Utah Jazz

NBA Season Preview 2019-20: Will the Utah Jazz take the next step following a big summer?

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have reinforcements in the form of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have reinforcements in the form of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. (Getty Images)

With the 2019-20 NBA season quickly approaching, we're rolling out 30 Teams in 30 Days. Between now and opening night, we'll dedicate one day to each team in the league.

Today, we're looking at the Utah Jazz.

2018-19 season record

50-32 (5th in the Western Conference)

Projected 2019-20 season record

55-27 (tied for 1st in the Western Conference)

Notable additions

Mike Conley (trade)

Bojan Bogdanovic (free agency)

Ed Davis (free agency)

Emmanuel Mudiay (free agency)

Notable departures

Derrick Favors (trade)

Ricky Rubio (free agency)

Jae Crowder (trade)

Grayson Allen (trade)

Kyle Korver (trade)

Depth chart

Starter 2nd 3rd
PG Mike Conley Emmanuel Mudiay Nigel Williams-Goss
SG Donovan Mitchell Dante Exum Justin Wright-Foreman
SF Joe Ingles Royce O'Neale
PF Bojan Bogdanovic Jeff Green Georges Niang
C Rudy Gobert Ed Davis Tony Bradley

3 key storylines

Will Donovan Mitchell make a leap?

Although he didn't lead the United States to the gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, Mitchell is still coming off a summer in which he gained valuable experience as an offensive linchpin for a roster with far more creators than what he's been used to in two seasons thus far in Utah. Playing alongside the likes of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Khris Middleton - among others - should help massage the growing pains likely to come with the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bodganovic.

Both are seasoned talents and massive upgrades in line for their own big seasons.

But perhaps most importantly will be the impact they have on Mitchell, who is primed for a huge leap in his third season. At times the sole creator in Utah and only playmaker consistently able to manufacture offense late in the shot clock or at the end of games, Mitchell has at times struggled with efficiency when burdened with a heavier workload. That manifested itself particularly in last year's first round exit to the Rockets in which he shot just 32% from the field, attempted nearly twice as many shots as any other Jazz player and finished with more turnovers than assists.

Just how bad was it? Since individual turnovers became official in 1977-78, there have been 1,628 instances in which a player took at least 100 shots in a single postseason. Where did Mitchell's 2019 postseason rank in terms of win shares per 48 minutes? 1,628th. Dead last.

The hope in Utah is Conley and Bogdanovic relieve enough pressure to wipe away some of the bad hero-ball habits that at times have bubbled to the surface. He won't have to take those 3-4 bad bail-out shots per game. He won't face second or third defenders blitzing non-stop. He'll play off two more players capable of creating easy looks.

With reinforcements in place, Mitchell has the chance to vault from intriguing young star to legitimate championship contending alpha dog superstar.

Will Rudy Gobert finally make the All-Star team?

Will Rudy Gobert's utter annihilation of Team USA at the FIBA World Cup - 21 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks - ultimately be what finally earns him respect in NBA circles as a legitimate star big worthy of inclusion in the annual summit of the league's biggest and brightest stars?

The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year has never made an All-Star team despite very much being in the conversation for best defensive player in the league along the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. In addition to staking his claim as the league's standard bearer for rim protectors, Gobert has improved on the offensive end every season of his career, culminating in a 2018-19 campaign in which he averaged a career-best 15.9 points per game while leading the NBA in field goal percentage.

If preseason media speculation is any indication, Gobert could be on the verge of a breakout. NBA.com's preseason player rankings placed Gobert at 12th, ESPN placed him at 14th and Sports Illustrated ranked him 14th. The media's blessing alone won't be enough, but the extra attention and respect heading Gobert's direction could assist in earning a first career All-Star nod in 2019-20.

Does Utah have the NBA's best starting lineup?

Mitchell is explosive offensively. Gobert is aiming for a third straight Defensive Player of the Year. Conley is perhaps the NBA's most steady point guard. Bogdanovic is supremely over-qualified as a fourth option. And Joe Ingles is among the NBA's best knock-down shooters.

It's surely going to take some time for everyone to figure out their role, but this group has the chance to be the best starting lineup in the NBA.

If there's a concern it could be that neither Ingles nor Bogdanovic is a lockdown defender at a position that features the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Western Conference. But neither are traffic cones and let's be real: nobody truly has much of an answer for LeBron and Kawhi. Both Conley and Mitchell are hard-nosed defenders, Gobert's resume speaks for itself and head coach Quin Snyder is a defensive savant, meaning there shouldn't be too much concern for picking up the relative deficiencies on the wing.

This is a group with four very good floor spacers and an elite rim-running lob finisher. Given Conley's and Bogdanovic's ability to create, Utah won't run into the same issues it has in the past in which teams simply loaded up on the small-ish Mitchell.

Perhaps an over-simplification, but there's tremendous value in playing five players that are all at a minimum very good basketball players.

5 games to watch

Oct. 25 at Los Angeles Lakers

Utah's first road game of the year comes against LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It's a great early litmus test for the Jazz, a well-rounded bunch that's hoping a wealth of very good players is enough to overcome the growing trend of superstar duos.

Oct. 30 vs. LA Clippers

Two of Utah's first seven games games are against the presumptive title favourite LA Clippers. The Jazz have made a habit of starting slow and the schedule makers did them no favours. This game marks the first of a brutal six game stretch: vs. Clippers, at Kings, at Clippers, vs. 76ers, vs. Bucks, at Warriors.

Nov. 11 at Golden State Warriors

The Jazz fancy themselves serious contenders to come out of the West. Even if Golden State is no longer the favourite, the road still goes through Stephen Curry and Co. who have made it to five straight Finals. The Warriors have been where the Jazz want to go, which makes this series a symbolic one to watch this season.

Nov. 15 at Memphis Grizzlies

Mr. Memphis returns home. It's probably a good thing that Mike Conley gets his first game against the Grizzlies out of the way relatively early so as to not leave that lingering over a good chunk of the schedule. Conley spent his first 12 seasons with the Grizzlies and is the franchise's all-time leader in points, assists, steals and games played, among other things.

Jan. 27 vs. Houston Rockets

If the Jazz have a nemesis, it's the Houston Rockets, who knocked the Jazz out of the playoffs with relative ease in each of the last two seasons. Not only does Utah have a bone to pick with the Rockets, there's some history with newest addition Russell Westbrook. It was against Westbrook's Thunder in the 2018 playoffs that Donovan Mitchell made his first real mark.

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