Utah Jazz should be the talking point for the league. They are having a brilliant season and look like contenders for the championship. It really is a great story about how small teams in the market can be successful in the league. What makes it even more surprising, the Jazz didn’t do this with just one top 10 pick. Their last pick in the top 10 was actually Dante Exum, who is no longer on the list. Sure, they added Donovan Mitchell, the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but that was through a trade. Best of all, they haven’t traded huge trades to bring this team together. It’s the story of an organically built franchise and the league should learn from it. Here are their two secrets behind the first successes of this season.
Jazz secrets of success
This start to the season did not come from nothing. As pointed out above, the Jazz have been building for this for a few years now. They gradually added bit by bit to make sure they were building a culture of success and they did it perfectly. Their core is obvious, with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, but building around that was the challenge. In essence, Mitchell and Gobert are very different players and it takes a specific group to connect all the good dots.
The first piece brought in was Joe Ingles, who provided extra points on the wing. He’s a perfect player for this setup, as Gobert and Mitchell get a lot of attention so they can send the ball to the shooter. One wing was managed by Ingles, so the other wing also had to be filled. This is where Bojan Bogdanovic comes in, who now enjoys all the confidence that Jazz places in him. He’s averaging 17.4 points on 43.7% three-pointers, which is fifth in the league for players with at least 20 games played and at least four attempts for three per game.
Two other pieces have been added in the past two years, and they are Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson. The latter is particularly relevant, as the bench scoring gave the Jazz with Clarkson a huge boost. This season they’re 10th off the bench, but they were 8th last season, and in the last season without Clarkson, the Jazz were in the bottom 15 in the league. Conley was a risk, due to his age and injuries, but he uses his vast experience to tie it all together.
This season, with their 23-9 start, the Jazz are just reaping the rewards of their hard work. It’s really a testament to the perfect cohesion of coach Quin Snyder and their front office, who are able to find perfect pieces for their roster. They didn’t make any bad signatures and all the money invested was well spent. While playoff success has been somewhat lacking in recent seasons, this year could be different.
Balance in attack and defense
According to Basketball Reference, the Jazz have the best offensive rating in the league and the 8th best defensive rating. This is somewhat surprising, as the team were best known for their flawless defense led by three-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert. However, their offense has grown steadily and has become the perfect complement to their great defense.
The real story behind this Jazz success is balance. Right now they have five players averaging over 14 points per game, with Rudy Gay also contributing in his limited role as a veteran with 8.3 points per game. They have an inside presence with Gobert, averaging 15.4 points and 14.9 rebounds, and an outside presence with Bogdanovic lighting him up from behind the arc. This is all rounded off by Donovan Mitchell’s drive-and-slash game, averaging 25.4 points per game, and tied by Conley.
Overall, Jazz leads the league in several offensive categories. They shoot and land the most three-pointers, and have the second-most free throws in the league. They dominate both defensive and offensive glass and have the second-best team field goal percentage in the entire NBA. Defensively, they have the eighth most blocks and limit their opposition to shoot low percentages from the field and from three-point fields. In these two categories, the Jazz are respectively 9th and 3rd in the league.
As mentioned above, the Jazz should be the model for success for all small market teams. They did so without a major trade, a Top 10 pick or a major signing during the offseason. Their biggest signings were Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson and an aging Mike Conley, so they can’t really be considered major in terms of the league. However, consistency, balance and trust in and between the front office and the coach are the key to long-term success.