There’s no questioning that the Utah Jazz lost some talent this past offseason, but for reassurance on how they’ll be able to cope next year, look no further than their first round playoff victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
In light of the departures of both Gordon Hayward and George Hill – the Utah Jazz’s two leading scorers from last season – several NBA fans, both supporters and non-supporters of the Jazz alike, have begun questioning just how well the team can recover next year, if at all. Some who follow the team closely have been optimistic in their approach, putting their trust in Dennis Lindsey, coach Quin Snyder and of course defensive anchor Rudy Gobert, and are still encouraged by what the team could be.
Others, however, especially those who follow the Jazz only casually, have a drastically different opinion. Many have expressed concern that Utah will no longer have enough offense to be a threat, that the playmaking void left by Hayward will be too hard to fill and that making the playoffs will be a long-shot for the Jazz. In other words, there’s quite a wide gap on both sides of the argument when trying to determine how good or bad the Jazz will be next year.
While I certainly agree that losing out on a star player like Hayward is a setback, I think it shouldn’t be ignored just how good and underrated the rest of the Jazz squad around him was throughout the entire 2016-17 season. The Jazz were a banged-up, injury-riddled team that still trudged their way to an impressive 51-win mark and that mentality and ability to step up regardless of who was on the court continued into the postseason.
In fact, if someone were looking for reassurance that the Jazz could still be a force to be reckoned with next year, I would tell them to look no further than last year’s first round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
We all know the short story – that the Utah Jazz overcame the odds to win the series in a Game 7 played on the road, netting their first playoff series victory since 2010. But when looking at the bigger picture, it becomes clearer just how much talent and resilience the Jazz had and will be bringing back next season.
In Game 1 of that series, Rudy Gobert went down mere seconds into the game. I’m sure that I wasn’t alone among my fellow Jazz fans when I thought that moment would be a death knell for the Jazz, dooming them almost certainly in that game and quite possibly in the series. Boy, was I wrong.
Instead, the Jazz rallied and used a balanced scoring effort that included 15 points from Derrick Favors and 21 points from Joe Johnson to hang on and seal the victory in the final seconds. In Game 4, Gobert made his glorious return, but as fate would have it, a bad sandwich caught up to Gordon Hayward who was inflicted with food poisoning, causing him to leave the game after playing a meager nine minutes.
A similar feeling of despair that arose when Gobert went down in Game 1 likely returned to several Jazz fans at that point seeing Hayward, who had been their leading scorer in the series up to that point and had put in a career-high 40 points the game before, go down. Yet once again the team rallied.
Another balanced scoring output saved the day as yet again Joe Johnson played hero by putting up 28 points, while Rodney Hood also played a clutch role with his 18 points and Favors and Gobert added 17 and 15 points, respectively. The effort saw the Jazz outscore the Clippers by 14 points in the final 6:56 and they were able to prevail even in Hayward’s absence.
In other words, Utah’s first two playoff wins over the Clippers both came while one of their best players was out of commission. Despite missing what many would consider a crucial piece to their success, the other members of their core, their solid role players and of course their crafty coaching all combined to still will the Jazz to victory.
Now that Hayward is gone, you could say that he’s permanently “out of commission” for the Jazz, but just like those of us (again, myself included) that counted the Jazz out when he or Rudy Gobert went out with injury or illness in the playoffs, I have a feeling that we’re going to be even more surprised by what the Jazz bounce back and accomplish this season.
Sure, they didn’t add any single guy that’s as good of a scorer as Hayward, but they have studs like Derrick Favors, Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood returning and added a number of guys who are savvy veterans that should be able to find their groove in Quin Snyder’s sharing offense that revolves around every player on the court touching the ball and getting involved.
Ricky Rubio, who could use a drastic career revamp, ought to thrive in such a system and his 9.1 assist average from last year and career 8.5 assists per game (both of which are higher than the figures of both Gordon Hayward and George Hill combined) should help revolutionize Quin’s offensive scheme even further.
All in all, the Jazz proved all last season and with an exclamation point in last year’s playoff series against the Clippers that no matter who is on the court, they’re going to come out and compete. In a recent Three-Point Threat podcast, I spoke with my J-Notes colleague Jared Barker about how this year’s team may not be as individually talented, but they appear to be even more hungry than last year’s squad and that could lead to them pulling off some surprising things.
So rather than despair in light of the loss of some key players from the 2016-17 roster, Jazz fans ought to take heart in knowing that this team has bounced back before and their underrated talent that once surrounded Hayward combined with their understated resiliency could very well be enough to keep them right in the thick of things in the Western Conference.