One of the most unexpected performances this season have come from the Utah Jazz, who have shown up out of nowhere to take the top seed in the rugged and competitive Western Conference. However, despite their regular-season brilliance, very few, if any, are picking the Jazz to win the NBA title.
It started with the NBA All-Star Game Draft when captains LeBron James and Kevin Durant both didn't pick the only two Utah Jazz players, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, until the very end of the draft process.
The Utah Jazz players have called out the media and others in the community for this blatant disrespect towards their team name and suggested that they are certainly ready to claim the NBA title.
Naturally, not many analysts and experts expect the Utah Jazz to make it out of the Western Conference playoffs. It might sound crazy as they are leading the toughest conference right now, but we analyze exactly why the Jazz are destined for an early exit despite their marvelous regular season.
#1 Lack of playoff experience
The postseason is run by battle-tested veterans who know how to handle playoff pressure. The lack of playoff experience on this Utah Jazz roster is extremely concerning as they are in the competitive Western Conference and likely to go up against some experienced veterans.
The majority of the roster hasn't gone past the second round of the playoffs. Most of the players on this team have seen several first-round exits, and with no championship-experienced player on the team, they could face a tough time against a LeBron James-led LA Lakers or a Kawhi Leonard-led LA Clippers.
In the postseason, we barely see the rotations go past the top 8 players with the starters often playing 40+ minutes given the nature of playoff games. So let's evaluate the eight main rotation players, namely Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Mike Conley, Royce O'Neale, Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and lastly, Derrick Favors. These 8 players see maximum playing time in the Utah Jazz rotation and will be the key to their playoff success.
Mitchell, Gobert, O'Neale, Bogdanovic, Ingles and Favors haven't gone past the second round in their careers. Jordan Clarkson reached the NBA Finals as a bench player in the LeBron James-led Cavaliers in 2018.
He averaged less than 15 minutes and 5 points in the entire playoff run and his minutes significantly declined as the Cavs went deeper into the postseason.
The only veteran on the team is Mike Conley, who has been in 11 playoff series in his career but unfortunately went past the second round just once with the Memphis Grizzlies and was swept in the conference finals.
Ersan Ilyasova has decent playoff experience, but he has played in just 11 of the total 61 Utah Jazz games this season and has averaged less than 9 minutes. It is safe to say he won't be seeing any playoff action this year as there is no chemistry between him and the team.
#2 Regular Season vs Playoffs
The intensity of the NBA playoffs is unmatched. Everything is amped up in the NBA playoffs and we have seen some of the all-time great regular season players crumble under the bright lights of the postseason, such as James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The possessions are calculated differently, the defensive rotations are executed differently and the shot selection is vastly different as well.
To evaluate the Utah Jazz regular season so far, the team has won 44 games and lost 17. They are coming off two devastating defeats to the bottom-table Minnesota Timberwolves and that collapse has left many speculating whether the Utah Jazz are just another regular-season wonder or if they have what it takes to succeed in the grueling postseason.
The Utah Jazz have deployed an offense of high-volume three-point shooting and spacing. They have over 5 players who are money from beyond the arc and the Jazz rains threes down on teams and are 1st in the league in both threes attempted and made.
However, judging by years past, the "live and die by the three" offense has never worked out. These teams often scramble for points when the opposing defense takes away their perimeter spacing and liberty to launch threes. Once the deep jump shots aren't falling, the team is forced to come up with new bucket-getting strategies on the fly and the opposition takes full advantage of their miscommunications.
In the 44 games the Utah Jazz have won till now, 35 victories have been by more than 10 points or blowouts. Naturally, we cannot expect the margin or score difference to be big in the playoffs considering the increased defense and halfcourt setting on offense. So those regular-season victories that we saw where the Utah Jazz were blowing teams away will be very difficult to replicated in the postseason.
This Utah Jazz team is 9-14 when the scores are close in the 4th quarter. When the pressure is high and the game is on the line, 14 out of 23 times, this team has crumbled. This evidence is exactly why not many people are picking the Utah Jazz to go all the way, despite them sitting atop the Western Conference. In close-game situations, turnovers increase, the shots don't fall and easy defensive assignments are messed up.
In their last loss to the Timberwolves, Rudy Gobert left his man and scrambled around in the final seconds which led to a wide-open layup by D'Angelo Russell.
Rudy Gobert spoke about the play at the postgame interview,
"[Conley] was already out there. We switched, and I should have recognized that. He did what he was supposed to do, and I didn't, It's one of those plays, when you watch a replay, you just feel dumb.. but 100 percent on me, for sure."
As mentioned in the earlier segment, the majority of the Jazz roster lacks deep playoff experience and other teams will be looking to take advantage of that.
#3 Utah Jazz coaching and strategies
Although this isn't as important as the rest of the points, the Utah Jazz bench is not very deep. Players outside the top 8 barely see minutes and cannot be counted on in the playoffs.
Bench players like Ersan Ilyasova, Udoka Azubuike, Elijah Hughes, Miye Oni, Matt Thomas, Trent Forrest and several others get less than 10 minutes a game, and at times don't see playing time at all. The only other player outside the top 8 iwho gets more time is Georges Niang, who averages 14.7 minutes a game and contributes with nearly 6 points a night.
The Utah Jazz team heavily rely on their starters and the other teams in the conference have decent bench depth. Although the majority of the bench won't see playing time in the postseason anyway, the lack of decent players on the bench hampers the rotations a little.
Finally, coach Quin Snyder has no championship or playoff experience in the NBA. He has been an assistant coach on bad teams for the majority of his career and this is his first head coaching gig. This same team blew away a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in last season's first round of the playoffs. Although, in coach Snyder's favor, he has been with the Utah Jazz since 2014 and he knows this team inside out.
As mentioned earlier, the team often undergoes a collapse when the scores are close and coach Quin Snyder seems unable to make the necessary adjustments. It remains to be seen what changes the team will implement in the playoffs and how deep they will go in the postseason.