The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
We begin with the Utah Jazz.
2020-21 season record
52-20, 1st in the Western Conference
Jared Butler, No. 40 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft
Hassan Whiteside, free agency
Rudy Gay, free agency
Erich Paschall, trade
Derrick Favors, trade
Georges Niang, free agency
|PG||Mike Conley||Jared Butler|
|SG||Donovan Mitchell||Jordan Clarkson||Miye Oni|
|SF||Royce O'Neale||Joe Ingles||Elijah Hughes|
|PF||Bojan Bogdanovic||Rudy Gay||Eric Paschall|
|C||Rudy Gobert||Hassan Whiteside||Udoka Azubuike|
3 key storylines
Can they contend for a title?
The Jazz have now advanced to the NBA Playoffs for five consecutive seasons, with the 2020-21 campaign standing as the most successful of the run, as Utah finished with the league's best record and dominated the regular season on a near-nightly basis.
Then came the postseason.
With Mitchell and Conley battling injuries, Utah hobbled to the NBA Playoffs, where they would eliminate the Memphis Grizzlies rather easily before meeting their match in the LA Clippers. It's hard to think of a worse way for Utah to have gotten eliminated, dropping four straight to LA, which ended the series without its best player in Kawhi Leonard.
Year after year, it feels as though the Jazz have assembled their roster in a way that will breed postseason success, but they run into similar issues in the playoffs, many of which stem from teams making life difficult for Utah's three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert, on both ends of the floor.
Utah has been busy this offseason, making a number of moves that give head coach Quin Snyder more flexibility with his rotations, but will this flexibility move the Jazz closer to becoming a legitimate title contender?
Gobert on the verge of history
Only Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace have won Defensive Player of the Year more times than Gobert, who has claimed the award in three of the last four seasons. Having just turned 29 this offseason, Gobert has a very legitimate chance to tie history with a fourth award this upcoming season and can surely break the record down the line.
Looking at the landscape of defenders in the NBA, you'd be hard-pressed to find a player with an impact similar to that of Gobert.
Last season, Ben Simmons and Draymond Green were the other two finalists for Defensive Player of the Year, but with the uncertainty surrounding Simmons and Green getting older, Gobert could find new competition for the award this upcoming season.
Ultimately, Gobert's individual award didn't result in the ultimate team prize for Utah, but anytime an NBA player has a chance to make history, it should be on your radar.
Utah's superstar is coming off of a career year in which he averaged 26.4 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds while knocking down 3.4 triples a game at a 38.6 percent clip. His best work came in the postseason, where he upped his scoring to 32.3 points over 10 games while knocking down five triples a game at a red-hot 43.5 percent clip despite nursing an ankle injury.
Four years in, Mitchell is developing a reputation for stepping up when it matters most in the playoffs, but it hasn't been enough to get Utah over the hump just yet.
With all that Mitchell has accomplished up to this point in his career, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that he is only 25 years old. I recently wrote on Mitchell's status as an established star in this league and the characteristics that make him the most important piece to the Jazz becoming a legitimate title contender in the coming years.
Mitchell is now a perennial All-Star, but the next step is leaping into the upper echelon by becoming an All-NBA performer while continuing to build upon his progress from his efficient 2021-22 campaign. As we've seen in the past two postseasons, Mitchell has grown into the type of player who can get his team a bucket in the postseason when everything else breaks down.
The 25-year-old has already developed a knack for doing so, but there's room to continue to grow - winning championships is hard.
Utah continues to build around its superstar duo of Mitchell and Gobert, but the key to getting to the next level is Mitchell's ascension into the next tier of stardom, which will allow him to put this team on his back during sustained postseason runs. He's already proven to be capable, it's now just a matter of doing.
5 games to watch
Oct. 26 vs. Denver Nuggets
After opening the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings, the intensity rises a few notches when the Jazz welcome the Nuggets to Vivint Arena.
Taking centre stage - literally - is the head-to-head matchup between reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Gobert. It will be an early litmus test for the Jazz, who again will have title aspirations.
Oct. 31 at Milwaukee Bucks
Speaking of title aspirations, Utah travels to take on the defending champs early on in the 2021-22 season.
This will be another opportunity for the Jazz to see where they measure up against the league's best. What better measurement for how title-ready you are than a meeting with the most recent champions?
Nov. 22 vs. Memphis Grizzlies
How about a playoff rematch? After being eliminated by the Jazz in five games in 2021, the Grizzlies have undergone a transformative offseason. How will the new-look Memphis squad measure up against Utah?
Dec. 25 vs. Dallas Mavericks
Christmas Day hoops.
Utah is one of five teams that will host a Christmas Day game in 2021, and it is sure to be a good one. With Luka Doncic and company in Salt Lake City, the nightcap of a five-game Christmas slate is certainly one worth watching.
Jan. 17 at Los Angeles Lakers
Utah finished with the West's best record last season, but Los Angeles enters the upcoming season as the favourite.
It will take three months before we see the Jazz and Lakers go head-to-head, but this one should be worth the wait. By this point in the season, we'll have an idea of what each team projects to be, meaning this could be an early preview of the 2022 West Finals.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.