Oct 12, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) rubs his throat after he gets hit in the neck during the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Despite growing optimism about their chances around the NBA, we explore why the Utah Jazz will not make the playoffs in 2016-17
Sorry Salt Lake City, but I will not be jumping onto the Utah Jazz playoff train this upcoming NBA season.
This offseason, I have heard nothing but extensive love for the Utah Jazz. Sure, they have a solid core of talent. Gordon Hayward is one of the most underrated stars in the game. Rudy Gobert could easily win defensive player of the year this season.
People forget that Derrick Favors averaged just over 16 points and just over eight rebounds per game last season, while shooting 52 percent from the field.
Rodney Hood just keeps getting better and better. And, they add George Hill and a healthy Dante Exum to their backcourt. Despite all of this, they are still young and in the West, which will rise back to prominence this season.
Do you remember the 2012-2013 NBA season? There were 10 teams with a .500 regular season record or better in the West, while only seven in the East. The East was an abomination that season with five teams having less than 30 wins. The West was extremely competitive, as the Jazz went 43-39, but failed to make the playoffs.
The two conferences were simply not comparable that year. The 2013-2014 season was similar. Nine West teams had a .500 regular season record or better, opposed to seven East teams. The pattern continued the following season, with nine West teams having a 0.500 record or better, compared to six East teams. However, this past season, the narrative changed.
Ten East teams had a .500 or better regular season record, while only eight West teams were able to match that mark. And the Jazz still missed the playoffs, in what was considered a “down-year ” for the West.
This upcoming year, I predict a similar scenario to the 2012-13 season. The Jazz may have a positive record like they did in that year, but it won’t be enough to make them a playoff team. The West will simply be too competitive this year. There aren’t really any spots that are up for grabs, and unfortunately, the Jazz will miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
As of October 10th, ESPN delivered an updated version of the 2017 NBA title odds, as well as the odds for the conference winners. The Jazz were tied for eighth with the Blazers and the Pistons at 80-1 odds to win the title. They were tied for fifth with the Blazers at 50-1 odds to win the Western conference. To me, these odds are extremely generous for the Jazz.
I don’t think people realize how good the West is going to be this year. Young rising teams like the Timberwolves and Suns (and to a lesser extent the Lakers) won’t be cupcake games on your schedule like they have been the past few seasons. And obviously, there are the upper echelon teams, as well as the teams that are not too far behind.
Here is a breakdown of the West teams that will make the playoffs, and why the Utah Jazz will be on the outside looking in.
Feb 3, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) and Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) stand on the court against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The Big 3: Warriors, Spurs, Clippers
Do I really have to go any further? I mean, they might not have that 73-9 record from last season, but they will be in the playoffs without a doubt. Their starting lineup is the best in the NBA, period. I predict that the Warriors will go back to the finals for a third consecutive season, and they will win the Western conference again.
They will need players like rookie Pat McCaw, and fellow guard Ian Clark to step up off the bench. Losing Bogut, Ezeli, and Speights did hurt their height, but Pachulia should be able to hold down the fort, and JaVale McGee has pleasantly surprised me this preseason. The Warriors will be just fine and will be the number one seed come playoff time.
The Spurs will be right behind the Warriors and will finish second in the conference. Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate and has emerged as a top five player in the game, and adding Pau Gasol to pair with Aldridge will help ease the pain of losing Tim Duncan. Pop and the Spurs will continue their winning tradition, which seems like it started an eternity ago.
Chris Paul is an MVP candidate this year, and he still has his big boys Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to throw it up to. Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick add the lethal 3-point shooting. I think since it is his last season, Paul Pierce will put all of his energy in trying to motivate this team to go all the way. I look for the Clippers to finish third in the conference.
May 24, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The Next Tier: Thunder, Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies (here is where it gets interesting)
Yes, Kevin Durant is gone. But, Russell Westbrook is still here. Everyone in the NBA world knows how eager Russ is to dominate the NBA this season. Another MVP candidate, Russ is looking to prove that he can run the show on his own. He will be playing with Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson, which will create an unbelievably athletic and defensive trio.
Enes Kanter finished in the top 10 in PER, true shooting percentage, and effective field goal percentage last season, and I expect him to have a huge offensive year with the departure of Serge Ibaka. He also was number one in offensive rebound percentage. Steven Adams will be the defensive presence down low, which pairs nicely with the offensive minded Kanter.
They will need a big season from sophomore Cam Payne to be the floor general when Russ needs a breather or two. The Thunder will finish fourth in the West.
The Blazers remind me of the Celtics, but in the West. They have so much depth and talent on their squad. They have one of the best backcourts in the NBA, in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They have great wing depth with Crabbe, Harkless, Aminu, and newly acquired Evan Turner. Turner will also be able to bring the ball up if needed.
They have plenty of bigs with Plumlee, Leonard, Davis, Vonleh, and newly acquired Ezeli. The Blazers lost four starters going into last year, and surprised everyone by finishing 5th in the West, and ending with a 44-38 record. I expect them to finish in the same position, but with five-seven more wins.
The Rockets were a really really ugly team to watch last year. They finished 41-41, and lost to the Warriors in five games in the first round of the playoffs. The Rockets attempted the second most 3-pointers last year (behind the Warriors), but were only 19th in 3-point percentage. Why did they shoot so many threes? Why were players like Josh Smith and Corey Brewer shooting threes?
Coaching and chemistry were definitely big issues. Always known as an offensive guru, hopefully Mike D’Antoni can fix these problems. James Harden even shot a ton of threes (2nd in attempts in the NBA), but only shot 36 percent from downtown. With James Harden moving to point guard, I don’t expect him to shoot as much. He will be able to drive and dish. I expect him to be another MVP candidate and to increase his 7.5 assists per game from last season.
And to solve their 3-point debacle, they actually added some 3-point shooters. They added Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson who can both space the floor. James Harden will be able to run a more effective and efficient offense this year with these two additions. I look for the Rockets to finish 6th in the conference.
Health, health, and more health. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley missed 52 and 56 games respectively in the regular season. And yes, they still made the playoffs. Chandler Parsons only played in 61 games for the Mavericks. All three didn’t even play one game in the playoffs. The Grizzlies have made the playoffs every year since the 2010-11 season. They are grinders, that is what they do.
The FedExForum is known as the grindhouse for a reason. The Grizzlies have proven they can make the playoffs without their key pieces, so imagine if they are healthy for this upcoming season. Mike Conley signed a 5-year, $153 million-dollar contract, and has a lot to live up to.
Knowing the floor general that Mike Conley is, he will lead yet another postseason birth for Memphis, and the Grizzles will get that 7th spot.
Oct 11, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) drives to the basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Final Spot: Dirk and Company
As long as Dirk is in Dallas, the Mavs have a chance. They have added NBA champions Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to bolster their roster. Wes Matthews and sophomore Justin Anderson provide great defensive presence on the wing. And they have plenty of point guards with experience to run the show with Deron Williams, J.J. Barea, and Devin Harris.
Dirk is now 38 years old, but he still shows us that he has it. He averaged just over 18 points per game last season and just over 20 points per game in the playoffs. I think people are really undervaluing the Mavs this season. I have them getting the final spot in the West.
To sum it all up, I just simply think there will not be room for the Jazz come postseason time. They are still relatively young, and I don’t think they have what it takes to jump over the eight teams that I discussed.
The teams I mentioned were playoff teams last year, and the scary part is, most of them got even better. If Anthony Davis stays healthy, the Pelicans can add to the competitive West as well.
I think the Utah Jazz will have their time, but it won’t be this season. I see the Jazz finishing in the 9-11 range.