The Jazz did it without their lone All-Star in Gordon Hayward and without fellow starting wing Rodney Hood. They did it against a juggernaut Warriors team, albeit without Klay Thompson (rest). And they’ve locked up just their second playoff appearance this decade, though they only get home-court advantage with a win and a Los Angeles Clippers loss.
This is a return to relevancy for a proud franchise that has fallen on hard times recently. The last time the Jazz won 50 games, Jerry Sloan was head coach and Deron Williams was an All-Star, averaging 19 points and 10.5 assists to compete with Chris Paul for the title of league’s top point guard
Carlos Boozer was a 20-and-10 guy. Andrei Kirilenko was still productive in the second half of his NBA career. Paul Millsap was only 24, and Mehmet Okur was still drilling threes at a .385 clip.
That team also featured a young Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, C.J. Miles, and Ronnie Brewer. It also featured Sundiata Gaines, who did this to earn a season-long contract after being called up from the D-League.
Talk about stacked.
The Jazz have accomplished nearly as much with less
Star power often defines success in the NBA, but there’s also power in numbers, and that’s where Utah has its biggest strength.
Hayward may be the Jazz’s most recognizable name, but Rudy Gobert has emerged as the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year after missing out on an All-Star nod. His impact has been tangible for a Jazz team controlling the paint on both ends of the floor.
And they’ve thrived in part without Derrick Favors, a talented power forward whose nagging injuries have both kept him off the floor and put a stake in his career-best production a season ago.
Utah has two talented, but oft-injured wings in Hood and Alec Burks, who have helped power the team into its second postseason appearance this decade. The Jazz signed George Hill over the summer, who’s averaged a career-high 17 points per game in when healthy.
Instead of rushing the process, the Jazz remained patient and built through the draft. Trey Lyles, Joe Ingles, and Dante Exum are a trio of young players who are still navigating the early stages of their careers.
That’s why adding Joe Johnson, who scored 13 fourth-quarter points against the Warriors, gave Utah an experienced leader and battle-tested scorer off the bench. Need proof? He scored his 20,000th point last week.
Boris Diaw’s addition has borne similar results, brushing off his invaluable experience and requisite savvy onto a young Utah squad.
It should only get better from here
The Jazz are locked into a 4-5 matchup with a Los Angeles Clippers team that’s had a chip on its shoulder for years. The Clippers have also beaten the Jazz, 3-1, in the season series.
But if anything’s certain, Utah is on the right track to reclaiming the prominence they once held as one of the West’s feared teams. It took some time, but they rebuilt the right way. And if they can keep their core together moving forward, it’s only up from here.