What the Utah Jazz Can Learn From the Western Conference Finals

Jan 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks with forward Gordon Hayward (20) on the bench in the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks with forward Gordon Hayward (20) on the bench in the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

The recently concluded Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder was a series for the ages. What can the Utah Jazz learn from what transpired?

An edge-of-your-seat Western Conference Finals is on the books and NBA fans are buzzing. While it’s the Golden State Warriors that will be making a return trip to the NBA Finals, both the teams played at a championship level. It almost seems unfair that one of them had to go home, but fans could not have asked for a better series in the playoffs.

There are numerous lessons that Utah Jazz front office, coaches and players can take away from the epic playoff series (and I am not talking about the sneaky kicks to the family jewels).

Here are five that jump out to me:

1) You Need a Closer

In the WCF, teams were able to secure wins on the backs of some incredible clutch performances. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson stepped up in the fourth quarters of GSW wins, while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook showed their mettle in OKC wins.

I may be a total homer, but I don’t have to think twice about whether or not the Jazz have a closer–they absolutely do not.

The Jazz lost a slew of games last season in crunch time. Some of that comes with experience, but mostly certain people are just born with ice water in their veins. Trey Burke is one such person and, essentially, the only player on the team who has consistently taken and hit clutch shots throughout his career.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be part of Utah’s long-term plan.

Derrick Favors has improved each year. Gordon Hayward has had his moments. Can they work toward becoming better clutch performers this offseason?

Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors Western Conference Finals NBA Playoffs
May 30, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after scoring a three point basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game seven of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

2) You Need a Star

Golden State and Oklahoma City each have a bona fide superstar (as do the Cleveland Cavaliers, for that matter). Star power continues to be everything in the NBA. The Jazz roster is a collection of good players, who play really well within their limits. However, is there a star among them? Can Dante Exum be one?

Dennis Lindsey should not think twice about pulling the trigger in the draft, even if that means trading Hayward for a top pick. Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo has said he’s keeping the No. 1 pick this year, but what if Philly was listening? Jerry Colangelo knows Hayward through USA Basketball. Should the Jazz make a move under those circumstances?

It probably won’t happen this season and such a deal would temporarily set the Jazz back a bit. Still, these decisions need to be made with a long-term view and acquiring a star player in the draft was the first step to playoff success for the Warriors, the Thunder and a multitude of teams before them.

3) You Need Defense

The Jazz know that defense wins. As such, defense has been their identity for the past two seasons.

Exum is only going to make this team better on that end of the floor when he returns. However, the Jazz need a perimeter defender other than Exum – opponents can easily screen out one defender. When you look at the Warriors, they have Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who can all switch and defend out to the three-point line.

Likewise, Andre Roberson was huge for OKC in the playoffs.

Lindsey will look to address this need in the coming weeks, through either the draft or free agency. Hence, I don’t believe the Jazz will go the “best player available” route in this draft. They have a clear need and this is probably the last time they are going to be in the lottery for a while. So, they better use it wisely.

4) You Need Shooting

While Curry, Thompson and Durant are once-in-a-decade kind of shooters, Golden State, OKC and Cleveland all spread the floor incredibly well with a variety of players. Each team has a decent shooting big man (Serge Ibaka and Kevin Love were on fire from the distance).

The Jazz don’t have that luxury with Favors and Rudy Gobert. Trey Lyles could be that guy, but he is just in his second year and has miles to go on defense. For the Jazz, a shooting big man may not be a real need. Favors and Gobert play well off each other. They need to have a consistent three-point threat from other positions, however.

Hood is streaky. Hayward can be gun-shy. Burks would rather drive to the paint. If Lindsey could find a Kyle Korver-type player, who can keep the defense honest, Hayward and Burks can wreak havoc in the paint.

In any event, the Jazz need to find more shooting somewhere.

5) You Need a Bench

Cleveland has spent a lot for their bench. Golden State is lucky to have Steph Curry’s incredibly reasonable contract, which helped them to build their bench. While OKC’s bench is no slouch either, it was quite evident during the Conference Finals that they rely too much on their two stars.

As a result, they repeatedly faltered in the fourth quarters – possibly due to tired legs. It serves as further proof that you need a deep bench to withstand a physical playoff run.

The Jazz, as they are constructed now, have a decent bench–if they’re healthy. But better depth is needed for the team to match arms with the west’s elite. It’s also up to Quin Synder to use the two seven-footers on the team, instead of wearing out Favors at the center. Here again, Lindsey could be looking to add a veteran player.

Next: Jazz Free Agency: Potential Center Targets

The Jazz have length. Incredible Length. Length is important, as OKC showed in beating the Spurs and nearly dropping the Warriors. Now, it’s up to the front office to make a bold move and address the glaring needs in perimeter defense and shooting to push this team over the line.