Jazz Offseason Needs Ranked
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Despite their surprisingly rapid elimination from the NBA playoffs, the Utah Jazz enter the offseason in relatively good shape.
While the future of Mike Conley looms over the team’s head, they’ve proven they are a playoff-caliber team with or without the veteran point guard and have stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert locked into long-term contracts that begin next season.
Furthermore, the team owns their own first-round draft pick, will have the taxpayer mid-level exception to add talent to their team, and could have the bi-annual exception depending on the league’s salary cap figures.
That gives the Jazz a few easy routes to make improvements on the roster, while also having a bevy of tradable contracts already on the roster should the team seek a more drastic overhaul.
With NBA Draft preparation underway across the league, here is a list of the most pressing needs for the Jazz to address this summer.
Jazz Offseason Needs
1. Perimeter Defense
While Jazz fans will have their eyes set on either re-signing or replacing Conley, it wasn’t his offense that was most badly missed in his absence.
Dring the Jazz six-game playoff exit at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Jazz had an offensive rating of 117.2, the second-best of any team over their final six games of the playoffs.
On the flip side, the Jazz defensive rating slipped to 127.7, the second-worst of any team over their final six games in the postseason.
While it’s a small sample size, it wasn’t difficult to see what plagued the Jazz as they watched their season slip away in Los Angeles. The Clippers repeatedly took Jazz defenders off the dribble, getting into the paint, and putting Gobert in no man’s land somewhere between defending the open paint, and sticking with smaller bigs on the perimeter.
Though some wanted to point the finger at Gobert for leaving the Clippers shooters open in the corner, he wouldn’t have found himself having to defender both the rim and three-point line if the Jazz defenders were better at the point of attack.
Quin Snyder described it best after the series.
“The hard thing about the penetration is when they’re getting middle, it pulls you in, and then the rotations are much more difficult.”
Even Royce O’Neale, the player tasked with defending the opposing team’s best offensive player most nights admitted he thought another defender was the Jazz most pressing need this offseason.
“I think having another guy to help us all out besides myself, Joe, Mike, Don, and Rudy,” O’Neale said. “Probably another wing guy.”
Gobert had arguably the greatest defensive regular season of any player in NBA history, but he alone can’t slow an entire offense.
The Jazz learned early in Donovan Mitchell’s career that without more offensive weapons around him, opposing teams could focus all of their defensive attention on him, and unravel Mitchell’s scoring brilliance.
Likewise, teams are recognizing that without more defensive weapons, they can target Gobert by putting him in space between protecting the rim and defending the three-point line, and derail his incredible impact.
The Jazz went out and found Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mike Conley to aid Mitchell on offense, now they need to find a way to give Gobert more help on the defensive end.
What became painfully obvious throughout the conference semifinals loss to the Clippers was the Jazz lacked versatility. What must be addressed is whether this lack of versatility came from the makeup of the roster, or Quin Snyder’s unwillingness to reach deeper into the team’s rotation to develop that versatility.
One area where the Jazz are seemingly handcuffed by a lack of versatility is at the center position where Gobert, Derrick Favors, and rookie Udoka Azubuike all carry similar skillsets. Though their talent level varies greatly, their contributions mostly consist of setting screens, rolling to the basket, and protecting the rim on defense.
With a lack of additional skills offered by any of the Jazz three centers, Snyder is forced to compensate by keeping shooters and playmakers on the floor at nearly every other position.
However, even when the Jazz did add Ersan Ilyasova late in the season, Snyder rarely included the versatile veteran big man in his rotations that could have countered the Clippers’ smaller lineups.
Nor did Snyder find additional minutes for second-year forward Jarrell Brantley who has shown in limited minutes an ability to initiate the offense, shoot the ball, and create a shot for himself off the dribble.
While Brantley likely wouldn’t have been an option for the Jazz in the playoffs due to his lack of experience, he enters the offseason has a question mark due to his lack of playing time, rather than a more known commodity.
Considering the number of times the Jazz blew out their opponents this season, mixing Brantley or Ilyasova into the lineups featuring other key rotational players during important stretches could put the Jazz in a better position to combat the Clippers small lineups.
Instead, the Jazz stuck with a mostly similar rotation of players and were eliminated before the conference finals.
3. Guard Depth
As previously mentioned, the biggest story for the Jazz this offseason will be what becomes of Mike Conley.
The guard will have significant interest on the free agency market, and figures to sign a deal somewhere between $12-20 million per season depending on the length of the contract.
By way of owning his Bird rights, the Jazz can sign Conley at any price, but with luxury tax penalties, it would come at a steep cost.
Conley is by far the Jazz’s best immediate option, even with lingering injury concerns, having proven he can help carry the team to the top record in the NBA and perform at an All-Star level.
If the Jazz can stomach his steep price tag, it will keep their championship window open for the next several seasons, and that is a good thing. If they can’t, expect veteran Joe Ingles to move into the starting lineup and for the Jazz to look for a mixture of veteran and young help to fill out the roster.
Yesterday, we provided a list of seven veteran guards that could help the Jazz next season and may be available with the team’s taxpayer mid-level exception, the bi-annual exception, or at the veteran’s minimum.
However, the Jazz would be wise to look for additional depth in the backcourt in the draft. Trent Forrest showed promise on a two-way contract handling point guard duties for the Jazz during stretches, but finding a younger, more offensively skilled guard could pay dividends down the line as the Jazz current roster ages.
With or without Conley next season, the Jazz combination of Mitchell, Ingles, and Clarkson is better than adequate.
But with Ingles set to expire after next season, having a young guard in the pipeline would be valuable insurance.
Following up on the Jazz need for guard depth, they could use a promising young player at most positions.
The good news is they may already have that between the aforementioned Forrest, Brantley, and Azubuike, though a lack of playing time during the regular season makes that difficult to determine.
Furthermore, the Jazz have Elijah Hughes, Miye Oni, Juwan Morgan, Matt Thomas, and their first-round draft pick, all of whom will likely play for the summer league roster with a chance to prove they have a future in the NBA.
Without their traditional ability to utilize the G League last year, the Jazz didn’t get to develop their young players the way the franchise has preferred under Snyder. As a result, they could put some future concerns to rest by having a few youngsters prove they belong on the NBA level this summer.
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