The Utah Jazz are injury-plagued once again. Will they rise to the occasion and meet expectations or is it all too much to overcome?
The hype surrounding Utah Jazz for the 2016-17 season is high. NBA writers have amped up the fanbase with predictions of an enthralling season. However, the Jazz find themselves in a bind just days before it all tips off.
Preseason play began smoothly enough. Wins and losses in preseason should not be over-analyzed, but the Jazz were doing good things regardless of the outcomes of individual games.
Both Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward showed their game and should be knocking on the All-Star door if the team does well. Their newly assembled supporting cast also had some highlight moments. And in what was probably the most significant event of the exhibition slate, Dante Exum returned to action after a year-long absence.
The Jazz were headed towards a breakout campaign. Then the injuries happened.
The team was blindsided by the news of Hayward’s broken finger. Favors also missed most of the preseason with IT band syndrome. Hayward and Favors are the stars of the team and, as young veterans, are needed to carry the squad. Thanks to injuries, they won’t get the chance to initially.
While most expect Jazz to hang on with Hayward rehabbing, they cannot sustain their home court quest without Hayward for an extended period. Gordon is needed by the Jazz to handle the scoring load and take over games in the clutch.
Favors, meanwhile, is the fulcrum of defense, which enables the Jazz to match up against any team in the league. Last year, his injuries sidelined him for an extended stretch and the Jazz struggled during those games. If he continues to be unable to go, they could be in for more of the same this year.
The Jazz have been astutely constructed as a group with a whole greater than the sum of its parts, but is that whole good enough to go without its key cogs?
If we look at some recent history, other teams faced with similar predicaments have been met with varying results.
Back in the mid-2000s, the Washington Wizards were an up-and-coming team in the Eastern Conference, challenging the NBA’s new superstar LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. They pushed Cavs during 2006 playoffs and were poised to stop the King’s mission of bringing a championship to Cleveland.
Then, in short order, injuries and bad decisions ravaged a promising team. The Wizards have only just begun to recover in recent years.
On the flip side, injuries can also bring a team together. They can create heroes and we needn’t look beyond the Jazz themselves for a recent example.
Looking back at team history, the last legitimately heroic performance in the playoffs was that of Deron Williams. In 2009-10, Williams led an injury-depleted Jazz over the heavily favored Denver Nuggets. The Jazz were without two of their starters, but were able to persevere behind Williams, who became the first player in NBA history to record at least 20 points and 10 assists in five consecutive games in a playoff series.
In other words, he demoralized our Rocky Mountain neighbors.
No GM can plan for injuries. In life and basketball, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. Best-laid plans can be laid to waste by unexpected occurrences. But sometimes injuries can create heroes and unite teams.
At this point, there is no telling how injuries will affect the Jazz season. One thing is for certain — these men deserve the playoffs. They have fought for it for the past few years and are on the verge of sky-rocketing to the upper echelon of Western Conference.
They have not had a chance to show what they are capable of when everyone is healthy for a stretch of games. Until that comes to pass, we have to ask ourselves — are they the Wizards of yesteryear, the D-Will express or something in between? Will Lady Luck be in Utah’s corner?
Time will tell.