Opinion: Jazz rising in West thanks to refreshed offense on 10-game win streak
A slow start is nothing new for the Utah Jazz.
They started last season 18-20 before finishing with 50 victories. They were 20-28 in 2017-18 and ended up 48-34. Even an 8-8 start in 2016-17 concluded with 51 victories.
So when the Jazz started this season 13-11 while trying to incorporate newcomers Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic and Emmanuel Mudiay into Utah coach Quin Snyder’s complex offensive and defensive schemes, no one was surprised. That’s just how the Jazz are.
“We made a lot of changes this offseason, and we knew it was going to take some time,” center Rudy Gobert said.
This season, the Jazz have figured it out earlier than previous seasons, especially offensively.
The Jazz are the hottest team in the NBA. Since Dec. 10, they are 15-1, including 10 consecutive victories, and have moved from sixth place in the Western Conference to second place with a 28-12 record.
“We just feel like we’re more connected now,” Gobert said. “We know the momentum of the game, the flow of the game. We know how to find each other. We play for each other. We’re moving the ball, and everyone is the beneficiary of it.
“We knew that our margin of progression was huge, and it still is. We knew we had to keep working, staying together and we knew we had the weapons to be a great team. We know we can be a lot better, too.”
While the Jazz are known for their defense – they are eighth in defensive efficiency – this streak is fueled by offense. In the past 16 games, Utah has the league’s top offense, producing 118.6 points per 100 possessions.
Donovan Mitchell celebrates a basket from the bench in the final seconds of Utah's win over Detroit, part of its 15-1 run since Dec. 10. (Photo: Jeffrey Swinger, USA TODAY Sports)
Guard Donovan Mitchell is playing at an All-Star level (24.2 points per game, 46% from the field), Bogdanovic is shooting 41.1 percent on 3-pointers, Joe Ingles 43 percent on 3s and Gobert is shooting 67.6 percent from the field.
“I’m just trying to find my spots," said Bogdanovic, who has eight games with at least 30 points this season. "Obviously, we run a lot of set plays for me. It was easy and quick for me to adjust to this system."
Mudiay has provided reliable scoring, and Jordan Clarkson, acquired in a trade with Cleveland on Dec. 24, is an offensive boost off the bench. The Jazz are high on Georges Niang, who is developing into a quality 3-point shooter.
“It’s amazing for us to have this unselfish group,” Bogdanovic said. “We have a lot of ball-handlers who are willing passers and then we have a lot of good shooters around the perimeter, then Rudy is one of the best rollers in the league and he gives us space and opportunity to attack.”
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Earlier in the season, opponents tried to jam Gobert on pick-and-rolls, and it allowed defenses to guard shooters better at the 3-point line. The Jazz made slight tweaks to where Gobert sets screens, how he rolls to the rim and where shooters are positioned. It has led to better shots and improved offense.
“Our spacing wasn’t great a lot of times,” Snyder explained. “It’s been a real emphasis for us, trying to generate 3s. Are they in transition? Are they under the pick-and-roll? Are they handoffs? There’s different ways to get 3s, and that’s something we’ve tried to focus on because every guy is a little bit different.”
Now, during this hot streak, the Jazz haven’t played the most difficult schedule. The Los Angeles Clippers are the only team with a winning record they have beaten. Still, wins are wins, especially on the road, in the NBA.
Plus, they won all but one of their past 15 games without Conley, who is injured. There is no question Conley struggled at times, but there is no reason to doubt his ability to figure it out. Switching teams after spending his first 12 seasons with Memphis was a significant change for Conley.
“You want it to happen as quick as possible,” Ingles said. “You want it to happen in preseason or before that. With our team, it’s taken a different amount times every year. I don’t know what our record is post-All-Star break but it would be pretty good I would imagine.
“It’s obviously happening quicker this year than it has in the past, and we’re obviously pumped about that. We’ll have a better record heading into All-Star, and if we can continue to improve the way we’re improving, we’re setting ourselves up for a good year.”
Good enough to live up to expectations this team has for itself? Good enough to hang with the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Denver Nuggets in the playoffs? That’s what we’re waiting to see.
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