The NBA season begins in just over a month. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers look to be the other team in the standings: Utah Jazz.
The Jazz are at the top of the Western Conference standings, winning 10 in a row before losing to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
The question is whether the Jazz players are legitimate competitors in the Western Conference. Let’s talk.
Mitchell has been phenomenal in his young NBA career. In just his third season, he led the Jazz to the West for the first time after leading them to the playoffs last season. Speeda reaches career highs in almost every category, and his offense is unlike any other player in the league.
He is the heart and soul of this Jazz team, and if they want to qualify for the playoffs, he needs to play at a high level. Mitchell is averaging 23.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
️ paves the way for 8 STRAIGHT! @spidadmitchell: 23 PT, 7 REB, 6 AST pic.twitter.com/qc2dW77GTM
– NBA (@NBA) 24. January 2021
Mike Conley has done well this year, to the surprise of many. In his career, he averaged 16.8 points per game on 45 percent from the field and 41.8 percent on three-pointers, in addition to 6.1 assists.
He can always orchestrate the offense and takes a lot of the pressure off of Mitchell, allowing him to do what he does best: score points in basketball.
Mike Conley played at such a high level, make the play here. When he comes out of the KP, he’s horizontal, but he moves backwards as Gobert moves away. Hesitate, attack and once Gobert is behind the KP/CP, he throws a lob. pic.twitter.com/1q2qO81hOS
– Steve Jones Jr (@stevejones20) January 30, 2021
Jordan Clarkson was the biggest surprise of this Jazz team and is competing for the sixth man of the year award in the NBA. Clarkson has career averages in points (17.9), goals scored (46.8), free throws (97.1) and rebounds (4.7).
Jordan Clarkson is too cunning.
(via @utahjazz) pic.twitter.com/L28Mwlvbch
– SLAM (@SLAMonline) 30. January 2021
He’s found a home in Utah after bouncing around for several years, and offers great opportunities to score goals from the bench, so Mitchell and Conley don’t have to play long minutes every game.
Clarkson scored in double figures in all but one game in January, and his play may be a major reason for the Jazz’s success and their 11-game winning streak that ended Sunday against the Denver Nuggets.
Wing and major
Rudy Gobert is still in the running for the defender of the year award, and that’s no surprise. He had another exceptional season for the Jazz, averaging 13.6 and setting career records in blocks (2.7) and rebounds (14.1).
It’s not easy to avoid Gobert.
– Cleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 30, 2021
Derrick Favors got used to his role on the bench and delivered quality minutes in the second unit, but it was Royce O’Neal who played a big role in the Jazz’s success.
O’Neal got off to a great start and had no problem, allowing Gobert to score in the middle for the Jazz and be a parasite for the opposing team. O’Neal also set career records in nearly every category, including points, rebounds and field goal percentage.
Jazz rim shots: the hard ones #BlocksOfTheMonth | @CyprusCU pic.twitter.com/SCeeT6yzNm
– utahjazz (@utahjazz) 31. January 2021
Bojan Bogdanovic has regressed a bit since 2019, but the improved play of Conley, Clarkson and Mitchell probably has a lot to do with the fact that Joe Ingles always delivers quality minutes from the bench, and the Jazz have been one of the most unselfish teams in the entire NBA so far, which will be essential if they want to make a breakthrough in a talented Western Conference.
The cohesion of this Utah team is one of the main reasons for their first place finish in the Western Conference and their 11-game winning streak that ended Sunday with Nikola Jokic fouling out with 47 points for the Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers and Lakers are the Western class, but the Jazz could put an end to their playoff plans.
They have a solid foundation, they play unselfish basketball and they have a developing superstar in Mitchell. Conley provides a veteran they missed a few years ago, and Gobert is an imbalance for all but a few teams in the league.
It’s certainly not out of the question, and the last round of wins was as impressive as it could have been, but they still have their work cut out for them.
Still, Quinn Snyder has this team playing great basketball, and against good teams. The Nuggets have come a long way and the taste of a 3-1 victory in the first round over those same Nuggets is still fresh in their minds, so revenge is needed.
If Mitchell and Conley continue to play at this level, and Gobert and O’Neal do what they did that night, the Jazz could reach the Western Conference finals and be in serious trouble against the Staples Center hosts.