Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Utah Jazz. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.
FLANNERY: There is a school of thought out there that the Utah Jazz are one of the few teams that can seriously mess with the Warriors. Now it's true that the Jazz went 0-4 against the Warriors last season and the games at Oracle weren't particularly close, but Utah did hang with them at home and took one game to overtime.
It's not that reasonable people think Utah can upend Golden State. Rather, it's the acknowledgement that this is an odd team with serious defensive potential. The Jazz remind me a bit of the Grizzlies in the sense that, all things considered, good teams would rather not deal with their size and their crowd.
That's a lot of cart putting in front of horses who have yet to taste the postseason, but we're all expecting Utah to be a playoff team and I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest the Jazz can make a run at a top-four seed. You in on this one?
ZILLER: I'm way in on this one. Here are my reasons. (These are not unique: these are really the reasons so many people are in on the Jazz.)
The first is that Rudy Gobert missed 21 games last season. The Jazz went 7-14 in those games. They went 33-28 when he played and 33-27 when he started. That's the record of a 45-win team.
The second major reason I'm in on the Jazz is the point guard position. We all know how vital the point guard position is in today's NBA. Gods bless them, but Raul Neto and Shelvin Mack combined to start 80 games at point guard for Utah last year, and Trey Burke was the other lead guard on the roster. This year, the team will have the solid George Hill and exciting Dante Exum in the mix.
Beyond those two key reasons, there's the youth of the team — Derrick Favors, Gobert, Trey Lyles, Exum, Alec Burks, and Rodney Hood are all 25 or younger — and the continued, sustained rise of Gordon Hayward. What's not to love?
FLANNERY: I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm because I was also a big believer last season before the injuries hit and some flaws were exposed, like shooting and playmaking. The eternal question of whether Favors and Gobert are a sustainable (or even optimal) frontcourt duo remains an interpretive exercise, and we still don't know what to make of Exum as a lead guard yet.
On the other hand, good things were uncovered last season. Hood and Lyles look like major players. Hayward is an All-Star-level performer. Last year's Jazz were a strong example of a team maturing on its timeline, not ours. There big jump should be happening this season, health permitting.
What do you make of the offseason additions? Getting Hill was a major upgrade at the point. Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw look like ideal fits on paper, but that could be an interesting chemistry experiment.
SLC Dunk season preview
SLC Dunk season preview
ZILLER: You can never really count on Boris Diaw — even the genius of Gregg Popovich wore out working on Bobo. Luckily, based on the roster, it doesn't look like Utah is relying on Diaw for a major role.
Joe Johnson is the opposite: you can always rely on him to provide the same stuff just about every night, including some playmaking, shot creation, and health. That, especially in the form of a veteran who has seen everything this league can offer twice over, will be huge for Utah.
Gobert-Favors is not a question mark to me. Shooting and perimeter defense are. I'm never really sure what to make of Hayward's defense, and I don't know if there's enough shooting to open up the floor, even with Hill.
FLANNERY: Right, that's the only real issue for Gobert-Favors for me. In 2016, can you have two non-shooters at your big positions, and how does that impact the rest of the court? If the Jazz can make enough shots — and I think they can with Hood, Burks, Lyles, and Johnson — they can not only take a small leap into the postseason, they can be an actual contender for, say, the conference finals.
Is that too much or are you with me on this?
ZILLER: I think it's too much solely because I have trouble seeing them leap from the lottery to ahead of the Clippers, Blazers, AND Spurs. I think that they could beat any of those teams if a series of things broke the right way, but there would need to be great fortune involved to see them in the conference finals opposite Golden State.
Speaking of which ... I cannot abide this idea that Utah is the Warriors Killer. Cleveland won the Finals by the skin of its teeth with LeBron and Kyrie just eking out enough points. Hayward and Rodney Hood aren't exactly on that level. Even Westbrook and Durant fell just short! The idea that the Jazz are the biggest threat to the vamped-up Warriors is not one I can buy.
FLANNERY: That's why I compared them to Memphis, but with one caveat. It's not that they can beat Golden State, it's that they can mess with them a little and take them out of their comfort zone.
Here's the caveat: There's a lot of versatility on their depth chart once you get beyond the large frontline. Hood and Lyles in particular are fascinating players to watch this season. Hood has begun to make a name for himself and while we've only gotten a taste of what Lyles can do, I'm ready to see more. Exum too, for that matter.
I'm often the voice of tempered restraint on these matters, but not here. I'm in on the Jazz and think they can get a top-4 seed. Don't @ me.