Are Utah Jazz being over-hyped or can they really win a championship?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 2: Rudy Gobert #27, and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz hug during the game against the Houston Rockets on February 2, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 2: Rudy Gobert #27, and Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz hug during the game against the Houston Rockets on February 2, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Utah Jazz are facing significantly higher expectations for next season. But is the hype justified or just setting fans up for disappointment?

Make no mistake about it. The Utah Jazz have had an incredible offseason. The addition of highly respected veteran Mike Conley instantly elevated the team to a new level, and the subsequent signings of Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay added much-needed firepower and depth.

The team has rightfully been showered with praise for their moves this offseason, with many lauding their ability to overcome the small-market obstacles that have plagued them for so long to be come a projected powerhouse. In a recent article from The Athletic (paid subscription required), Zach Harper placed them on a list among the West’s elite, along with a projection that they’d be in the mix for the top overall seed in the conference and possibly a top 5 offense and defense.

That’s definitely high praise and even higher expectations – especially for a team that was just the fifth seed a season ago and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs – even with all the changes. But Harper has been far from the only one to express how prolific the Jazz figure to be next season. The Ringer has given them high marks along with other writers at The Athletic, including Utah’s very own Tony Jones, along with many other experts and media members alike, both inside and outside Salt Lake City.

This has led to an outpouring of excitement and hype from Utah Jazz fans. Much of that is deserved and well-placed. There’s just no denying how much more talented Utah got this summer. But based on some recent outcomes, it’s also justifiable to wonder – are the Jazz really going to be able to compete for a championship or is this little more than premature offseason hype?

We’ve seen this kind of hype in the past. Although ESPN’s official power ranking from this season was pretty disrespectful to the Jazz, placing them at ninth in the NBA, some experts from the sports media giant last summer projected the Jazz to finish as high as second in the West. After ending the 2017-18 season in style and advancing to the second round of the playoffs, many thought that by running it back the Jazz could be something special.

Instead, Ricky Rubio reverted to his former inconsistent ways, Donovan Mitchell struggled with health early in the season, the awkward personnel fit with few shooters on the roster reared its ugly head and the Jazz finished well below their expected mark by dropping to fifth in the West. Yes, they were better than a typical fifth seed and a stauncher team than their record indicated, but the disappointment culminated in a first-round loss to the Houston Rockets which felt like a discouraging step in the wrong direction.

And along that vein, 2018-19 wasn’t an anomaly. The Jazz have made somewhat of a habit of underachieving in recent seasons. The following pair of tweets from NBA Advanced Stats Writer John Schuhmann tells a pretty disconcerting story.

Namely, based on Utah’s average point differential during the last five seasons, their expected wins were significantly higher than where their record ended up in reality. In both 2015-16 and 2017-18, the Jazz earned seven less victories than what was expected based on their incredible point differential mark. That’s a significant difference that would have led to a much higher seed and better postseason opportunities in every instance.

In 2016-17 by these metrics, the Jazz finished only three wins below their expected rate. However, Utah was ravaged by injuries that season in what some measures indicated could have otherwise been a 60-win season if they’d stayed healthy.

A lot of that inability to live up to expectations has to do with what Schuhmann pointed out in his second tweet, the Jazz struggled to finish close games. That 89-101 record in games that were within five in the last five minutes is a total knife to the chest. You would expect a team of Utah’s caliber and with the success they’ve enjoyed the past three seasons to be better in those types of situations.

The point of all this is that, while it’s true that on paper the 2019-20 Jazz team is far superior than any of those groups listed here (and perhaps superior to any team since the legendary Finals squads of old based on what we know of the situation right now), they’ve also struggled to live up to expectations before. Recent history would indicate that even when fans and media members are high on the Jazz and like their chances, they haven’t quite been able to live up to expectations.

So should we be worried about a repeat occurrence of that this season? Well, it’s certainly feasible that it could happen again. There’s always that chance that things just don’t click, that injuries strike, or that players simply under-perform or fail to get better. The cynic in me is scared to get overly excited about this team knowing their reputation for heartbreak.

However, the optimist in me is having a hard time not being overly giddy about the season ahead for the Jazz and what it may hold.

And perhaps that’s the best message I can aim to portray here. Could the season be yet another disappointment? Well, sure, I suppose so. You always have to let a season play out and see what comes of it.

But even as skepticism tries to shine through, I feel comfortable saying that Jazz fans have every right to be excited about this upcoming season. Mike Conley is a significant upgrade over Ricky Rubio, and represents exactly what the team needed in terms of a second creator and scoring threat for the Jazz. Bojan Bogdanovic excellently fills Utah’s former shooting void and should fit the Jazz DNA like a glove.

The rest of the guys added depth and versatility unlike anything the Jazz have had in recent seasons. Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell appears primed for a massive breakout season, Rudy Gobert is entering his prime and should continue to be a force for Utah on both ends of the floor. Projected Starter Royce O’Neale could be in for a career year and Joe Ingles will enjoy a less demanding role that could produce massive dividends.

Not to mention, one of the largest former problems mentioned above was that the Jazz simply haven’t been able to find a way to win close games. In the past two seasons, a lot of that has had to do with Donovan Mitchell being their lone closer option who was easily honed in on and overwhelmed by opposing defenses. Now, however, the Jazz have a number of guys capable of closing big games, especially newcomers Conley and Bogdanovic.

Not only that, but with such a deep team, the Jazz will hope to find themselves playing in less closely contested games, as ideally their well-rounded attack will keep opponents backpedaling all game long.

The nice thing about this Jazz roster is that while they by no means boast the best duo in the league – combos such as LeBron James/Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard/Paul George are among some of the first to come to mind – they very well could have the best overall starting five, and almost certainly have the most potent 10-man rotation from top to bottom.

Does that automatically make them the best team or the favorite in the playoffs? Of course not. The NBA is a star-driven league and obviously we’ve seen what those elite guys can do in a playoff series as they carry a team on their backs. But the Jazz shaved down their weaknesses significantly and have a nice touch of star power of their own with each of Mitchell, Gobert, Conley and perhaps even Bogdanovic flirting with that All-Star caliber line.

In other words, while nothing is guaranteed and even in a best case scenario in terms of chemistry and health, a championship will still be exceedingly difficult for Utah, that chance and opportunity is most definitely there. They have the depth and well-roundedness to be a top regular season team. I agree with Zach Harper wholeheartedly in their ability to compete for the number one seed in the West.

And from there, well, anything could happen. Of course top seeds aren’t a given to make the Finals, but home court advantage and recent history have proven that more often than not, the one or two-seed in either conference is the one that advances to the Finals. If the Jazz are as prolific as their roster has the potential to be in the regular season, they could put themselves in a great spot come playoff time.

And once the postseason rolls around, they are constructed such that they can push and compete with any team in the Western Conference.

So, yes, especially given Utah’s checkered history when it comes to elevated expectations, it’s wisest to exercise caution and not get too overly excited about their championship odds when we have yet to see the new-look squad play a single game together. However, I’d also say that Jazz fans are justified in giving in to the hype a little bit and showing more optimism than usual for the season ahead.

Next. Utah Jazz: What is Royce O’Neale capable of next season?. dark

Because the 2019-20 rendition of the Utah Jazz is masterfully constructed, extremely deep and light on weaknesses.

In other words, Jazz fans, it’s finally OK to believe, for a change. Next season’s team is going to be an incredible one with the potential to compete at the highest of levels.