Utah Jazz: Who will take the loaded Northwest Division?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hug after Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hug after Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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MEMPHIS, TN – FEBRUARY 7: Joe Ingles #2 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on February 7, 2018 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN – FEBRUARY 7: Joe Ingles #2 and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on February 7, 2018 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Utah Jazz

Last but not least, or maybe I should say, ‘and in first place’, I have the Utah Jazz. Yes, many outside of Utah have a hard time understanding why so many experts (not just Jazz homers like us) are high on Utah’s chances. After all, they were the third best team in the division based on regular season finish last year and didn’t make any drastic changes this offseason. It took an incredible finish to the year for them to get into the playoffs, was that a hot streak or the real deal?

I don’t have a crystal ball to be able to answer that question, but I feel confident saying it was the real deal. Now I’m not saying Utah will maintain its .829 win percentage that it posted during the last 35 games last year throughout an entire 82-game season. That’s absolutely unrealistic. But I do believe the team we saw in that stretch is much more accurate to who this team really is, especially now that they’re all accustomed to one another.

Like the Thunder, the Jazz had some early chemistry issues that they had to work to overcome. Once they did, and of course, once Rudy Gobert got healthy, they thrived in a special way. And that continuity is exactly what Quin Snyder and Co. are banking on for this upcoming season. Between cohesion and continued development, this Jazz team has all the makings of a scary squad. They were right there last year, and there’s no reason why they can’t continue their upwards ascent in 2018-19.

To me, the biggest obstacle the Jazz have to overcome is one that’s decimated them in recent seasons – injuries. Rudy Gobert’s absence was easily the largest factor in Utah’s slow start. Had he been healthy all 82 games, I’m willing to guarantee the Jazz would have finished third last year. And if Ricky Rubio had remained healthy in the playoffs, I think we would have seen just how much more evenly matched the Jazz and Rockets are and will be this season.

If Utah can finally buck its latest trend and stay healthy in 2018-19, they have all the right pieces – a stellar defense anchored by Gobert, two stars in Mitchell and Gobert, overwhelming depth, solid role players and brilliant coaching – that should put them in the top spot in the Northwest Division and very well in one of the top three seeds in the West.

Next. Utah State Football aiming to get Mitchell, O’Neale out to Aggie game. dark

The Northwest Division is going to be a battle for the second straight season as likely the deepest and most complete division in the league. Such will provide a mighty challenge, but I still believe the Utah Jazz will be up to the task and reclaim their throne as the division champs in 2018-19.