Photo c/o @utahjazz
Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: Utah Jazz
2018-19 Record: 50-32, lost in the first round of the playoffs
Key additions: Mike Conley (trade), Bojan Bogdanovic (free agent), Ed Davis (free agent), Emmanuel Mudiay (free agent), Jeff Green (free agent)
Key subtractions: Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, Raul Neto
The lowdown: The Jazz cemented their place in the Western Conference’s upper tier with a 50-win season and a decent showing against Houston in the first round. They were once again led by young guard Donovan Mitchell, who didn’t take a bold next step forward in his play as expected. Mitchell took on a bigger load, but struggled with shooting efficiency (he ranked 101st in EFG% among starting guards). The Jazz lacked a solid No. 2 scorer and Mitchell’s number was frequently called with the game on the line. He ranked seventh in fourth-quarter scoring, averaged nearly 24 points and was a borderline All-Star.
Additionally, the Jazz had problematic point guard play (Rubio’s shooting woes and Dante Exum’s injury issues) all season.
But at least there was center Rudy Gobert, the most consistent of the bunch, who averaged 15.9 ppg, 12.3 rpg and 2.3 bpg as the NBA’s premier rim and paint protector. He improved as a pick-and-roll option and developed a semi-reliable hook shot and short-range jumper.
Overall, the Jazz were known for their cohesive and spirited play. Coach Quin Snyder mostly pressed all the right buttons, and the club thrived all season in the West (which isn’t easy). In the end, they were a star shy of making bigger noise in a conference where two stars is a necessity for anyone with championship dreams.
Summer summary: At last season’s trade deadline, the Jazz tried to execute a deal that could’ve vaulted them over a few teams in the West. But the Grizzlies held firm on Conley and talks were postponed until the offseason. In a case of better late than never, the Jazz can come to grips with the addition of a player who solves the club’s most glaring problem.
Conley gives Utah a savvy, tough presence at point guard and also brings shooting range. For nearly a dozen years in Memphis, he led the Grizzlies flawlessly and earned respect from his peers. He’s averaged 20 ppg or more in two of the last three seasons, including a career-best 21.1 ppg last season. He’s also averaged 5.7 apg in his career and brings quick hands for steals. Surprisingly, Conley never made an All-Star team and is perhaps the best current player never to make one. At one point he was the highest-paid player in the NBA — that title soothed any hard feelings from missing out on All-Stardom — and remained a beloved figure in town.
When the “Grit ’n Grind” approach finally fizzled in Memphis and rebuilding beckoned, Conley had to go. As one of the few contenders lacking at the point, Utah stood at the front of the line to get Conley. Gone now are the days of Mitchell being shoehorned into the point guard role at times.
Conley and Mitchell in the backcourt makes for a match made in Jazz heaven. Utah sent a package of players and picks for Conley, who helps in multiple ways. First, he allows Mitchell to shift back to shooting guard and the feeling is he’ll thrive there. Second, Conley gives the Jazz the scorer they craved who can reduce Mitchell’s burden. Third, Conley brings playoff experience and is a high-character player who will go over well in the locker room and community. There’s nothing not to like here.
Given the chance to join a contender and escape the Grizzlies’ sinking ship, Conley will certainly feel rejuvenated (and may get that long-awaited All-Star nod).
Utah also added an additional scorer and playmaker in Bogdanovic, giving the 6-foot-8 Croatian swingman four years and $73 million. While that’s a rather rich deal, there’s plenty of upside potential in Bogdanovic. He had games of 37, 35 and 31 points last season for the Indiana Pacers, averaging 18 ppg in a go-to guy role. He shot 42.5 percent on 3-pointers and helped rescue the Pacers after they lost Victor Oladipo for the season to a knee injury.
Given how Utah’s system relies heavily on 3-point shooting to space the lanes for Mitchell, Bogdanovic could be a major factor. That’s why more than a few league GMs feel he’s the most underrated addition of the offseason.
A starting five of Mitchell, Conley, Gobert, Bogdanovic and Ingles gives Snyder plenty of options and enough weapons to cause trouble. On paper anyway, this is Utah’s most accomplished starting five in years, perhaps since the John Stockton-Karl Malone era.
Power forward could be a soft spot for the Jazz, who dealt Crowder (to get Conley) and traded Favors to New Orleans. They added Davis, a solid rebounder (but limited scorer) who will almost assuredly come off the bench.
Mudiay, a former lottery pick, lost his place in Denver to Jamal Murray. He showed some improvement with the New York Knicks last season. In Utah, he won’t feel any pressure and can settle into a backup role, where he brings athleticism and energy.
Rather than remain complacent with a 50-win team, the Jazz made a few bold additions that shouldn’t disrupt any of their harmony or flow. If anything, Conley and Bogdanovic could be the missing pieces this team needs to travel a playoff round or two further next spring.
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