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Justin Zanik and Dennis Lindsey (Photo: Ben Anderson)
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Jazz Front Office Hints At Offseason Plans

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz entered the offseason in disappointing fashion, falling to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs after building a 3-1 series lead. Now, with the tumultuous season in the rearview mirror, the Jazz front office brass of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik discussed what they learned from their team, and how they plan to address the team’s faults moving forward. 

Lindsey, the Jazz vice president of basketball operations, and Zanik, the team’s general Manger, are tasked with turning a solid playoff team into a contender with just one season remaining on the current contracts of starters Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley, the Jazz clock is ticking. Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic were expected to push the Jazz in that direction, but as Lindsey admitted, by some measurements, the Jazz took a step in the wrong direction this season. 

Jazz Took A Step Back Defensively

For the year, the Jazz had the league’s ninth-best Net-Rating, a measurement that subtracts the team’s Defensive-Rating, or points allowed per 100 possession from the team’s Offensive-Rating, or points the team scored per 100 possession. 

The Jazz finished with a 2.66 rating, still in the top third of the league, but a step back from 2018-19’s finish of 5.24, which ranked fourth-best in the NBA. Though imperfect, Net-Rating can be a more accurate overall assessment of a team’s performance without blindly relying on wins and losses which can be impacted by the uncontrollable nature of made and missed shots late in games. 

“Our team this year wasn’t as good from a point differential standpoint as the previous two teams,” Lindsey admitted. “With that said, I think the additions that we have, the experience, the shooting, we were better at closing games.”

The Jazz made a dramatic jump in winning close games from 2019 to 2020. The Jazz ranked dead last in the NBA in 2019, winning just 31 percent of their close games. In 2020, the team jumped to fourth, winning an impressive 69 percent of their close games.

“In the playoffs, we were hoping that that would be true,” Lindsey said. “When you finish the series, and Denver won the series and again they showed remarkable poise, I do think the one thing that we were missing was Bojan’s ability to score from over the top of the defense in a simple and very efficient way.”

Bogdanovic missed the finish to the NBA season after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery in May. 

The Bubble Problem

The NBA campus in Orlando provided a safe bubble environment for the league to finish the season, and so far it has been an undisputed success. Nobody from the league has tested positive for coronavirus since entering the bubble, and the quality of the product on the floor has been high. 

However, the format of the season’s return has been truly unique. The amount of rest players receive over the last two months without travel between games is unprecedented. As is playing in front of smaller gyms with no fans. Some experts have theorized that the continuity of playing in gyms without fans behind the baskets has upped shooting percentages to an unnatural level. 

So how do the Jazz factor in the last two months of data when working to improve the team? The truth is, they are still figuring it out. 

“Our job is to study that understand that, seeing what’s sustainable see what seems to be an outlier,” Lindsey said. “And then make a few decisions around where the game is moving towards, and how we fit inside of that offensively.”

While some of the data derived from the bubble may be unreliable, the Jazz saw promise in other areas, specifically in regards to players’ physical well being. 

“The league, teams, and specifically the health performance group has got a lot of feedback from the players that the reduced travel, they physically feel better,” Lindsey reported.

“I definitely think the product is more compelling because the players feel better, and frankly we need to listen to the players every turn.”

Improving the Jazz this Offseason

While the team’s goal last summer was to add “snipers at any position,” Lindsey and Zanik are now committed to regaining the defensive edge they lost this season. The Jazz dropped from having the league’s second-best Defensive Rating in 2019 to 15th best in 2020. 

While the Jazz finished ranked as the second-best three-point shooting team in the NBA this season, the trade-off from their defensive identity hurt the aforementioned Net-Rating.

“We lost some defensive integrity, some activity, some deflections, block, steals, if you will, with last year’s roster in compared to this year, so it’s an adjustment,” Lindsey said. “Anybody who can have defensive integrity at their position can be an active athletic defender will be someone that would be of interest to us.”

The Jazz lacked versatile defenders against the Nuggets over the final four games of the series when guard Jamal Murray torched the Jazz night after night. 

“We have a few young guys that meet some of those requirements,” Lindsey set of the team’s current makeup. “We’ll see how they come back once they get away and again, hopefully, improve and reflect. We had a very successful G League season, so we think a lot of those guys can provide some internal solutions and as always there will be external options as well for improvement. We will exhaust all of those possibilities”

In addition to adding outside talent, Lindsey alluded to the hopes the team has of bringing back both of their first time All-Stars in Mitchell and Gobert, though league rules prevent the Jazz from discussing extensions before free agency opens. 

“We’re extremely pleased with who both of those players are as people,” Lindsey said. “It’s really hard to get core franchise level talent in any market, big or small, but it’s exponentially hard to get that level of talent that has a high level of character and competitiveness. We’re looking to add players of Rudy and Donovan’s physical talent and competitive makeup. So by definition, we’re going to want to keep those types of players moving forward.”

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