Questions The Jazz Can And Can’t Answer In Training Camp
Dec 1, 2020, 1:05 PM
(Photo by Jeff Wheeler /Star Tribune via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz begin training camp today with players participating in individual workouts. Later this week, the Jazz and the rest of the teams across the NBA will start full team sessions ahead of the December 22 regular-season start date.
While the Jazz will have kinks they can workout during training camp, there are also questions that are unlikely to be answered over a three week, three preseason game schedule before the season begins.
With that in mind, what answers are the Jazz likely to find during camp, and what will remain unknown entering the regular season?
What The Jazz Can Answer In Training Camp
First, let’s address what coach Quin Snyder and the team’s front office can workout over the coming weeks.
Rudy Gobert’s Extension:
The top priority for the Jazz is the contract extension for Rudy Gobert. It’s a little surprising that the two sides haven’t reached an agreement, and it’s possible they remain further away on negotiations than both would have hoped entering the year.
Jazz executive VP Dennis Lindsey on extension discussions with Rudy Gobert: "We don’t comment on past, present or future negotiations, but we love Rudy. We want Rudy to be here for the rest of his career."
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) November 30, 2020
However, this shouldn’t be an issue that translates onto the floor as long as it doesn’t stir up bad blood in the organization. Recently, Jazz vice president of basketball operations said they hoped to keep Gobert in Utah for the foreseeable future.
And there’s plenty of time to get a deal done before opening night.
What to watch: If the two sides don’t agree to a deal, will the weight hang over the head of Gobert and the team throughout the season as it did with Gordon Hayward?
Second, the rotation. The rotation is bound to change throughout the season based on injuries and new data that comes in, but there should be fewer variations this year compared to last.
The Jazz have a deep roster of veterans with experience playing together, thus, finding a full 240 minutes of playing time should be a simpler task than last year.
Here's the rough @utahjazz depth chart entering training camp:
PG: Conley / Ingles / NWG
SG: Mitchell / Clarkson / Oni
SF: O'Neale / Hughes
PF: Bogdanovic / Niang / Morgan
C: Gobert / Favors / Azubuike
Two way: Brantley, Forrest
— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) December 1, 2020
Snyder should have a very good understanding of who deserves minutes at which positions by the time the season starts based on how much experience he has having coaching each of these players over the last several seasons.
What to watch: How does new assistant coach Sergi Oliva and his chaos theory expertise affect Snyder’s rotation?
Donovan Mitchell’s Next Step
Third, the Jazz no longer have to wait to see if Donovan Mitchell will take the next step in his development. While last season the team entered the year wondering if the third-year guard had developed into an All-Star caliber player, the Jazz now have that answer.
Not only did Mitchell make his first All-Star appearance, he also led the NBA in postseason scoring during a spectacular seven-game series against the Denver Nuggets.
Donovan Mitchell scored the third most points in NBA playoff history with 57 against the Nuggets.
An all-time performance despite the loss.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) August 17, 2020
Though the bubble created some scoring abnormalities across the league that won’t translate into the regular season, there’s no question Mitchell has emerged as one of the true an up and coming superstar in the NBA.
What to watch: Without a true backup point guard on the roster, how much ball-handling and playmaking will Mitchell be responsible for? He excelled in the role when Conley missed games last season, is this his audition to be a full-time point guard for the 2021-22 season?
What the Jazz Can’t Answer In Training Camp
The Jazz should enter the season with most of their ducks in a row. The pressing questions leaving last season were answered (big man depth, free agency etc.) as the team largely opted to run it back for a second, ideally less unpredictable season.
However, a few question marks remain entering the year that weren’t addressed over the shortened offseason.
Can the Jazz defend on the perimeter?
The Jazz lost their first-round series to the Nuggets in large part because they had no answer for Jamal Murray. The Denver guard had two 50 point outings against the Jazz, prematurely ending their playoff run.
While most expected the Jazz to find an additional wing defender in free agency, the Jazz opted for more interior defense in the form of Derrick Favors.
— Florida State Men’s Basketball (@FSUHoops) November 19, 2020
The question now shifts to whether bringing Favors back pushes the Jazz towards the top of the league in defensive rating, or whether more of that credit belonged to former point guard Ricky Rubio.
It will take more than a few preseason games to answer this question, but facing Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the Phoenix Suns twice in the next two weeks could reveal valuable knowledge.
What to watch: Without a true backup point guard on the roster and a need for a defensive specialist, could two-way guard Trent Forrest earn a spot on the main roster? The Jazz will likely enter camp with an open roster spot and the former Florida State guard could bring excellent on-ball defense as a secondary ball-handler.
How Does Mike Conley Look In Year Two?
Mike Conley’s struggles were a key point of contention through the first half of last season. However, the veteran guard saw a dramatic spike in play over the final 15 regular-season games and into the playoffs.
Conley averaged 16.1 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three to close the regular season. He then upped those numbers to 19.8 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 53 percent from three in the playoffs.
The bank is open on Sundays for Mike Conley
— #RingerNBA (@ringernba) August 31, 2020
The question is, which Conley starts for the Jazz this season? If the guard can see similar averages to those in which he closed the season the Jazz will have one of the most talented starting lineups in the NBA.
If not, many of the team’s early-season struggles from last season will return.
What to watch: Conley’s best play came in the bubble without Bojan Bogdanovic in the rotation. Can the veteran guard find a rhythm when he again falls behind the sharpshooting forward as an offensive option?
Will Udoka Azubuike Play?
The Jazz used a first-round pick on a player who will enter the season buried behind both Gobert and Favors in the rotation, that’s a steep price to pay for a third-string center in today’s NBA.
However, the Jazz front office has said they expect to see Favors earn minutes alongside Gobert in the rotation, which could free up minutes for the four-year Kansas star at backup center.
— Pete Francis (@Pete_Francis) November 19, 2020
Azubuike should get an opportunity in the Jazz three preseason games to see the floor, but those are likely to disappear once the regular season begins.
The question then becomes whether he remains on the Jazz main roster, or plays in the G League with the Utah Stars, assuming there’s a season.
What to watch: If the Jazz and Gobert are unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension, will the team feel the need to manufacture minutes for Azuabuike in case he’s asked to assume a significantly larger role if Goert leaves in free agency?
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