Small changes paying big dividends for Utah Jazz

Jazz guard Mike Conley Jr. brings up the ball vs. the Nuggets. - USA Today images

For the second-consecutive season, the Utah Jazz are off to a hot start. It isn’t the result of any major alterations to the team’s roster, though.

It was a relatively uneventful offseason in Salt Lake City, as the organization had made its “splash” moves a year prior. In acquiring point guard Mike Conley and forward Bojan Bogdanovic, the team’s message was simple — it wanted to compete. Conley’s ineffectiveness and Bogdanovic’s injury put those dreams on hold, though. Utah was bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets.

In 2019-20, Quin Snyder‘s squad boasted a 10-5 record through 15 games. This season, that mark is 11-4 and good for a two-way tie with the Los Angeles Clippers for second in the brutal Western Conference. The Jazz are 8-2 in their last 10 games and have won seven in a row, which is the longest streak in the league. Players on the team are thriving in their roles, making for an impressive overall product.


Conley’s resurgence and Mitchell’s star play

It took quite some time, but Conley is finally resembling the player the Utah Jazz acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in July of 2019. The 14-year veteran is averaging 16.3 points, 6.3 assists and a career-high 3.9 rebounds a game while shooting nearly 46% from the field. He’s also having his best season from behind the arc, attempting a career-best 6.7 3s a night and converting at a 41% clip.

Conley’s improvement hasn’t just factored into his play, though. Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell has shaken off an early-season slump and is on a tear. In his last 10 games, Mitchell is averaging 26.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists on 48.2/47.0/89.1 shooting splits.

Conley is performing well enough both on and off the ball that the floor has opened up for Mitchell, one of the league’s most fearless slashers. The pairing’s high-level production is a major reason why Utah is currently the NBA’s second-best 3-point shooting team overall. With his starting guards both capable of doing so much offensively, Snyder can have full faith in either of them running the offense.

Clarkson’s consistency and Bogdanovic heating up

The Utah Jazz took a shot in the dark when they acquired shooting guard Jordan Clarkson from the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2019 season. Since then, he’s been everything they could’ve hoped for and more. After solidifying the team’s sixth-man void last year, the 28-year-old was rewarded with a four-year, $52.5 million contract. Thus far in 2020-21, he’s raised his scoring (15.6 to 17.7), rebounding (2.8 to 4.6) and shooting (career-highs across the board) numbers. He’s the real deal.

Bogdanovic got off to a horrid start this season, shooting 35.5% overall through 10 games. In the last five, he’s been much improved. During that stretch, the veteran is chipping in 16.2 points a night on a scorching 48.5% from deep. Over half of his field goal attempts come from that area, so this small sample size is extremely positive news. Bogdanovic wasn’t on the court for the playoffs last season and with him back in the fold, Utah’s offense is that much more lethal.

Derrick’s Favor

After spending one season in New Orleans, Derrick Favors is back where he belongs. Over the offseason, he returned to the Utah Jazz on a three-year, $29M pact. While that may have been a bit of an overpay, Favors’ presence as a reliable backup center cannot be understated. The Jazz needed him back, even with him currently averaging career-lows in minutes (16.2) and points (5.9) per game.

It’s no secret, but Rudy Gobert is one of the best defensive centers basketball has recently seen. His rim protection is extremely valuable, despite his offensive limitations. Last season, when he came off the court, the team’s quality of defense around the rim took a tremendous hit. With Favors back in the fold and playing a lower amount of minutes, he can channel all of his energy into being a quality stopgap option while Gobert takes a break on the bench. It’s not a perfect science, but a huge improvement over Tony Bradley (Gobert’s backup a season ago) nonetheless.

The Jazz don’t have a ton of star power, which limits their ceiling a bit. With that said, they have several things going for them. Conley and Mitchell are thriving, Clarkson and Bogdanovic are turning into steady scorers in their respective roles and Favors prevents the defense from falling apart without Gobert. Who knows how long this stretch of terrific play will last but for now, the league should be on notice.

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