The Utah Jazz are 18-11, solidly in sixth in the West, and yet the first third of the season has felt like a disappointment. This was a team some (including myself) believed to be a legitimate title contender with the apparent roster upgrades they made this offseason, but to this point they haven’t been able to get everyone healthy and on the same page.
The good news is Utah is riding a five-game win streak at the moment, beating teams they’re supposed to, most recently the Hawks and Hornets, ahead of a fairly big week of games that includes the Heat, Blazers, and Clippers. That will provide a quality measuring stick for the Jazz as they head into 2020, and they are the first team we are looking at in our Holiday Wishlist series, as we take stock of each team heading into the new year and what they should be hoping for this holiday season, both internally and with possible roster changes.
With the Jazz it’s pretty simple, they’ve got to get everyone on the same page, particularly on offense, and figure out how to take advantage of all their weapons. I laid out the numerous problems facing the Jazz a little over a week ago, and the basic gist is, the ball isn’t moving enough, the flow is off, and they’re not getting shots in the places you want to, namely, ranking 17th in the NBA in shot attempts at the rim at 34.8 percent.
Utah has too many good offensive players to be as average as they are on that side of the floor, and the answer seems to mostly be building that trust with one another and being more willing to play off of each other. There have been glimpses of it and over this recent win streak they’ve been better on that end, but they need to sustain that kind of play and be able to have success with various lineups. A big part of getting to that point will be our second item on the Utah wishlist.
#2: A Healthy Mike Conley Returning To Form
Conley’s struggles this season have been well-documented, as he’s been downright abysmal shooting the ball at just about every level of the floor. He’s had trouble getting to the rim, finishing at the rim when he gets there, and his once reliable floater hasn’t been falling despite a tremendous number of attempts from the close midrange area. Conley is currently on the shelf with a hamstring injury that he re-aggravated and will cause him to sit on the bench once again, and with Utah playing fairly well in his absence they should be extra cautious with an injury as fickle as a hamstring.
As big a reason for that is they need him to be confident going to the basket and get back to playing the ball that made him a star in Memphis. When he and Mitchell have shared the court this season, Utah’s been very good despite some efficiency issues from both, and the pressure they can take off of one another will be crucial for the Jazz to take a step forward and be the team many thought they could entering the season.
#3: Upgrade At Backup PG
Given Conley’s injury woes, both this season and in recent years, the Jazz probably could use to take a look around the trade market to see if there’s a way to upgrade their backup point guard position. It might be time to simply give up on the idea of Dante Exum, as his $9.6 million salary with just one more year remaining could be useful in working a deal. Emmanuel Mudiay just isn’t a guy you want to rely on for heavy minutes on a contending team — if he’s your third point guard, great, but as a backup currently playing 15 minutes a game, he’s probably a bit over extended compared to the quality of the rest of the team.
It’s also possible they look for more frontcourt help, as Ed Davis has struggled to find his comfort level so far, but given the issues they’ve had with ball movement and getting the offense in a flow, adding a quality veteran guard — say, E’Twaun Moore from New Orleans — could be helpful.