Despite a Rough January, Utah Jazz are Still In Good Shape

Jan 28, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) wars up along with forward Gordon Hayward (20), left prior to their game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 28, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) wars up along with forward Gordon Hayward (20), left prior to their game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

Although the Utah Jazz have looked a bit underwhelming of late, losing three of their last four contests, there’s still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what lies ahead for this team.

If someone had told me back in August that by the end of January, the Utah Jazz would be 11 games above .500 and in fifth place in the Western Conference, I would have been absolutely ecstatic. Perhaps some fans had higher expectations from the get-go, but I have a feeling that several others among the Jazz faithful would have felt the same way.

Yet, after Utah’s recent 1-3 week that saw them drop games against both the Thunder and the Grizzlies several Jazz fans have expressed frustration and discouragement with this team given that while they’ve looked almost elite at times this season, they’ve also struggled to maintain any semblance of consistent dominance.

And while a 30-19 record and the fifth seed in the West may have sounded great four months ago, I understand completely why several fans may be feeling a bit discouraged with the Jazz of late.

Despite dealing with an onslaught of injuries, this Jazz team showed several glimpses throughout the first two months of the season that seemed to indicate that they were budding into something special.

As the wounded bunch of players continually found a way to beat tough teams and grind out games in the clutch while losing mostly on rare occasions and to exceptional teams, the overwhelming mantra describing the Jazz became something along the lines of “Watch out once this team gets healthy.”

Unfortunately, based on Utah’s recent struggles, it’s quite possible that they may have set expectations a little too high despite playing well with all the injuries. While many expected the Jazz to be more formidable once they were healthy, that hasn’t exactly been the case.

In fact, this current month of January in which all of Utah’s players have returned to action has seen them post some of their worst numbers of the year. Yes, there’s been hiccups such as the Hood injury, but this month has still been by far the healthiest the Jazz have been all year which makes their struggles all the more disappointing.

Utah is just 9-6 in January and is shooting significantly worse from both the field and from deep than they did in December and November. And while Utah’s offense has been hit and miss all season, perhaps what’s most alarming is that their defense has also looked noticeably off of late.

In January, which again has been their healthiest month of the season, they’ve allowed opponents to score significantly more points than in the previous two months.

Furthermore, back in November, Utah was posting a solid point differential of +6.8. In January, however, Utah has outscored opponents by an average of just 2.8 points per game and that’s including the huge outlier that was the 33-point win over the Pistons.

In other words, to make a long story short, the Jazz finally have a healthy roster, but they’re playing much worse.

Of course, referring to the team as “healthy” should definitely come with an asterisk. It’s blatantly obvious that Derrick Favors is still far from 100 percent, not only evidenced by his lackluster play but also by the fact that he was a last minute scratch for rest in Utah’s latest contest against Memphis.

Alec Burks has started to heat up, but he’s still clearly not all the way back and of course Rodney Hood has only played in two games since hyperextending his knee.

Then there’s George Hill who despite supposedly being healthy simply hasn’t looked right since suffering the concussion and lip laceration on New Year’s Eve. In his last 12 games, Hill is averaging 16.4 points on 41 percent field goal shooting and 32.2 percent three-point shooting. Those figures aren’t horrific by any means but they pale in comparison to what he was accomplishing earlier in the season.

And what’s worse is that in his last six games, excluding his season-high output against his former Indiana team, Hill is averaging just 13.4 points per game on 35.3 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent from deep. I tried to be kind before, but there’s no sugarcoating those figures. They’re simply downright awful.

So perhaps Utah’s recent struggles have largely to do with the fact that they have yet to be fully healthy. Or maybe it’s because their cohesion and chemistry have taken a hit as they’re trying to work in the newly recovered players. Or perhaps it could be because as I’ve identified before, they have yet to solidify a consistent backup point guard or are falling noticeably short at the power forward position.

While any one of those things could be the case, unfortunately, I think it’s actually a combination of them all.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to get too pessimistic about the Jazz despite their recent mini-slump given that they have truly surpassed many of the expectations that were set for them before the season’s start. Just think, through 49 games last year, the Jazz were under .500 at 24-25. Their current 30-19 record blows that out of the water.

Not to mention, while it’s easy to remember the Jazz’s most recent woes, fans shouldn’t forget that just two weeks ago they won six straight games that included victories over the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers and a playoff-caliber Indiana Pacers squad.

Plus there’s a lot of time left in the season for Snyder to work out the kinks in his rotations, for players to get fully back to health and for Utah to solidify their playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Jazz have gone through similar lulls this season during and immediately after long road trips, but have always managed to find life afterwards and quickly bounce back. After their four-game losing streak in mid-November that came right after a five-game road trip, the Jazz went on to win 11 of their next 13 which included victories over the likes of the Hawks, Rockets, Thunder and Grizzlies.

And most recently, Utah went on a six-game winning streak immediately after their second five-game road trip. Thus, given the fact that the last two weeks included a stretch in which the Jazz played six games in nine days, but they’ll spring into February following three days of rest, I fully expect the Jazz to get back to the winning ways they’ve displayed after each grueling stretch in the schedule.

Not to mention, Gordon Hayward was recently named an All-Star reserve and continues to play like one, Rudy Gobert has been the heart of this Jazz team and will likely continue to play even better to prove he was deserving of an All-Star bid and while the process has been slow, the Jazz truly are extremely close to being 100 percent healthy for perhaps the first time all season.

Therefore, there’s plenty to be excited about in Jazzland. Yes, last week and the month of January in general didn’t quite live up to the heightened expectations that Utah had created for themselves based on their play in November and December, but there’s several bright points that seem to indicate that this could all turn around very soon.

The Jazz are bound to build more chemistry and their small issues such as problems with their bench should resolve themselves once the team is consistently healthy and the rotations are more clearly decided. Utah will also benefit from the upcoming All-Star break which will hopefully allow several of their key guys to rest and recover for the final two months of the season.

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Plus besides, fortunately the Jazz are done with five-game road trips this season as well as stretches of four games in five nights, both of which have seemingly sparked off each of their cold streaks this year.

With that being the case, the Jazz should have a much easier time building and maintaining momentum as they look to get back on a roll that will see them close out the season on a high note and land themselves in an excellent spot for the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

All stats courtesy of