In almost any other NBA season, Donovan Mitchell would have been the Rookie of the Year. He shocked the world as the 13th pick in the 2017 Draft, leading a Utah Jazz team that were expected to fall out of the playoff race. They had lost their sole superstar in Gordon Hayward, but Mitchell took on the No. 1 scoring role, while Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert anchored the team on the other end of the floor. These two studs have created a foundation that the Jazz front office can build on for years, as they will continue to exceed expectations next season.
Vegas lists the Utah Jazz with the 9th best odds to win the championship, behind teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and the Toronto Raptors. These are all teams that signed and traded for new players, while the Jazz had a simple offseason. They added rookie Grayson Allen with the 21st pick in the NBA Draft and lost Jonas Jerebko. That’s it. No more additions and no more subtractions.
The Jazz did resign Derrick Favors to a 2 year/$36 million-dollar deal, as well as Dante Exum to a 3 year/$33 million-dollar deal. They are banking on player development, hoping Exum, who was the 5th overall pick in 2014, can break out as a solid backup guard.
Not only did the Jazz not add many pieces, but the West also got tougher. LeBron James is now in the Western Conference. The Warriors are a dynasty that just added DeMarcus Cousins. The Thunder got better with the addition of Dennis Schroeder. There is just so much talent in the Western Conference, which results in solid teams like the Portland Trailblazers or Denver Nuggets on the outside of those top 8 seeds.
But the Jazz will be better than people expect.
Donovan Mitchell is going to be a legitimate superstar. Offensively, he is almost unstoppable. In his rookie season, he averaged 20.5 points per game on 43.7% percent shooting. Michael Jordan is the only rookie in NBA history who matched all of Mitchell’s 2017-18 per-possession averages for points, rebounds, assists, and steals (minimum 500 minutes played). Now Mitchell may not turn out to be the greatest player to ever play basketball, but he has the tools to be great.
He shot 34% percent from 3 last season, but that number will keep increasing as he progresses. He can get to the rim when he wants with his athleticism and quickness. In his 11 playoff games last season, he put up 24 points per game and dominated the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He is also one of the better defenders in the league. Mitchell had the 5th highest Defensive Win Shares per game in the NBA last season and posted the 16th best defensive rating in the league. His ability to play both ends of the floor is what will make him truly special. He is poised for another breakout season.
Mitchell still has ways to go in terms of playmaking, but Ricky Rubio has got that covered. Rubio’s season ended in the first round series vs. the Thunder, but the Jazz were still able to pry a game away from the MVP James Harden and his Houston Rockets. Rubio’s first year in Utah was a success, as he had career highs in 3-point shooting and points per game. His ability to set up teammates for easy buckets kept the Jazz rolling.
Last season, the Jazz had a 48-34 record, with Gobert missing out on 26 games. When Gobert returned in late January, the team went 29-6, putting up the NBA’s second-best record in that span, as well as a league best plus-10.8 net rating. When Gobert is on the floor, he elevates the Jazz to a whole new level.
The Jazz are structured almost perfectly. Mitchell provides that superstar pedigree while Gobert controls the defense and protects the paint. Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, and Royce O’ Neale are solid “Three-and D” players, a necessity on championship-caliber teams. Rubio sets his teammates up for open shots. And it is all masterminded by Quin Snyder, one of the best and most well respected coaches in the league.
Opposing teams are going to find it extremely difficult to score on the Jazz’s starting lineup of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, Favors, and Gobert. They must stay healthy, however, as a few games without their core players could result in a drop in the Western Conference standings.
The Utah Jazz may not look like serious championship contenders yet but watch out! They’re coming for a top four seed in the West.