovich, who knew very well why he was giving up one of his most important players in the Spurs two runs to the finals in 2013 and 2014. One of the more unique and versatile big men in the NBA could have run out of gas without anyone noticing.
Dante Exum, Trey Lyles, Shelvin Mack and even Joe Ingles. The Jazz have a long rotation all of a sudden that might not put them in the top 4 of the West, but any spot below that seems well within their reach. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2012. They missed the postseason because of one game last season. They can’t afford to miss it in 2017 as well, and from the looks of things, they’re not going to.