22 Teams in 22 Days: Donavan Mitchell Looking To Take Jazz to the Next Level
We’re less than two weeks from the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando, and the Utah Jazz feel like one of the most overlooked teams in the bubble. When the season was suspended, Utah’s starting lineup (without Mike Conley) had the second-best net rating in the league among five-man units that played at least 300 minutes together, per NBA.com.
But with Bojan Bogdanovic — who makes the Jazz almost six points better per 100 possessions, per NBA.com — out for the entire postseason after having wrist surgery, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz, currently No. 4 in the West, making much of a dent in the playoffs. The starting lineup is still strong with Royce O’Neal, but depth becomes an issue and this is assuming Mike Conley, at the very least, can pick up where he left off the last month of the season, and he might need to be even better than that.
I suppose it’s fitting that Utah will officially kick off the restart with the first game back on July 30 against the New Orleans Pelicans, as it was the Jazz at the center of the shutdown on March 11 when Rudy Gobert, and subsequently Donovan Mitchell, tested positive for COVID-19.
Speaking of Gobert and Mitchell, the two have at least patched things up on the surface. Rumors have floated that the two never got along great in the first place, but Mitchell was pretty ticked about the carelessness Gobert showed with regard to the virus — you know, breathing on microphones in an attempt to be funny.
People always say players don’t need to be friends to function well as teammates, and perhaps that will be tested with Gobert and Mitchell, the latter of which needs his rim-covering big man a lot more than you might think. So far this season, when Mitchell is on the court without Gobert, the Jazz are almost nine points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents, but when Gobert plays without Mitchell, Utah is plus-5.6 per 100, per Cleaning the Glass.
Mitchell might be Utah’s best player, but Gobert is arguably its most valuable, though it should be noted Gobert almost always got to play with Bogdanovic while Mitchell was more often force to carry less potent lineups. Either way, for the Jazz to have any chance of making some postseason noise, both Mitchell and Gobert will have to be clicking on all cylinders. Here’s a look at the Jazz roster, schedule and where things stand with the team as they head into the restart — which, as has been well chronicled, will consist of eight “seeding” games before postseason matchups are set.
Jazz rosterJazz schedule
All times Eastern
July 30 vs. Pelicans, 6:30 p.m.Aug. 1 vs. Thunder, 3:30 p.m.Aug. 3 vs. Lakers, 10 p.m.Aug. 5 vs. Grizzlies, 2:30 p.m.Aug. 7 vs. Spurs, 1 p.m.Aug. 8 vs. Nuggets, 3:30 p.m.Aug. 10 vs. Mavericks, 3 p.m.Aug. 13 vs. Spurs, TBAKey Storylines
Bogdanovic’s absence: There’s no way Utah can replace Bogdanovic individually. He was having a fantastic season, averaging over 20 points per game on better than 41 percent 3-point shooting. He was the perfect floor-spacing, secondary-playmaking complement to Mitchell. He was a guy who could create one-on-one offense, which is so important in the postseason and could be even more vital in this environment where teams have been off for four-plus months and might not be able to rely as heavily on their chemistry and schemes to create shots. Utah will have to do the best it can to replace Bogdanovic in the aggregate, hopefully getting a big boost in bench scoring from Jordan Clarkson while Mike Conley will have to be the player he was supposed to be when Utah traded for him. Speaking of …
Conley’s resurrection: Overall, Conley was having the worst season of his career when play was suspended, but if you look at the way he played from February on — 16.5 PPG on 44 percent 3-point shooting — there’s a lot of promise to be found. Conley has to be a big-time contributor for the Jazz to do anything, especially without Bogdanovic. As I said above, the Jazz probably don’t have enough firepower to compete with the elite teams, but that’s especially true if Conley isn’t knocking shots down and creating offense. He has to plug Bogdanovic’s hole and then some, because Utah’s starting lineup has to dominate with the bench now further depleted for having to move Royce Young back into the first five. Conley struggled with injuries and flat-out didn’t deliver through February of this season, but a strong playoff run can erase all that.
Mitchell’s opportunity: Mitchell is almost certain to sign a max extension with Utah this offseason, per Tony Jones of The Athletic, but there are still things he needs to prove in terms of being able to carry a team in the postseason. Through his first two seasons Mitchell has had some big-time playoff moments and games, and he led the Jazz to the second round as a rookie. But he hasn’t yet emerged as a consistent playoff star. Last season, in a five-game, first-round loss to Houston, he shot 32 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep. Those numbers need context. Mitchell hasn’t had the luxury of a true No. 2 scorer and Utah’s spacing was an issue with Ricky Rubio playing alongside him. That’s what Bogdanovic and Conley were supposed to be for, but now Bogdanovic is out and we’ve discussed what that means for Conley. There is a ton on Mitchell’s plate. He has absolutely proved he’s worthy of a max contract, but proving he can be a franchise player capable of carrying a team deep in the postseason is still up in the air. If that doesn’t happen this season, he’ll have an out because of Bogdanovic’s absence, but if he can lift Utah higher than people expect, it will take his reputation as a truly elite player to an entirely different level.