Utah Jazz: The 1 trade that could make them title contenders

Utah Jazz (Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz (Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports) /

One more bright move could be all it takes for the Utah Jazz to win it all.

After the disappointment of this past season’s Western Conference Semifinal matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz fans have been left wondering what it will take for their beloved team to break through the West and become a true title contender.

Many believe that the Jazz ran up against some poorly timed injury luck, with injuries to Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell during the playoffs. Conley’s hamstring and Mitchell’s reaggravated ankle injury in the Clippers series were the most significant deterrent of their run in the playoffs. These people suggest that Utah runs it back with primarily the same team.

Utah was a well-constructed team that centered around team defense and perimeter offensive play, a good recipe for a great team. However, there seemed to be two major issues with this group as that playoff series happened.

The first was a lack of playmaking around Mitchell. This was partially due to the injury to Conley that sidelined him for the first five games of the Clippers series. Mitchell also was playing hurt, which deteriorated his ability to score and play-make without visible pain. Jordan Clarkson went a bit cold from inside the arc during that series as well.

The glaring Utah Jazz weakness

This offseason, the Jazz have retained Conley, who hopes to be healthy for this year and hopefully the playoffs. They have also added Rudy Gay, who will help to add shot-making and creation ability as well. For now, they appear to be a little bit better in that area moving forward.

The REAL issue, however, was their inability to defend perimeter players. The Clippers, even without Kawhi Leonard, were able to throw guard and wing scorers at the Jazz, who simply didn’t have enough wing defenders to handle them.

Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann, & Co. all seemed to have their way with the Jazz as they mounted multiple significant second-half comebacks during that series.

The only real perimeter defender the Jazz had was Royce O’Neale. Mitchell is solid but was limited due to his injury, and the same thing is true of Conley.

Proposing a Utah Jazz solution

When looking at the Western Conference, it appears that the Lakers are the cream of the crop for this upcoming season. Their additions of Russell Westbrook and multiple wings who can shoot make for an interesting, yet very talented roster.

Utah’s main objective should be to figure out how to match up with this Lakers team given that the Clippers are without Leonard (ACL) for most of this next year, Denver may be without Jamal Murray, and Phoenix may be due for some regression.

Here is a deal, though, that would help vault the Utah Jazz into contention to beat the Lakers and others this coming postseason:

The Detroit Pistons would lose a younger and very talented player, but they get back a good player on an expiring contract and two more first-round picks that they can add to their rebuild.

Utah needs to be primarily concerned about being able to defend LeBron James and Anthony Davis. O’Neale is a great perimeter defender, but he won’t be able to handle James all on his own. Gobert can certainly defend Davis well enough to make it tough on him, although there really isn’t any stopping Davis if he is going.

Insert Jerami Grant into the equation.

Two firsts and Bojan Bogdanovic may seem like a lot to give up for Grant, but after this season as the primary scorer for Detroit, Grant’s price will be high. And the price is worth it for the Jazz.

Comparing the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons forwards

Offensively, Bogdanovic is a better shooter and creator than Grant, but not by a whole lot. Last season, Bogdanovic shot 39% from three versus Grant’s 35%. However, from the field, Bogdanovic shot 44% overall versus Grant’s 43% — not much of a difference. On top of that, Grant averaged 22.3 ppg versus Bogdanovic at 17.0 ppg.

So, the offensive difference is not massive and is not as important as the defensive difference, where Grant is a much better individual defender.

Bogdanovic is sneakily a decent team defender. He works hard, anticipates well, and has a high IQ. But when it comes to the playoffs, particularly when it comes to perimeter players, you need good one-on-one wing defenders.

That is where Jerami Grant is much better than Bojan Bogdanovic. He’s quick, instinctually smart, long, and very athletic. Although his defense has been a tad overrated recently, it’s better than Bogdanovic’s.

Fortifying the Utah Jazz’s potential playoff rotation

Grant would be of much higher value in a playoff series against the Lakers defensively than Bogdanovic would. Between Grant and O’Neale, they would be able to make life difficult for LeBron James in a playoff series (or at least, as difficult as you can make it for a player like LeBron).

A Utah Jazz roster and lineup with Grant could look like this:

  • PG: Mike Conley
  • SG: Donovan Mitchell
  • SF: Jerami Grant
  • PF: Royce O’Neale
  • C: Rudy Gobert
  • Bench: Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gay, Hassan Whiteside, Eric Paschall, Udoka Azubuike

Not only would this move help the Jazz in a series with the Lakers, but if they were to get into the Finals and play the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks, then it would help them to better defend guys like Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It may be a high price to pay for Grant, but Utah would get a younger, better defensive player who is on a good contract and has experience defending great wing players in a playoff series.

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This could be the move that puts the Utah Jazz over the top in the West and gets this franchise back into the NBA Finals, a place they haven’t been since 1998.