NBA 2018/19: Where Does the Utah Jazz Go From Here?
For the second straight postseason, the Utah Jazz has been eliminated in five games by the Houston Rockets. Despite showing some great fight in games three through five after being blown out in each of the first two games of this series, it is clear that the Jazz does not have enough to challenge the upper echelon of the NBA.
Through the NBA Draft and especially free agency, the Jazz needs to add more offensive talent if they want to get past teams like the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors next postseason.
The first thing that the Jazz need is another elite scoring guard to complement franchise centerpiece, Donovan Mitchell. While Ricky Rubio played very well in both game four and game five, scoring 17 points and dishing 11 assists followed by 18 points and 11 assists, Rubio is still just a 40.4% shooter, including 31.1% from three-point range.
On nights where Mitchell shoots an abysmal 4/22 on field goal attempts like he did in game five, the Jazz needs another guard to carry the load offensively. When defenses leave Rubio open at the three-point line, it is made abundantly clear that they do not respect him as a shooter.
Shooting an airball on the go-ahead three-pointer when down by one with under a minute left was all the proof one needs to see that Rubio is not consistent enough as a scorer to be the Jazz's long-term answer at point guard.
Besides Rubio, the other player for the Jazz who is a free agent also raises a lot of questions about his future with the team, Derrick Favors. To clarify, while Favors is not an unrestricted free agent, the Jazz has the option to waive him by July 5 if they choose not to pay his $19,000,000 salary for next season.
The best adjustment that the Jazz made during their series versus the Rockets was to insert Jae Crowder into the starting lineup in place of Favors. With a lineup of Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, Crowder, and Gobert, the Jazz posted their best offensive rating of 96.1. The Jazz also posted their best defensive rating at 126.7 (minimum of 30 minutes played).
Unless Rubio and Favors would be willing to accept becoming bench pieces for the Jazz, it is unlikely that one or both will return to Utah next season. There are several combo guards who could help generate points for the Jazz in free agency this summer.
Several of the biggest names at guard this summer include Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, D'Angelo Russell, JJ Redick, and Klay Thompson. With Irving and Thompson being long-shots, that leaves Walker, Redick, and Russell as the three the Jazz should target.
While Redick is really a shooting guard and not a ball handler, Mitchell has shown that he can excel at point guard. As of March 1, the Jazz was 6-0 in games that Mitchell started at point guard this season.
During the six-game span that Mitchell played point guard, the second-year guard out of Louisville averaged 30.3 points per game on 47.5% shooting, including 40.3% from three-point range.
For players who averaged at least 15 minutes per game for the Jazz this season, the leading three-point shooters were Joe Ingles at 39.1%, Royce O'Neale at 38.6%, and Kyle Korver at 38.4%. With Korver and Ingles being no-shows on offense versus the Rockets, the Jazz would welcome Redick's veteran presence and knack to shoot at insane angles off both screens and the dribble.
Redick averaged 18.1 points per game on 44.0% shooting, including 39.7% from three-point range for the Philadelphia 76ers this season in 31.3 minutes per game. During the 76ers' opening-round series victory over the Brooklyn Nets in five games, Redick put up games of 17 and 26 points scored; welcomed, consistent scoring that would propel the Jazz into becoming serious contenders.
Russell is probably a long-shot as well with his love and appreciation that he seems to have for the Nets organization. Meanwhile, for those interested in my thoughts about the addition that Kemba Walker would have to the Jazz, check out this article that I wrote about three weeks ago.
A second position that the Jazz should target is a starting small forward. There's no doubting Joe Ingles is the heart and soul of the Jazz. At the same time, the 11 points that he scored during game five was Ingles's series-high in scoring.
A starting small forward for a playoff team cannot have four consecutive games where they score under double figures. Two names that should intrigue the Jazz are Bojan Bogdanovic, and Khris Middleton (assuming that Middleton does not accept his player option with the Milwaukee Bucks).
Bogdanovic's 18 points per game that he averaged this season is his career high in scoring. Bogdanovic also shot a career field goal % of 49.7%, including a career-high 42.5% from three-point range. After Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo's season ended in January, most expected the Pacers to sink quickly.
Bogdanovic was a large reason in why the Pacers were able to finish fifth in the east before being swept by the Boston Celtics. Expect the 30-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina to earn a sizable three or four-year contract from someone this summer.
With time running out before both Gobert and Mitchell command sizable contract offers in the summer of 2021, the Jazz have two seasons to add pieces that can turn them into serious contenders. Whether it be through the draft, free agency, or a trade, the Jazz front office needs to hit a home run and find a player who can help Mitchell handle the load offensively.