Are The Utah Jazz The Real Favorite For The Championship Or Are They Just A Regular-Season Surprise?

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(via Heaven32)

(via Heaven32)

The Utah Jazz have a league-best 26-6 record on the season, and they have looked extremely dominant during the regular season. However, there are some questions that people have put out about the team. The Utah Jazz have been known to be a good regular season team that falls apart in the playoffs. Notably, they blew a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in last year's playoffs and haven't made it out of the first round during their last two playoffs runs.

Therefore the question here is simple. Are the Utah Jazz the real favorite for the championship due to their dominance, or will this regular-season success wane once they enter the postseason? Moving from a first-round exit to a championship-caliber isn't easy, but their regular season suggests that they are a premier team this season.

The Utah Jazz Are Elite Defensively

The Utah Jazz have an elite defense. Most of their starting lineup are plus defenders. Obviously, there's Rudy Gobert, the 2-time Defensive Player of The Year, who protects the rim and deters his opponents from going inside. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are both good perimeter defenders, while Bogdan Bogdanovic is a smart player who has experience defending bigger wings, as he was the primary defender on LeBron James during the 2017-18 Indiana Pacers-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup. Royce O'Neale is your prototypical 3 and D forward who is an athletic defender focused on making life difficult on the best player on the opposing team. They are also deep on defense on their bench, as Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors are both solid on defense as well. The statistics support the case for Utah being a defensive giant. Utah is #2 in opponent points allowed per game with 105.88 and they are #2 in defensive rating, with 107.6. The Utah Jazz are also the #2 team in RPG with 48.4, barely missing out on the top spot to the Milwaukee Bucks (48.5 RPG). They have been dominant defensively, and the key to that has been Rudy Gobert. Rudy Gobert has the best individual defensive rating in the league with 100.1, with Joel Embiid and Myles Turner coming in second at 104.9. It is clear that the Utah Jazz have developed an elite defense that maximizes Rudy Gobert's abilities during the regular season.

The Utah Jazz Have An Elite 3PT Shooting Team

While their defense has been good, that isn't the only factor that brought the Utah Jazz to where they're at. The Utah Jazz have surrounded Rudy Gobert with four shooters, meaning that there is some elite spacing on this team. As a result, the Utah Jazz have been amazing from beyond the arc, and that also shows in the statistic. Only recently, the Utah Jazz have set a record for the amount of 3PT shots that a team has made over two games.

The Utah Jazz have taken a long proven formula and surrounded their two stars with some elite shooters, who also have some shot creation ability. Sometimes, you can attribute a team's elite shooting to a hot stretch during the season. Yet we are almost at the halfway mark, and the Utah Jazz freight train is not slowing down.

The Utah Jazz must be recognized as an elite 3PT shooting team. They are currently #1 in 3PT shots made with 544 and #3 in overall 3PT percentage with 39.9. Their 3PT percentage so far is better than their 2019-20 mark (38.0%). They lead the league in 3PT percentage at the end of the 2019-20 season, and it seems like they have improved even further since then. As Perez mentions in the tweet above, they have already set two franchise records for the amount of 3PT shots made in a singular game. All of the statistics point to their shooting being one of the key factors in the Utah Jazz being able to win games.

The Concerns With The Utah Jazz

The main concern with the Utah Jazz is that their stellar regular season play will not translate to the playoffs. We have seen many teams do well in the regular season, only to have their strategies blown up in the postseason. Some notable examples of such teams would be the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks and the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors. Both of those teams were dominant in the regular season via a 'team basketball' approach which focused on getting open threes and ball movement. However, that style of play doesn't always work for situations where you need a guaranteed bucket in isolation like the playoffs. Donovan Mitchell himself knows that the playoffs are what matter:

Donovan Mitchell will be the key to how far the Utah Jazz go in the playoffs. Yes, they have had an elite regular season on both ends. Yes, they are one of the most talented rosters in the NBA. But when the pressure comes in the playoffs, they will expect Donovan Mitchell to be the primary scorer for the team. Some of the offensive pressure on him will be erased due to the talent around him, but when push comes to shove, the plays are going to be called for Donovan Mitchell at the end of the game. The good sign seems to be that Donovan Mitchell and the rest of the roster realize that there is still more work to be done to be the best team in the league come July.

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