The Utah Jazz, at 52-20 last season, had the best record in the NBA. Their point differential of +9.2 was also the best in the NBA. That was last year. Are they the favorites to go all the way this year after flattering to deceive last time.
Donovan "Spida" Mitchell has become such an all-world player that the expectations from him continue to with the do-everything shooting guard leading his team into the playoffs consistently.
At 26 points, 5 dimes and 4 assists per game, a usage rate of 33.5, and 43% shooting (38.6% from the arc), all Mitchell needs is some help. He's a leader in the community with his prominence, and has used his voice to speak out about Utah and critical race theory. Mitchell will be an MVP candidate all season for the Utah Jazz, and his heightened play will propel his teammates in support.
Signing All-Star Mike Conley to a 3 year/68 million dollar deal will pay off as long as Conley is able to play relatively injury-free. He is essential to the Utah Jazz's success. Bringing in Hasaan Whiteside to back up Rudy Gobert was an excellent move despite Whiteside's inability to guard the small ball defensively.
Eric Pascall, for a 2nd round pick might be one of the best moves this offseason given how Pascall will steady bench scoring for the Utah Jazz. Donovan Mitchell and Pascall played on the same AAU team.
Getting Rudy Gay is another good move. He's a decent defender, 3-point shooter and scorer. Picking Jared Butler with pick #40 was also smart. The 2021 Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament was a three-year starter at Baylor and is NBA ready.
Utah Jazz's motivation
Having gone 2-0 up against the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2nd round, the Utah Jazz had to be disappointed with themselves for blowing the series lead and eventually losing 4-2. The overall #1 seed in the NBA playoffs, the Utah Jazz should perform much better this season after the stinging playoff loss.
The rise of the Phoenix Suns, most likely the only threat to the Jazz for the top seed in the conference, will also push the Utah Jazz throughout the season.
6th man excellence
Having two 6th man of the year candidates in Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles gives the Utah Jazz an advantage over most NBA teams, and makes the Utah Jazz major NBA contenders. Second-team scoring not only adds to victory, it also gives the starters a complementary break uncommon in the NBA. Jordan Clarkson won the award last season and beat out Ingles and Derrick Rose as the best 6th man in the NBA. Utah's bench is loaded.
Stength of schedule
The Utah Jazz have the easiest strength of schedule in the NBA. Last season, the Utah Jazz had the 6th easiest schedule and finished at the top of the NBA in the won/lost record. The Utah Jazz must fend off any complacency given the strength of schedule advantage, and position themselves when the season gets the most challenging.
Why Utah will have the best record in the West
The aforementioned strength of schedule, and nine returning players from the 52-20 season should give the Utah Jazz everything it needs to dominate this season.
Despite having LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it's not clear how all the postseason moves play out for the Lakers. Their advancing years might be a problem late in the season.
Jamal Murray is out for the unforeeable future in Denver; the same with Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles. Those teams will have to rely on Nikola Jokic and Paul George, respectively, and as loaded as the Utah Jazz are, both of those teams will be playing catch up all season.
There's a one-man show going down in Dallas. That eliminates the Mavericks from true contention. As the NBA continues a small ball trend, the Utah Jazz have to shore up defensively in that regard to move through the postseason and show the NBA it is in fact a true contender.