Utah

Jazz

Survey data collected from team site writers and editors.

9.2

Out of 10

I trust in management and the coaching staff

8.1

Out of 10

I enjoy rooting for these players and this franchise

9.6

Out of 10

I am optimistic about the direction of the team

A Q&A with Mychal Lowman of SB Nation’s Jazz site SLC Dunk.

What needs to happen for this to be an enjoyable season for Jazz fans?

We’re looking for any silver lining available to purge ourselves of the pain of Gordon Hayward leaving Utah. Donovan Mitchell needs to be in the Rookie of Year conversation at the end of the year, Dante Exum must start to meet the expectations of a No. 5 lottery pick, Ricky Rubio has to orchestrate a Spurs-ian offense, and Rudy Gobert needs to lead this team to the best defense in the league and a playoff spot.

We just want to not feel sentenced to a lottery year because Gordon Hayward wanted to wear green.

Utah Jazz
Position Starters Bench
Guards Ricky Rubio Donovan Mitchell Dante Exum (injured) Raul Neto
Wings Rodney Hood Joe Ingles Joe Johnson Thabo Sefolosha Alec Burks
Bigs Rudy Gobert Derrick Favors Jonas Jerebko Ekpe Udoh Tony Bradley

What makes Jazz fans most excited about this year? What makes Jazz fans most nervous?

Donovan Mitchell has a chance to be special. He has a command of the game you wouldn't expect a rookie to have on the defensive end. He says all the right things. He wants to be on the All-Defensive Team and looks for steals. He's an athletic freak with a huge wingspan. He could rank in the top five in steals one day with those aspirations.

Ricky Rubio's shooting makes us nervous. Post All-Star break Rubio last year showcased a league-average jumper, which would be a huge improvement. In EuroBasket, Ricky shot close to 40 percent. But compare those numbers to those of his entire career, and it's not so pretty.

The Jazz are already struggling with spacing issues due to the departure of their top two scorers in Hayward and George Hill. Add in coach Quin Snyder experimenting with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert playing together, and it’ll be easy for opponents to puppy guard the paint. Rubio’s shooting could determine Utah's postseason aspirations.

What storyline might a national audience be missing about the Jazz?

With Dante Exum now facing another potential season-ending injury, the Jazz's ceiling for 2017 has taken a hit. Exum had looked like he was making great strides toward being the No. 5 pick that everyone dreamed he would become. With Exum potentially out for the season, the Utah Jazz have about 25 minutes available to share among their incredibly deep roster.

The storyline that no one outside of Utah is talking about is the return of Alec Burks. Burks has the most to gain from Exum's absence. Burks was outside of the rotation to start preseason, much like how Joe Ingles didn't figure into the Jazz's plans last preseason. For those that remember, it took an early season injury to Gordon Hayward to open the door for Ingles to secure a rotation spot.

Burks had already dealt with two false starts returning from his own injury woes. He’s hoping the third time is a charm, and sometimes charms coincide with curses. With Exum going down, Burks' opportunity presented itself.

While many have rightly predicted that Rodney Hood will be given the opportunity to be the Jazz's leading scorer, Burks could be a darkhorse candidate to take that honor while being a sixth man of the year contender come April. The NBA hasn't seen a healthy Alec Burks for almost three seasons now, and Burks could go from being trade bait to go-to scorer for Utah with the absence of Exum.

But he has to stay healthy first.

Why should neutrals pay attention to the Jazz this year?

To watch the NBA's most suffocating defense. The Jazz have three of the league's top 20 players in steal percentage: Rubio, Joe Ingles, and Thabo Sefolosha. They have the best shot blocker in the NBA in Gobert and brought in the best defender in Europe last year, Ekpe Udoh, to be his backup. Favors, who was one of the league's best defenders before his injury, and is healthy again. Mitchell and Exum are two youngsters who actually give a damn about pressuring the ball.

This defense can bring the NBA's best offenses to a crawl just with Gobert patrolling the paint. Then, they upgraded it with the money that would have gone to Hayward. Dante’s Inferno's nine circles of hell doesn't have anything on Utah's defense.

What's your prediction for the season?

47-35, No. 6 seed. The Jazz join the 2009-10 Charlotte Bobcats as quality teams with great defenses and atrocious offenses.