The Jazz are in first place and the NBA’s best team by defensive rating, but nobody seems to want to talk about how good they are. The Golden State Warriors have a shot at back-to-back titles, but everybody is already looking ahead to LeBron James’ arrival with the Lakers next year–despite Utah still having a 5 game lead over both teams. Despite this lack of attention from mainstream sports media, it doesn’t change my opinion on who I think will win the title: Utah Jazz.
The “sporting logically” is a team that nobody wants to talk about. The Utah Jazz are the NBA title contenders nobody wants to talk about, and they have been for quite some time.
The Utah Jazz are coming off a season in which they won the Western Conference and ended with the best record. Despite a promising start to the 2021-22 season, the Jazz aren’t widely regarded as NBA title candidates.
Early MVP candidate Stephen Curry leads a resurgent Golden State Warriors team. Meanwhile, Devin Booker and an ageless Chris Paul continue to lead a Phoenix Suns team that is on a 17-game winning run after defeating the Warriors. Those two teams look to have established their respective titles as favorites.
The Jazz, on the other hand, are one of the most well-rounded teams in the NBA. It’s time to start thinking about Utah as a contender for the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.
The Jazz have the NBA’s greatest offense.
Some NBA fans may be surprised to find that the Golden State Warriors are not the greatest scoring team in the league statistically. Jazz is the rightful owner of this award.
Utah leads the league in offensive rating after 21 games. With a diversified inside-out approach and many shot-creators, it has succeeded.
Five different Jazz players are averaging double digits, topped by Donovan Mitchell (23.2), who is enjoying his partnership with Dwyane Wade, who is also a part-owner. With a stunning 58.4 percent 2-point field-goal percentage, they comfortably lead the NBA. Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic have the ability to make plays off the dribble and make pull-up shots. Jordan Clarkson is in the similar boat, shooting under 30% from beyond the arc but a decent 51.3 percent from inside the arc.
Individual shot-creation has been the Jazz’s saving grace so far. According to NBA.com, Utah is second in the league in terms of unassisted field goals.
When it comes to 3-point shooting, there’s always space for growth. Utah makes the second-most three-point attempts per game. It has the highest percentage of field goals attempted from beyond the arc in the NBA. However, it is just 10th in 3-point percentage after being fourth previous season. Still, with Mike Conley’s 43.5 percent three-point shooting and players like Boganocvic, Joe Ingles, and Royce O’Neale hitting triples, defenders can’t rest on their laurels.
In pick-and-roll, the Jazz scare their opponents. Because of Rudy Gobert’s rim-rolling ability, defenses must commit to ball-handlers or risk giving lobs and easy twos near the rim. This allows players like Mitchell and Conley to attack the basket and look for jumpers, layups, and other scoring chances for their teammates. Gobert isn’t the only one who is allowing for more attacking opportunities. According to NBA.com, the Jazz are second in screen assists.
The Jazz are third in the NBA in terms of free throws per game. They receive free points at the charity stripe when they aren’t blazing from deep.
Utah is dangerous because of its offensive versatility, particularly considering how strong head coach Quin Snyder’s club is on the opposite end of the floor.
Defensively, the Jazz swarm opponents.
The Jazz, according to Mitchell, have a defensive approach. This Utah club is built on that foundation.
In terms of defensive rating, the Jazz are fourth. They don’t cause many turnovers and don’t produce many deflections (they’re 29th in that area). Utah, on the other hand, keeps opponents out of the paint, forcing them to settle for contested jumpers.
The crucial figure here is Gobert, who is now the wealthiest center in NBA history. The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year can switch on ball screens and cut up straight-line drives while maintaining his quickness to return to his man. He’s also one of the league’s greatest weak-side defenders, making defensive rotations simpler due to the amount of ground he covers on that end of the floor.
The Jazz also don’t give their opponents a second opportunity. They are ranked seventh in defensive rebounding, as they go after the ball on the boards and then instantly transition to their offense on the other end.
Much like with 3-point shooting, Utah’s defense has potential if it can generate more deflections and turnovers, particularly in the backcourt with Conley and Mitchell.
On November 29, 2021, Mike Conley (L) watches with Donovan Mitchell during a game against the Portland Trail Blazers | Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
On one hand, the Jazz have the best net rating and anticipated win-loss record in the league. However, they have enjoyed a relatively easy schedule so far.
Utah’s strength of schedule is ranked 29th in the US. The Jazz lost both of their games against the Miami Heat, another prominent NBA title candidate. They’ve beaten the Denver Nuggets and the Milwaukee Bucks, but both of those teams have been dealing with injuries this season.
Despite this, the Jazz are second in terms of win margin. Even though the schedule has been quite nice so far, they’re largely taking care of business.
In comparison to the Warriors and Suns, Utah may not be the most enticing squad. It does, however, have a well-balanced group with space for progress. As the favourites to win the NBA title in 2021-22, the Jazz are deserving of their roses.
Unless otherwise stated, all stats are courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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