UTAH JAZZ

Jazz Fans Have Stars, Gail Miller And A Bit Of Luck To Be Thankful For

Nov 28, 2019, 6:00 AM | Updated: 9:47 am
Donovan Mitchell - Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets...
Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz plays the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center on February 28, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Happy Thanksgiving Jazz fans. The NBA regular season is nearly 25 percent finished, and the Jazz are firmly in the playoff chase.

Despite a slow start from Mike Conley, and injuries to Ed Davis and Dante Exum, the Jazz are rounding into shape as one of the league’s best teams, and one that could compete for a deep playoff run come April. 

If family and friends aren’t doing it for you this year, here’s three things Jazz fans can be thankful for this holiday season. 

Lady Luck

It would be great if NBA teams could reduce team building down to a simple science – always drafting the right players, finding the perfect chemistry, and having the players skillsets fit the scheme of the coach. 

Alas, that’s not how sports work, and as the great Lefty Gomez said, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. 

Good news for Jazz fans, luck has been on their side for the last several years. 

First, let’s agree with the phrase — Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Especially in sports. Nothing truly falls into a team’s lap, every detail is studied rigorously, and every possible result is poured over ad nauseam. And still, things can work out better than teams expected. 

With the Jazz, that luck starts with Rudy Gobert, who has rounded into the best defensive player in the world. 

The Jazz acquired Gobert on draft night from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Erick Green, and cash considerations. Green went on to appear in 52 total NBA games before heading overseas, while Gobert is coming off his second straight Defensive Player of the Year Award, three All-Defensive first-team selections, and two All-NBA appearances. 

The odds of getting a star with the 27th pick is around five percent. Trading for that player, in exchange for someone who never made a real impact on an NBA roster, is even rarer. 

Fortunately for the Jazz, the luck didn’t end there. 

Four years later, the Nuggets once again handed the Jazz a star-level player in the form of Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz acquired Mitchell on draft night, giving up Trey Lyles and the draft rights to Tyler Lydon, and the rest is history. 

Mitchell has led the Jazz to two postseasons, has led the team in scoring each of his two seasons in the league, and looks poised for an All-Star appearance this season.

Meanwhile, Lyles is on his third team in five seasons, and Lydon has appeared in 26 total games. 

The Jazz laid the groundwork in pre-draft workouts, bringing both Gobert and Mitchell in for what were rumored to be eye-opening performances, and still, there was no guarantee either player would be available on draft night. Thanks to a little luck (and the Nuggets front office) the Jazz found two franchise cornerstones without tanking a season to draft them. 

Gail Miller

Team ownership is the most easily overlooked aspect of team success in professional sports and could be placed under the category of luck, as much as design. Finding a billionaire, in a specific market, whose values match that of the team, and the culture of the city is a difficult formula to manufacture. 

Often times, the teams and the community have to grow together, be willing to sacrifice for one another and survive being handed down through the generations. 

For Jazz fans, Gail Miller has handled those hurdles, and that relationship with the state of Utah nearly flawlessly. 

The Miller family invested in the Jazz at a tumultuous time, built an arena in downtown Salt Lake City that attracted, and has since reattracted All-Star weekend, hosted Olympic events, and have placed the team in a legacy trust that removes any immediate threat of the team leaving the state. 

Yes, the benefit goes both ways, and the fan support in Utah for the Jazz is unique among NBA fanbases. But the relationship goes both ways and the Millers belief and investment in the franchise as something more than a hobby is something fans should be grateful for. 

Analytics

As previously mentioned, reducing basketball down to a science is impossible – there’s simply too much randomness at play to solve the game. However, analytics have helped eliminate some of the game’s randomness, and the Jazz have used it to their advantage. 

Now, this isn’t to say every team in the NBA isn’t using analytics to their advantage. They are, but as a whole, it’s helped teams like the Jazz find their footing in the league. 

The key asset to winning in basketball is talent. Having the top players, whether it’s Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, or LeBron James, is the biggest advantage a team can have. Traditionally, that talent has preferred to play in major cities that can better serve their celebrity status, has the money to pay the top supporting players around them, or sports a warm-weather climate. 

The Jazz truthfully have none of the three, preventing Utah from becoming a top tier destination for the league’s best talent. 

Enter analytics. 

By finding small statistical advantages throughout the course of a game, and a season, smaller market teams can close the gap between the league’s superstar laden rosters, and their own, and can make wiser investments to build their teams with analytics-driven free-agent signings. 

It’s also helped redefine what talent means.

Whether it’s the team’s shot distribution, defensive allowances, or free-agent spending, the Jazz have enthusiastically embraced the modern basketball analytics movement, and it’s helped to keep them competitive against more traditional star-driven teams.   

Would it be easier to bring a championship to Utah with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James or Anthony Davis? Absolutely, but unless the Jazz luck upon one of the league’s truly elite players in the draft, analytics can keep them afloat.

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Jazz Fans Have Stars, Gail Miller And A Bit Of Luck To Be Thankful For