The Jazz have gotten their share of deserved praise this season, what with the success they’ve enjoyed, success that has surpassed what most — no, all — observers expected from them in 2020-21. Sure, there have been and are doubters, despite their league-best 52-20 regular-season achievement and their home-court advantage through the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the West.
But as the Jazz’s postseason gets underway, starting Sunday, there are reasons for the doubt, beyond the perceived persecution emanating out of smaller minds in bigger markets — “The Jazz are adorable” and such — of a franchise anchored at the foot of the Wasatch way out west somewhere, on the edge of nowhere.
And if we push aside the positivity for a moment, and acknowledge what is real, what might be real, there are some weaknesses that could hurt and haunt the Jazz.
Here are some of them:
There will be times when the love of the Jazz’s life — the 3-point shot — hammers opponents into oblivion, but also others when it walks out on the hands that hold the hammer, deserting them, leaving them in the lurch and laughing at their pain.
That much is as sure as deep shootin’.
It has happened and it’s going to happen again, although stats and studies indicate that, regardless of some outliers, and the outliers do exist, a team going cold from 3 is no more likely in the playoffs than a team freezing up from inside the arc. As for this Jazz team, who knows?
When the bricks do fly, it’s ugly, and often competitively destructive, but it is, at least now and again, unavoidable, part of the randomness of a spinning Spalding in the vagaries of a game intensified, stats aside, during the postseason, when every possession is gold and every defensive stop platinum.
For all the advantage the Jazz have taken this season by way of so many launched bombs — and that they have done at a record number of attempts (3,098) and makes (1,205) — sometimes those launches take a little something back.
Like your basketball heart and soul.
The Jazz will have to find a way out of those eventualities — by way of proficient spacing, accurate ball movement and, when needed, iso drives and kicks.
But there are a handful of other Jazz concerns that could derail their intentions to make a deep postseason run, one of them related to what has already been noted.
Even at the game’s highest level, the Jazz may miss shots on their own, but they’re more likely to clank them when teams effectively switch on defense, crowding those perimeter shooters as their attempts go up. Give Jazz shooters space, a comfort zone, and watch the net dance. Jam them, and suddenly the ball is ricocheting all over the gym. It’s been that way occasionally during the season, and teams heading into the playoffs are well aware.
It’s been considerably worse when Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley have been unable to play. The Jazz’s lack of playmakers outside of those two stars, with the exception of Jordan Clarkson, who can beat their man off the bounce, moving to the rim and/or passing the ball out to open shooters has hurt the Jazz’s offensive consistency.
Joe Ingles has his skills, but blowing past the dude guarding him isn’t one of them. Bojan Bogdanovic can find his range on a good night, but force him to dribble and dish and watch the turnovers stack up.
Take away Mitchell and Conley and the Jazz could stumble. With them, they have the versatility on attack to better handle opponents regardless of their defensive strategies.
Keep an eye out for some unique designs from opponents as they attempt to discombobulate Quin Snyder’s best laid plans.
An active and forceful Rudy Gobert can help foil some of that resistance, but teams like to drop down on the Jazz center to push him away from the basket, crowding and complicating his pathway to dunks.
Finding a proper balance between ball movement, iso ball, and the pick and roll will be paramount for the Jazz’s advancement.
Another challenge for them will be limiting one of their major bugaboos — turnovers, most particularly turnovers that lead to easy baskets at the other end. No duh, right? They turned the ball over 1,023 times this season. That’s something that killed the Jazz in their recent regular-season loss to Golden State, when the Warriors scored 26 points off Jazz fumbles in a tight game.
If the Jazz squander playoff possessions or get sloppy on those trips, their chances at winning will greatly diminish.
That may seem obvious, but nowhere near as plain and simple and pure as one of Snyder’s all-time best quotes about the best way not to commit such indiscretions: “Don’t throw the ball if there’s a [defender] there.”
Snyder wants his offense to flow and it’s a proper thing when his players don’t allow the process to grind down by overthinking and double-clutching as the ball moves. But there are times when the passing gets too casual and the Jazz pay a heavy price for it.
If they do it in the playoffs, the price will be heavier.
On account of the fact that the Jazz defense is solid with Gobert anchoring it in the half court, but is not good at pressuring opponents into goofs of their own — the Jazz ranked last in turnovers caused — it is difficult for them to make up the difference.
Gobert had a historic run with his defensive prowess this season. He was stellar, helping the Jazz to the fourth-rated resistance in the NBA. But think about it. Other than him, who else on the defensive end could be considered a stopper? It’s not a question, because there is nobody who fits that description.
Royce O’Neale gets mention in that regard, but is actually just a couple of notches above average. That’s why the Jazz have so much trouble slowing the league’s best guards and wings. Yeah, everybody does, but that’s one of the reasons Snyder emphasizes communication at that end so often. The Jazz have to do it together because, other than Gobert, they can’t do it individually.
And if their shots aren’t falling, then opponents get out in transition, and if they get easy early offense, the Jazz are in trouble.
That was an unmistakable priority down the stretch of the regular season, and it remains so now. The only difference, you would presume, is that Mitchell and Conley, and every Jazz player of significance will be fully in the mix from this point on.
Unless … shush your mouth.
Not only will they have to be on the court, they’ll have to be in their best form, as well. With Mitchell having sat for the better part of seven weeks since his turn of the ankle, he should be rested, if maybe a bit rusty. Conley’s brief return already has made a difference.
A question remains whether the caution with, the preservation of those two took too much out of the other guys who did what they could — limited though it was — to keep the Jazz afloat atop the Western Conference. A week of rest, no doubt, re-floated the hopes of a team that will take whatever bits of fresh buoyancy it can find at a time when it needs them the most.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.