Extreme Internal Improvement
Several NBA experts predicted that the Utah Jazz would be good in 2016-17, and they were right. However, if they had known how many injuries the Jazz would suffer during the season, they might not have had as high of expectations. Nevertheless, Utah still turned out to be about as good (or perhaps better) as many expected despite the health struggles.
However, the way that they arrived at that elevated level of play didn’t quite come in the way that many would have predicted. While the Jazz were projected to reach new heights due to improvements from their young core across the board, in reality, several players didn’t quite live up to expectations, namely Rodney Hood, Trey Lyles and Derrick Favors.
Nevertheless, Utah was able to take the unbelievable leap they did because guys like Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and in a lot of ways Joe Ingles were able to take unbelievable leaps. People expected that trio to get better, but few thought they would do so in the way they did.
Therefore, if Utah wants to have any chance of competing against Golden State, they’ll need not only those three to take yet another leap forward, but also the under-performers from 2016-17 will have to match their improvements. Favors will have to round back into form, Lyles will have to prove he was worthy of a lottery pick and Hood will need to finally reach his supposed ceiling.
Beyond those guys, the player who’s need for improvement screams the loudest is without a doubt Dante Exum. Whether or not the point guard reins end up getting handed over to him (which there’s a decent chance that they will be) the Jazz have to get more out of Exum moving forward. His leap to relevance is well overdue and if he can hone his physical gifts and turn them into basketball skills, it could very well be a key piece to the puzzle allowing Utah to compete with the Warriors.
This all might sound overly simplistic, but look at how the Warriors were able rise to their unimaginable heights. The acquisition of Kevin Durant aside, Golden State has become the incredible team that they are thanks to the unbelievable development of players that they themselves drafted, such as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
While some might say that the Jazz don’t have stars of that caliber on their roster, it’s important to remember that at one point Curry had the appearance of perhaps turning out to be a bust (hence the incredibly friendly contract he is currently on). Who’s to say that one of the current Jazzmen couldn’t have a breakout season and exceed expectations to a similar degree.
Make no mistake about it, Utah’s current group of guys has a long way to go if they are to match wits with the juggernaut of the West. But without that improvement, there’s absolutely no way that the Jazz will be able to keep pace at all.