After missing out on the 8th seed in the Western Conference (by the skin of their teeth) last season, the Utah Jazz were deflated, left by mistakes which left them one game from a playoff berth.
Fast forward ten months time to present day, the Jazz occupy themselves as the 4th seed in the West. They currently stand at a favourable 37-22 record. They find themselves right amongst the competition, boasting a better record than an abundance of Conference heavyweights, including the L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies.
After dismantling fellow contenders, such the Washington Wizards, 102-92 on Sunday night, the Jazz cemented themselves as one of the NBA’s most difficult match ups and made a statement to the rest of the league; they’re no joke.
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) February 27, 2017
A large part of their success thus far this season has been down to the excellent performance of Gordon Hayward, who received All-Star honors as a result. The small forward has been in stellar form this year, averaging a career-high 22.5 points per contest, while shooting the ball at a robustly efficient 47% clip, as well as shooting 39% from three. The aforementioned statistics have culminated in Hayward emerging as one of the leagues most underrated players, and one of the most exciting forwards to watch, too.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 25, 2017
On the defensive spectrum, the Jazz haven’t been bad either. Rudy Gobert is to thank for this. The Frenchman has also been in magnificent, as he has transformed into one of the best defensive fives in the NBA. Gobert currently leads the league in blocks with 2.5 a game, and this partnered with his potent rim protecting ability and 0.7 steals a game have put him firmly in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year.
The one glaring weakness with this Utah team is depth. Their starters, when fit, can easily go toe-to-toe with the very best. However, over the last five games, Utah’s second unit have collectively scored an average of 25.6 points a contest. While not entirely significant when the starters are hot, this could be a problem when the Jazz need firepower off the bench.
Despite this, the Jazz have found themselves relatively injury free (bar guard George Hill who’s missed 25 games) and will be hoping this continues in order to lodge a legitimate postseason run.
With Hill (unrestricted) and Hayward (player option) becoming possible free agents in the off-season, the Jazz may have to delve into their pockets in order to keep their superstars. One thing’s for certain, don’t count out the Utah Jazz come April, they could be the team to de-throne the Golden State Warriors as kings of the West.