The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
2016-17 finish: 51-31, lost in the second round
• Offensive rating: 107.4 (12th)
• Defensive rating: 102.7 (3rd)
Additions: Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, Donovan Mitchell, Ekpe Udoh, Tony Bradley, Royce O’Neale
Subtractions: Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Boris Diaw, Trey Lyles, Jeff Withey, Shelvin Mack
Did the summer help at all?
It wasn’t great. It wasn’t all bad, either. The Jazz lost Hayward to the Boston Celtics in free agency, which fueled some bitterness from players and fans alike. Then, Utah GM Dennis Lindsey laced up his shoes and got to work filling the void left by an All-Star who excelled at one of the league’s most vital positions, and the result was a decent patchwork job that should keep the Jazz in playoff contention.
Even before Hayward’s exit, Lindsey made a few moves, swapping a protected 2018 first-round pick for Rubio and trading three picks between Nos. 24 and 42 this year for the right to steal Mitchell in the late lottery and select Rudy Gobert’s newest understudy, Tony Bradley, at the end of the first round.
Those moves made Hill and Mack expendable, revamping the guard position. Hill’s two-way production isn’t so easily replaceable. He was a gem before injuries slowed him in the second half of last year. Still, Rubio is a better playmaker and equally adequate defender, and Mitchell — considered by many a diamond in the draft rough — can make up some of the scoring that left with Hill.
Sefolosha and Udoh bring more defensive reinforcements on the wing and in the post, which, along with Gobert’s omniscient presence, should put the Jazz in the running for the league’s best defense.
Rodney Hood will have to pick up Hayward’s scoring slack, and he’ll be motivated in a contract year. Utah invested heavily in Joe Ingles stock with a four-year, $52 million extension, so the Jazz better hope his increased minutes and broad skill-set offset some of Hayward’s non-scoring contributions. And while the Jerebko signing didn’t turn heads, his energy and versatility can change games, too.
The Jazz also bid adieu to Diaw, who wasn’t quite who they hoped he would be as a floor-stretching, playmaking big, but he still started nine of the team’s 11 playoff games this past spring. That probably means more minutes for Joe Johnson at the power forward position, which isn’t such a bad thing.
Add it all up, and while the Jazz lost two of their top scorers, best playmakers and sharpest shooters, they’ve doubled down on what was already a slow-paced team, transforming into an early 2000s retro squad that will rely on smothering defense to negate what will be at best an average offensive rating.
Best-case scenario: A motivated Gobert’s “Go Go Gadget” arms wreak havoc on defense, and the Frenchman gobbles up Rubio lobs like they’re escargot. Hood pushes his scoring average close to 20. Ingles, Johnson, Sefolosha, Jerebko, Mitchell and Alec Burks shoot the lights out. Dante Exum emerges from the forgotten. Their defensive rating drops below a point per possession. And Utah isn’t worse for wear without Hayward, still winning 60 percent of the time and seeking a first-round upset.
If everything falls apart: Major minutes for non-shooters Rubio and Derrick Favors leave little room for Gobert to operate as a rolling monster. Hood can’t handle increased playmaking responsibility. Father time adds a 36-year-old Johnson to his list of victories. Ingles isn’t worth the expanded role on an eight-figure salary. Mitchell doesn’t come as advertised. Exum remains a mystery. Nobody can shoot. And the Jazz offense is so bad that no amount of defensive ability can make this a playoff team.
Best guess at a record: 43-39
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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