Are the Utah Jazz a real threat to the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers?
One of the biggest storylines coming out of the Western Conference this year is the emergence of the Utah Jazz as serious competition for the Lakers and Clippers. While Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have been all-star level players for a few seasons now, the collective unit of the Utah Jazz has never performed with the same consistency they are this year.
While the Jazz have been staying atop the Western Conference standing since the start of the season, much of the league is still ignoring just how credible the threat is.
This sentiment is illustrated perfectly by a recent answer 76ers coach Doc Rivers gave to the media when asked who he thought were the strongest teams in the West. As you might have imagined he quickly credited the Clippers and Lakers as the favorites, with no mention of the Utah Jazz.
Rivers own picks align with the majority of the league and fanbase, but the emergence of the Jazz and the elevated play from their individuals is the real deal.
Rudy Gobert might end up a 3-time Defensive POY
As of the writing of this article Rudy Gobert stands as the clear favorite for Defensive Player of The Year. If Gobert wins the individual award, it would be his 3rd consecutive DPOY campaign.
“The gravity that Rudy has as a defender with keeping guys out of the paint is one I’ve never seen,” said Georges Niang, who had 15 points in the win. “The way we play defense, if your guy does beat you, continue to stay on his hip and good luck. I mean Rudy’s 7-2 and he’s a skilled shot blocker. He’s not just big, but he’s skilled and he has a great ability if he’s not going to block the shot to just make guys miss.”
A recent game against the Cleveland Cavaliers perfectly distinguished why Gobert is so important to the success of the Utah Jazz.
The Cavs had an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 67.3 when Gobert was on the court. For reference, the league average is 112.0. Gobert has been providing consistent results nightly for the Jazz this season and is making them one of the leagues most efficient teams.
(Image credit – slammagazine.com)
Donovan Mitchell should be in the MVP conversation
Donovan Mitchell is going beyond all-star level play, and should be in the top-10 consideration for MVP. Fresh off another all-star selection, Mitchell is one of 7 players in the league that is averaging at least 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.
While Gobert might be the Jazz’s most important player to winning on a weekly basis, Mitchell is without a doubt the Jazz’s best and most explosive player. Mitchells emergence as a superstar level player has provided a boost to the Jazz to compete with the Lakers and Jazz on more even ground.
(Image credit – draftkings.com)
The Mike Conley Resurgence
Mike Conley has famously struggled over the last few seasons in adjusting to his new role with the Utah Jazz. For years Conley was one of the only capable ball handlers on a defensively focused Memphis Grizzlies team. Now, a part of the playoff bound Jazz, Conley is just one of several capable shooters and dribblers.
The Jazz offense that exists today is considered to be a “flow offense”, where shooters spread across the 3 point line where they move the ball around more and set up their lone post player in Gobert.
“I don’t even know when I’m going to have the ball,” Conley said in an interview with Sports Illustrated last season. “In Memphis, I always had the ball. So it’s just a change of my role and, and I’m OK with that, but it was hard.”
Coming off a strong end of the 2020 season, Conley has returned this season in his most elite form which has paved the way for his first all-star selection. No other player has improved quite as much as Conley, who is undoubtedly a core piece to the Utah Jazz puzzle.