There will be a lot of interest in how the Utah Jazz will follow up their 2020-21 campaign. Last season, the Jazz finished first overall in the Western Conference for the first time since the 1997-98 season when the team was led by Karl Malone and John Stockton. But despite their solid regular season, the Jazz were unable to advance to the conference finals, as they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the second round.
The Jazz will enter the 2021-22 season with largely the same roster that they had last season, so improvement will have to come internally, though it’s fair to ask how much better they can be during the regular season. At this point for the Jazz, it’s about postseason performance and trying to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2007. With that said, here’s a look at Utah’s roster and three key storylines to watch during the upcoming campaign.
Utah Jazz roster
- Guards: Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Joe Ingles, Miye Oni
- Forwards: Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, Royce O’Neale, Malik Fitts
- Centers: Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, Udoka Azubuike, Marques Bolden
1. Room for improvement for Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell had his best season as a pro last year for the Jazz. Over the course of 53 regular season games, Mitchell averaged 26.4 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per performance while also becoming more comfortable for beyond the arc — he shot a career-high 38 percent from long range on 8.7 attempts per game. Mitchell was named to his second straight All-Star team thanks to his productive play, and he will surely look to build off of what he did last season during the ’21-22 campaign.
As good as Mitchell was last season, he still has room to grow. He’s just 25 years old, so he still has a couple of years to go until what is widely considered to be a player’s prime years. While Mitchell did shoot 38 percent from deep last season, he also shot just 47 percent from two-point range. That number could be bumped up a bit. Ideally, you’d like to see it at 50 or above. For Mitchell, that could mean attacking the rim a bit more and settling for mid-range jumpers a little less.
Mitchell also averaged 2.8 turnovers per game last season, not an egregious number, but one that could be improved upon nonetheless. He has the ball in his hands a whole lot, and the fewer mistakes he makes, the more offensive opportunities Utah gets. For Mitchell, small tweaks could make a big difference for both him and the Jazz. If he makes such improvements, not only will it improve Utah’s chances, it will also allow Mitchell to contend for individual accolades like All-NBA, or even MVP. He has that level of talent.
2. Pressure on Quin Snyder
Quin Snyder has been the head coach of the Jazz for the past seven seasons, and he has had some solid success since he took the job in 2014. The Jazz qualified for postseason play in five out of Snyder’s seven seasons with the team, and they were able to advance to the second round on three separate occasions. Utah also finished with the best record in the entire NBA last season.
However, despite Snyder’s Utah teams being consistently solid, they have never been able to advance past the second round and to the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals. They came closest last season, but they were ultimately eliminated by the Clippers in six games, despite the fact that the Jazz were the league’s best regular season squad, and that the Clippers were without star forward Kawhi Leonard for a chunk of the series due to an injury issue.
So, heading into his eighth season with the team, there’s a bit of pressure on Snyder to finally get his guys over the hump and to secure a conference finals berth for the first time. The Jazz are running back largely the same squad that they had last season when they finished with the league’s best record, so a lack of familiarity won’t be an excuse that Snyder has if the Jazz underperform. Coaching opportunities in the NBA typically don’t last too long, especially when the team isn’t winning at the highest level. The Jazz have been good under Snyder, but not great. Thus, one has to wonder how much more patient the front office and ownership will be with Snyder if the team again fails to advance deep into the postseason.
3. Jared Butler’s role
One of the biggest additions that the Jazz made over the offseason came through the draft in the form of Jared Butler. Butler enters the NBA fresh off of leading Baylor to a national title last season and being named NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player in the process. Many expected Butler to be selected in the first round of the ’21 draft, but when he slipped down to the second round, the Jazz jumped at the opportunity to add him to their roster.
Butler, who didn’t play in Summer League, appears to have an NBA-ready skill set as a player capable of operating in the pick-and-roll, spacing the floor, getting to the rim, moving the ball, and defending. Last season at Baylor, he averaged 16.7 points, 4.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game while also shooting 41 percent from deep. Obviously, those are college numbers, but if his game can translate to the league, he’ll prove to be a major addition for the Jazz. Butler has already impressed Donovan Mitchell with some of the skills he’s showed off at training camp.
“Some of the stuff I’ve seen, I didn’t know that he had in his game,” Mitchell said of Butler, via The Athletic. “He’s very poised as an all-around basketball player. I think the biggest thing is his pace coming off the screen. The way he gets into the lane, the way he’s capable of making reads and manipulating the big in the paint. We just want to help him be the best basketball player that he can be, and be the best basketball player that he can be for our team.”
It’s typically difficult for a rookie to crack the rotation of a contending team that already has a well-established roster as the Jazz do, so It will be interesting to see how much on-court opportunity Butler gets. Such opportunities will likely be limited at first, but if he can capitalize on the time he gets, perhaps Butler could be a real piece of the rotation by the time the postseason rolls around.