Mitchell and Conley pairing could give Jazz offense a lift
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah changed the entire dynamic of its backcourt after acquiring veteran point guard Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies in July. Will it be enough to turn the Jazz into an NBA championship contender?
That’s what Utah is banking on heading into the 2019-20 season. Conley joins rising star Donovan Mitchell to form what could be one of the league’s more potent backcourt duos in the season ahead.
Mitchell averaged 23.8 points and 4.2 assists in his second season, but struggled at times with his scoring efficiency. Conley promises to relieve some of the playmaking burden that Mitchell felt at times as an NBA sophomore.
“Mike Conley is an elite point guard,” Quin Snyder said at the team’s media day on Monday. “When I say elite that manifests in a lot of different ways. Certainly on the court, some of the things he does and the feel he has for the game and for players around him is really unique. He impacts the game.”
Conley is one of the league’s most efficient point guards in the pick-and-roll and a reliable shooter. He scored a career-best 21.1 points per game in his final season in Memphis while also averaging 6.4 assists per game.
Mitchell anticipates seeing Utah’s offense open up thanks to Conley’s patience and court vision.
“He’s a guy who goes at his own pace and that’s one of the things I’m really starting to learn,” Mitchell said. “It’s not really always about getting in there and scoring. He’s creating and finding guys who are open.”
For his part, Conley is savoring the potential of joining Mitchell in the backcourt and playing with a talent-laden roster that also includes two time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
“We have a team, with our depth and guys who play both sides of the ball, that allows us to get into a lot of different schemes that the other team might not be able to do, which is exciting,” Conley said. “It’s exciting when you have that versatility.”
Other things to know about the Utah Jazz heading into the 2019-20 season:
Six of the 20 players on Utah’s training camp roster come from outside the United States. Two of those players, Gobert (France) and Joe Ingles (Australia), played key roles in driving their national teams to success in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Gobert credits the NBA with making big strides in growing the game globally with the influx of international players playing for the Jazz and other teams in the league. The league plans to broadcast multiple games during prime time in Europe this season, including three Utah games.
“Twenty years ago, it was harder for those kids to think they were going to be NBA players,” Gobert said. “Now, anywhere in the world, you can have that goal and I think it’s great for the game.”
The Jazz signed multiple veteran free agents to help boost their offense and defense during the offseason. Bojan Bogdanovic was the highest profile free agent to join Utah, signing a four-year, $73.1 million deal in July. Bogdanovic averaged a career-best 18.0 points for Indiana last season and shot 42.5% from 3-point range.
Utah also added Jeff Green, Ed Davis, and Emmanuel Mudiay on shorter deals in July. Davis gives the Jazz a defensive specialist who can spell Gobert in the middle when needed. Green adds additional scoring punch on the wing.
“We have it all on paper,” Green said. “We have to translate it on court when the season starts.”
Mitchell was limited in his offseason training last summer when he suffered a foot injury at the end of his rookie season. The third-year guard had no such issues this summer, playing for Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and getting plenty of time in the gym to workout with teammates like Conley and Royce O’ Neale.
“I could go to the gym whenever I wanted to shoot,” Mitchell said. “That’s one of the things you really miss when you get hurt.”
Green signed a one-year deal with the Jazz in July — his fourth consecutive year on a one-year contract. He is with his sixth team in five seasons after posting 12.3 points per game on 47.5% shooting for Washington last season. Utah views him as a potential starter or sixth man.
For Green, joining Utah is equally about playing for a championship contender and proving his value to the rest of the league.
“I’m never satisfied,” Green said. “I think when you are, that’s when you have an early exit.”