Jazz pairing improved offense with already tough defense
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Playing rugged defense has helped Utah become a consistent playoff team.
Now the Jazz seek to become a bigger postseason threat with a more versatile offense.
Utah made a flurry of offseason moves designed to bolster the team's outside shooting and give coach Quin Snyder additional shot creators. The Jazz traded for veteran point guard Mike Conley and signed small forward Bojan Bogdanovic, both of whom were leading scorers on their previous teams. Utah also added Jeff Green to give the team another versatile shooter.
The roster makeover is designed to take some of the scoring and shot creation burden away from Donovan Mitchell.
"It's no secret we want to pick-and-roll a lot," Mitchell said. "It honestly makes my life easier trying to find guys. Now (opponents) have a harder decision to make on defense."
If Mitchell takes another step forward in his third season, defensive decisions for opponents will become even more complicated. He averaged a team-high 23.8 points per game a year ago but shot just 43.2% from the field while facing relentless defensive pressure.
Utah's newest additions figure to give Mitchell easier looks at the basket and make the whole offense run smoother.
Conley averaged 21.1 points and dished out 6.4 assists per game in his final season with Memphis. Bogdanovic averaged a career-best 18 points per game for Indiana last season while shooting 49.7% from the field. Green tallied 12.3 points per game for Washington on 47.5% shooting.
These new additions have the Jazz setting some lofty goals.
"Obviously, our ultimate goal is to win the championship," Conley said. "We're not fooling ourselves like we've been there, done that. We're gonna come in and work every day and try to maximize each day."
Other things to know about the Jazz heading into the season:
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Rudy Gobert posted career highs in points (15.9) and rebounds (12.9) per game, as well as field goal percentage (.669), in his sixth NBA season. He capped it off with his second straight defensive player of the year award.
Now Gobert has set his sights on reaching his first NBA All-Star game as he enters his seventh year. He believes the Jazz have put him in a position to make an even bigger impact by plugging in players around him and Mitchell who will create more spacing on the floor.
"They can build a team around us and around our abilities to put a lot of pressure on the rim," Gobert said. "It's on me to be the guy that I've been defensively, even better, and offensively keep showing I'm getting better every year."
Getting long-distance shots to fall ended up being a problem for Utah during a first-round playoff exit against Houston. Outside shooting could now be a strength for the Jazz going forward.
Five current players ranked in the Top 100 in 3-point shooting percentage a season ago.
Bogdanovic leads the way after ranking 10th in the league in 3-point shooting last season. The forward, who signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz in July, connected on 42.5% of his outside shots with the Pacers last year.
Utah will find ways to pair him with Joe Ingles, the team's top returning perimeter shooter. Ingles made 39.1% of his attempts last season.
Defending well in transition was a key component of Utah's defense last season. The Jazz ranked second in the league when it came to defending transition baskets, allowing opponents to score just 11.4 fastbreak points per game.
Utah led the NBA in the same category two years ago, allowing 9.5 fastbreak points per contest. Expect it to be a point of emphasis again.
"Doesn't matter who's on the floor, we gotta get back," Snyder said.
Former lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay signed with the Jazz on a one-year, $1.7 million deal in July. He is coming off four mostly disappointing seasons with Denver and New York. He did show some flashes of potential with the Knicks a year ago, averaging a career-best 14.8 points.
Mudiay has dealt with an injured hamstring during the preseason, complicating his bid to become the backup point guard behind Conley.
Injuries have limited Exum to 56 games over the last two seasons. He continues to rehab from a season-ending knee injury a year ago.
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Exum is in the second year of a three-year, $33 million deal he signed with Utah in 2018.