If you asked NBA fans to describe the Utah Jazz before the season after they traded away star Guard Donovan Mitchell and former DPOY big man Rudy Gobert, most would’ve said something along the lines of “tanking”, “trash”, or anything that is opposite of the word “winning”. But the Jazz aren’t here to tank, apparently, they’re here to win. As of November 6th, the Jazz are 8-3 and sit 2nd in the Western Conference standings. So, how is this team of spare parts that was made to tank for the #1 overall pick in the draft this summer dominating their opponents? Let’s take a look.
First off, it is important to note that the Jazz have by no means had an easy schedule that has helped them to this record. Over their first 11 games, the Jazz have played only three games against non play-in or playoff teams from last season. And their 8 wins include beating the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic by 20, taking down the contending Memphis Grizzlies in back to back games, and hitting timely shots to beat both LA teams on the road. So, the Jazz have been tested already this season with a tough schedule, and have delivered. Now, what players are helping them exceed expectations?
You can’t talk about this Utah Jazz team without talking about breakout PF Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish big man made noise this offseason while playing in the EuroBasket tournament, putting up impressive numbers while representing his native country against some of the best players in the world. There were a few people in the basketball world who thought this showed he was ready to take a leap once the NBA season rolled around, but not to this extent. Through 11 games, Markkanen is averaging an impressive 22 points and 9 rebounds while shooting 51% from the field. He has also found himself guarding teams best forward scorers at times down the stretch of games, and has held his own. If this pace keeps up, Markkanen could find himself in the All Star game very soon. Another key contributor for the Jazz is the man often dishing the ball off to Lauri, Mike Conley. The veteran PG has been in the league for a long time and is a perfect floor general for this young team. Conley is averaging 11 PPG & 7 APG while shooting 41% from 3, providing steady offense for the starting lineup. As for the bench, it’s full of contributors as well. Colin Sexton and Malik Beasley both were practically disowned by their previous teams, yet are contributing double digit PPG now off the bench, allowing Utah to keep games tight until the starters come back in. Other contributors for Utah include stretch big Kelly Olynyk, defensive specialist Jarred Vanderbilt (who came over in the Rudy Gobert trade), as well as more young talent such as rookie Walker Kessler and former NBA champion with the Lakers, Talen Horton-Tucker. All this combines to make this Utah Jazz team what they are; a bunch of guys with a lot to prove who have come together and, so far, have made magic happen.
Now, I am not saying by any stretch of the imagination this Utah team is a championship contender or anything like that, but such a fast start for a team who traded away their 2 franchise cornerstones to enter rebuild mode is shocking, and has caught everyones attention. The Jazz schedule gets even tougher within the next three weeks, and we’ll see how they handle the pressure and if they can stay atop the standings.