NBA Preview: Utah Jazz
Only one division remains after I do the final team in the Northwest Division, the uprising Utah Jazz. In pre-training camp power rankings, I have seen Utah ranked as high as fifth. It's a stretch to me, since Utah has not made the playoffs since losing PG Deron Williams in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets, but that trade netted them their second best player in PF Derrick Favors. He and Gordan Hayward are in prime position to challenge the San Antonio Spurs as the team to beat in the West (I think I might be missing a third team :D). Anyways, the Jazz added veteran pieces who are all playoff tested, and one has a championship ring. Watch out for this team out West.
ADDITIONS: F/C Boris Diaw (trade-San Antonio), PG George Hill (trade-Indiana), SG Joe Johnson (Miami), F Joel Bolomboy (draft), PG Marcus Paige (draft)
SUBTRACTIONS: PG Trey Burke (trade-Washington), F/C Trevor Booker (Brooklyn)
I might be stating the obvious here, but usually when additions are greater than subtractions it means you have a better roster than the year before. The only exception is the Miami Heat, as they only lost Dwyane Wade and added a bunch of role players who don't help in the short or long run. Trevor Booker is not Dwyane Wade (more stating of the obvious). He never will be Dwyane Wade. Joe Johnson used to have that impact, although not with Miami, Boris Diaw has a ring and played a vital role on the San Antonio Spurs the past few years, and George Hill is in line to be the starting point guard in Utah. Trey Burke was solid, but George Hill is better than him. I think additions are definitely greater than the subtraction here.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I really want to see what Joe Johnson does for this team, but instead I'll go with the guy who was out for the year last season. G Dante Exum missed the season last year, and he was primed to have a breakout season after a good rookie season. He was a top draft pick that year, and the hype train was going for him for sure. Now, after a year on injured reserve, Exum has something to prove with a more talented and crowded roster. Let's see if he proves himself.
BIGGEST CONCERN: Having too high of expectations is a bit concerning here. Like I said, this team hasn't made the playoffs since Deron Williams was on the team (and he was good too). It has been a while, and most of the core players who aren't new additions haven't sniffed the postseason. It's why the Jazz brought in Johnson, Hill and Diaw, but they also brought the expectations that the Jazz are ready to be a top seed. I don't want the people of the fine state of Utah to have the same letdown the Jaguars had, so my advice is to hold up on the hype until Christmas. I like this team, but they don't have the track record yet just because Diaw, Hill and Johnson are on the team.
BIGGEST UNKNOWN: This team is full of a lot of simple commodities, meaning that these players are all pretty low risk and you know what to expect with them. Dante Exum is a big unknown here, but I already talked about him and don't want to drone on. I do suppose that one of these three players, Johnson, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood, will not get as much playing time as they deserve. Alec Burks' track record says he will get injured, but if he doesn't who do you phase out? Johnson is a borderline Hall of Famer who can still score, Rodney Hood had a breakout year last year, and Burks was scoring 13+ prior to his injury. They all play the two primarily, so somebody will lose out on minutes this season.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: C Rudy Gobert, PF Derrick Favors, SF Gordan Hayward, SG Rodney Hood, PG George Hill
ROTATIONAL PIECES: G/F Joe Johnson, F/C Boris Diaw, SG Alec Burks, G Dante Exum, PF Trey Lyles, PG Shelvin Mack
ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER: F Joe Ingles, PG Raul Neto, F Joel Bolomboy, C Jeff Withey
PREDICTION: This team is really deep, as Raul Neto was the starting point guard last season after the Exum injury. It goes to show how well the management has built this team up to succeed. With the Thunder down a 30 point scorer, the Clippers feeling more pressure than ever, and a Memphis team that is still likely more injured than normal, Utah has a chance to really make some real noise. I like the Jazz to have homecourt in the first round of the West Playoffs, and win more than 50 games. I just want everybody in Utah to know to be careful with these expectations, since everything besides a track record looks good here. But, the track record may be what is most important.