2019 Playoff Preview: Utah Jazz Playoff Preview
The Utah Jazz have this strange ability to fly under the radar. However, the team from Salt Lake City improved on a strong 2017-18 season by winning 50 games this season and finishing fifth in an absolutely stacked Western Conference.
Despite a slow start from second year player Donovan Mitchell, the three-headed dragon of Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles and Mitchel has been absolutely dominant over the course of the season. The three players combine to collect 51.8 points, 21 rebounds and 11.9 assists a game on average.
Quin Synder surrounds the star players with one the strongest collection of secondary players in the league: Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, Derrick Favors and Kyle Korver. The team is 17-7 since the All-Star break and is playing some of their best basketball going into the playoffs.
The Jazz had no problem knocking out the favored Oklahoma City Thunder from last year’s playoffs, and don’t be too surprised if they can do the same with the Houston Rockets this postseason.
Another highlight from the Jazz’s second half of the season was Kyle Korver’s well-articulated piece on the privilege that comes along with being a white player in the NBA.
Team Defense—The Utah Jazz are an exceptional defensive unit. The team finished second in the league in defensive rating at 105.2, fifth in rebounds a game at 36.4, first in defensive rebounds percentage at 75.9%, and third in steals.
Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Jae Crowder, Joe Ingles and reining Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert are all elite on the defensive end of the floor. Their half court defensive is smothering and the squad does a fantastic job at not allowing opposing teams get out in the fast break.
Backcourt Depth—The team has a real lack of depth in the guard position. Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles are all excellent starting ball handlers, but the players coming in off the bench don’t inspire very much confidence.
With Dante Exuum out indefinitely with a knee injury, the team will rely heavily on Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neale and Raul Neto as the second unit ball handlers. Crowder does a lot of things well, but handling the ball isn’t one of them. O’Neale is a player known more for his hard work and defense, and Neto just isn’t a player that provides an overwhelming amount of confidence.
Player to Watch
Derrick Favors—Favor’s has struggled to find his role since joining the Jazz, but the former third overall pick is starting to find where he fits into the puzzle. He’s averaging 11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on the season.
The Georgia Tech product can go through stretches of sheer domination only to follow the hot streaks up with lackluster nights. Gobert and Clint Capella will match up in the first round, but I believe Favors’ ability to bang with the likes of Nene and Kenneth Faried will play a deceptively large role in which way this series turns out.
Jae Crowder’s Defense—Stopping James Harden will be the primary task of the entire Utah Jazz team in the first round of the playoffs. The brunt of the job will most likely fall to Jae Crowder, and he might be one of the most well equipped players for the job in the whole NBA.
The 6’6, 245 Marquette product has the size to bang with the thickness of Harden. Even more importantly Crowder is elite in a more nuanced statistic. He doesn’t foul. Crowder ranks in the 82nd percentile in his position at fouls committed per play. Harden’s game is reliant on drawing these fouls and if Crowder can continue his success avoiding fouls—look for Harden to possibly come unfocused in frustration.
Also, Jae’s interaction with Pat Beverly about guarding Harden is just electrifying.
Estimated Playoff Run
Second Round Exit—This is definitely the hot take of the article, but it’s one I feel good about. The Utah Jazz will get past the Houston Rockets in the first round of the Western Conference. The play of Mitchell, Gobert, and Ingles in combination with the all around team defensive of the Jazz will put out the fire of the Houston offense.
The Jazz won’t be able to beat the almighty Golden State Warriors in the second round.