You may think that the Jazz are due for a breakout year, and you wouldn’t be the first to think that. The Jazz almost made the playoffs this past year (only one game out) even with several of their best players being out for extended periods of time. Dante Exum, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Alec Burks all missed extended periods of time.
This season brings additions of George Hill, Boris Diaw, and Joe Johnson, veterans that the team hasn’t had in the past few years. Last year, the Jazz were tied for the youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 24.1 years. The three bring a lot of playoff experience to a very inexperienced team.
The Jazz are returning only four players that have been to the playoffs, and Shelvin Mack, who has played in 21 playoff games, is the only one who has played in more than four. Hayward, Favors, and Burks each played in the 2011-12 playoffs when the Jazz were swept by the Spurs in the first round. Hill, Diaw, and Johnson have played in a combined 284 playoff games. These veterans should be able to help get a few extra wins.
Two players on the team poised to make a jump this year are Favors and Hood. Favors has all the tools to become an All-Star this year. He has worked heavily on his jump shot to develop a mid-range game and has steadily increased his points per game every year he has been in the league.
With the Jazz poised to be one of the better teams in the West, expect Favors to increase his scoring average to around 20 points per game and become an All-Star. Hood showed flashes of brilliance in his sophomore campaign. He nearly doubled his scoring average from his rookie year and started all 79 games he played in. He scored 30+ points twice, and one of which he scored 30 points in the first half. Hood is getting a much better feel for the pick and roll that Utah likes to run. I expect him to make a large jump and average close to 18 points per game and 6 assists per game.
Ultimately, Utah should be a playoff team next year. It will be a huge disappointment if they aren’t. The best strength this team has to help them win games is their ability to go big and go small. The starting lineup of Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert has massive length and is a nightmare for opposing offenses to navigate through. Going “small” by moving Favors to center and bringing in Trey Lyles, Boris Diaw, or Joe Johnson at power forward stretches the floor but still doesn’t give up much size. With the addition of Hill, the Jazz should finish the season with one of the best defensive ratings in the league.
They finished seventh in 2015-16 even having their best defensive player in Gobert missing 21 games. I expect them to be the fourth seed in the western conference and win 49 games, snagging home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.