For a while now, the Utah Jazz have been one of the NBA’s more intriguing teams, with the caveat that full health would be needed for Quin Snyder’s club to (finally) gain traction. The Jazz posted a sub-.500 record in 2015-2016 despite a pythagorean win expectancy of 46-36. That indicated that Utah’s overall performance did not live up to what it was supposed to be. Injuries were an issue, closing games with competent offense was an adventure, and Utah made several off-season additions to insure that both of those things didn’t happen again.
In what has become typical Jazz fashion, the injury bug hasn’t allowed Utah to fully thrive, but given just how deep and talented the 2016-2017 edition is, it just hasn’t mattered. The Jazz enter the second half of January with a 27-16 record that is good for a 51-win pace, and if you look beyond the raw numbers, Utah’s ceiling looks to be even higher. The team is a blazing 15-4 when George Hill plays this season, indicating that the point guard upgrade the Jazz were in search of has come to fruition. Elsewhere, Utah is 19-9 when Derrick Favors takes the floor and a blistering 11-3 with both Hill and Favors in the lineup.
Many teams in the NBA could make a “if only these guys were healthy” argument on an annual basis, and it is fair to breeze past that in some respect. However, Rudy Gobert has been an utter terror this season in captaining the NBA’s best defense, Gordon Hayward looks to be a legitimate All-Star candidate in a contract year and, as mentioned previously, this is one of the league’s deepest teams from a roster construction standpoint.
Do they need George Hill in the lineup to be the 50-plus win team that many expected? Absolutely, but the Jazz have proven over a half-season that they can sustain even when the injury bug bites and Utah is one of the league’s better stories at this point.
Are the Jazz better than some of their primary competition (Spurs, Clippers, etc.) in the West? Let’s find out in the midst of this week’s power rankings.
1. Golden State Warriors (35-6, Last week — 1st)
I’ve been riding with the Warriors in the top spot despite their Christmas collapse against Cleveland. Needless to say, that is looking like the right position given the way Golden State throttled LeBron James and company on Monday night. It is a one-game sample in the same way that the showdown on Christmas was, but the Warriors have the best statistical metrics and (easily) the best win-loss record. This is their spot.