Utah Jazz Mafia
Where exactly the new-look Utah Jazz will fit into the West hierarchy is to-be-determined, but their roster looks to be as talented as it has since the heyday of Stockton and Malone -- the last pair of Jazz to play together in the All-Star Game. Sure, the Jazz have had players since then: Andrei Kirilenko, Deron Williams, more recently Gordon Hayward (and would you believe, in between, Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer?!?) but all had to fly solo until this year, when Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley will represent in Chicago.
Neither, remarkably has made an All-Star Game before. Conley is widely considered the best player to have never played in the game, while Gobert is too young to really contest for the title. A few elements conspire to put them on the league’s biggest exhibition stage -- together -- in the 2019-20 season.
For Conley, the narrative will reign supreme. Finally liberated from the Grit’n’Grind of Memphis, and transplanted into the controls of a rising West power, Conley will lead the team out of it’s usual early-season troubles into a front-running position throughout the campaign. Largely a second-half team the last two years running, a strong Jazz team coming out of the gates will raise the question ‘What’s different?’ and the answer will clearly be their new talisman.
It’s not as though he won’t have the stats: he just finished one of his most prolific offensive seasons ever, averaging 21.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game, while shooting 36% from downtown. Compare that with Klay Thompson’s 21.5-3.8-2.4 from this past year, and you can see how close he came statistically to matching or surpassing All-Star participants. The primary difference was that Conley was on a terrible team, and Thompson was on his way to the finals -- and by the way, Thompson’s ACL injury opens up a very neat spot for Conley to slide into.
It’s not uncommon for a player to find himself just a hair below the All-Star level, as Conley has throughout his career, but you’d have a difficult time finding a player like Gobert, who has twice been named the Defensive Player of the Year, and twice been named to All-NBA teams, and yet has not played in an All-Star Game. It defies belief. He’s the best defensive player in the league, and one of the best 15 in the league’s season-ending awards, but isn’t one of the West’s top 12 two months before that? Seriously, WHAT?
It will just be impossible to keep him out. With Conley and fellow new arrival Bojan Bodanovic opening the middle of the court up even further for Gobert, he has a clear path to matching his league-leading accuracy on two-point shots, and again pacing the association in dunks -- he was the only player over 300 last year. In order to make the game, he’ll undoubtedly beat out players who score more, but mean less to his team’s success than Gobert -- not Karl-Anthony Towns, nor LaMarcus Aldridge, who took frontcourt spots from the Frenchman. The world watched as Gobert tearfully discovered that he wouldn’t play in the All-Star game last year -- they’ll see a different picture this year.
As good as Donovan Mitchell is, absent a tremendous increase in his averages, it will be difficult for him to command a slot in the All-Star Game. If anything, bringing in talented players of the likes of Conley and Bogdanovic will lessen the load he’ll have to carry, and likely decrease his counting stats, even as he increases his efficiency. When all is said and done, the narratives of his more experienced teammates will warrant their inclusion over his. Spida will play in an All-Star Game someday -- likely with Gobert by his side -- but it won’t be in Chicago in 2020.