Utah Jazz – Unheralded Force in the West

The Utah Jazz are considered by many to be one of the most irrelevant teams in the National Basketball Association. Quin Snyder, third year coach for the Jazz, had only improved his team’s overall record by 2 wins last year, finishing with an 40-42 record.

A very young team Quin Snyder was given to in 2014-15, and he’s worked with pieces he’s had, only to be mediocre. In fact, last year the Jazz had only three players above the age of 27. Their average player’s age was 24, tied with the Milwaukee Bucks as the youngest team in the league.

Snyder’s fiery personality when coaching almost mirrored the young Jazz roster. His unique ability to see the game of basketball in a traditional way and shift lineups effectively gives him an edge over many of the high paced offenses that modern NBA coaches employ.

This summer the Jazz silently overhauled their roster. They drafted Kentucky’s power forward Trey Lyles (Editor’s note: last summer) with a late lottery pick to replace Enes Kanter’s post presence lost to Oklahoma City. They traded for George Hill from Indiana to be their starting point guard. They traded for Boris Diaw, longtime point forward, to be a pivotal player off the bench for Utah. They signed longtime veteran Joe Johnson, who brings a great outside shooting threat (.372 career 3 point shooter) on a team who needed the extra depth and scoring. Those 3 veterans are 30, 34, and 35 years old respectively, bringing the Jazz’s average age to 26 years old. Still young, but consequently age 26 is a prime year for success for any NBA player.

They extended Rudy Gobert, one of the best rim protectors in the league, signed a 4 year 102 million dollar extension, securing his place as a large part of Utah’s future. Don’t forget about Gordon Hayward (who just returned from injury) who had 28 points in his first game back. This is the year where the rubber meets the road. How good can this Jazz team really be?

The top of the Western Conference is stronger than ever. Is it really as strong as many assume? The Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors all seem to be the top dogs in the West.

But the fact of the matter is, they’re all three beatable. The Clippers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder by 2, a team that’ll most likely be a low end playoff team. The Spurs have lost to both the Jazz (without Gordon Hayward) and the Clippers. The Warriors brutally lost to the Spurs on home opener and to the upstart Los Angeles Lakers.

These second tier teams in the West – the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and even the New Orleans Pelicans all have the talent and ability to beat the “Big 3” of the West.

What sets the Jazz apart from those teams are a few vital things. They aren’t a high flying, run the break kind of team. They don’t have a sure fire all-star. They’re going to grind out games with lock down defense and draining out the shot clock with in a slower half court offense.

Other than maybe the Lakers and the Timberwolves, the Jazz are one of best proverbial “well oiled machines” in the second tier of the West.

They are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league. 4th in the league in ORB% last year, having Gobert inside gives them a huge advantage down low.

So far their offensive and defensive ratings have both jumped up from last year, especially their defensive rating (which has gone up by 1.3 from 103.9, 7th best in the league, to 105.2)

Adding Joe Johnson to the roster adds spacing that the Jazz needed to be a high seed in the West. So far, the Jazz are shooting 38.3 percent from 3, 6th in the NBA. Partially because Rodney Hood and George Hill are both shooting 40 percent plus from 3, but this teams improved long range shooting will help balance out that lack of a high paced offense.

This is the third year of Snyder’s system in place. Historically, the third year of a coach’s tenure is when players are 100 percent invested into that coach’s regime, and then comes regular season success.

In Phil Jackson’s 3rd year with the Chicago Bulls in 91-92, the Bulls won 67 games, the second highest amount of that Bulls dynasty, and won his second straight NBA championship.

In Brad Stevens’ 3rd year with the Boston Celtics in 2015-16, the Celtics went 48-34, after only winning 25 and 40 the last two years.

In Erik Spoelstra’s 3rd year with the Miami Heat in 2010-11, the Heat won 58 games, after winning 43 and 47 games his last two years.

These are all coaches in their 3rd year of the first Head Coaching gig in the NBA. Yes, Phil Jackson had the greatest player of all time in Michael Jordan. Spoelstra had LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But those teams had a roster of players who had finally grasped the system they were in, and were able to have one, if not the best, regular season overall team performance.

Hayward is set in place for another great year. He is what the Jazz have built around. Now they finally have talented veteran depth to place around Hayward in Hood, Hill, and Johnson.

Hitting that all important 3rd year, with a revamped and still young roster, will make this Jazz team a fighting force in the West.

Will they be a Top 3 seed? Probably not. However, a 4th or 5th seed is in sight for the unprecedented Utah Jazz.

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