The new-look Jazz are anticipated to make a splash in the Western Conference, but the San Antonio Spurs are ready to tackle the challenge that awaits.
Even though he’s been traded out of the Southwest Division, the San Antonio Spurs can’t seem to escape facing Mike Conley four times per season. In a blockbuster trade that propelled the Jazz into a higher level of contention, Conley was sent up to Salt Lake City in exchange for Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder and a pick that turned into two-way phenom Brandon Clarke.
While the rest of the team is trending toward duos, the Jazz formed a big three with Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey held no punches this offseason, overhauling the roster and injecting new life into his team after losing to MVP runner-up James Harden and the Houston Rockets in a five-game gentleman’s sweep.
These two teams faced off three times last season with the Jazz edging out the season series 2-1 with the home team winning each game. Spurs star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan carved the Jazz up from the mid-range last season, leading the team in scoring for two of the three meetings.
Utah’s defensive cohesiveness proved to be too much for the Spurs last season, but the tables have turned heading into the 2019-20 season. San Antonio carried continuity into this year that should help them stay afloat against the Western Conference elite.
All four of these matchups will come in 2020, so the playoff pictures will be within view by the time that the Jazz come to town on January 29. Roughly three weeks later, the Spurs will head up to Salt Lake for the second-to-last game of the Rodeo Road Trip before capping off the season series with a home-and-home on March 22 and 24.
Next: The 2019-20 Utah Jazz
The 2019-20 Utah Jazz
Even though Conley is the new floor general in town, the Jazz will more than likely funnel their offense through ‘Spida’ Mitchell for the most part. Entering his third year in the league, the 23-year-old was a focal point in Gregg Popovich’s Team USA unit this Summer and has taken strides in his professional development since entering the league.
Despite the threat of regression, Mitchell excelled in his second year, posting 23.8 points, 4.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on 43.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.2 percent shooting from deep. He’s got legitimate superstar potential and continues to flash it in every facet of his public life. Mitchell’s dynamic play style on the court matches his outstanding character off the court, making him the golden boy of Utah.
Having a primary ball handler of Conley’s caliber is going to change the way that Mitchell handles himself, allowing for more off-ball chances instead of being forced to take over and run the offense himself. Point guard Ricky Rubio, who signed a multiyear deal with Phoenix, is an exceptional playmaker, but has never been a serious threat in the postseason, unlike Conley.
The Jazz also added veteran pieces to fill out their roster and log smaller roles around their marquee trio. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic filled in formidably for the injured Victor Oladipo in Indiana last season and earned a hefty payday because of it. He’ll be the X-Factor for this team, as his floor spacing and consistency will dictate how well Utah’s offense will flow.
For a player that’s bounced around on cheap, one-year contracts, Ed Davis is one of the better role players a team could ask for. He’ll need to learn how to coexist with Gobert, who’ll dominate the paint on both ends, but Davis brings an edge and experience to the table that will benefit his team. The same can be said for Jeff Green, who performed admirably despite being stuck in basketball Purgatory last year as a Wizard.
The most interesting addition in my opinion is Emmanuel Mudiay, who had the best season of his young career as a New York Knick last year. At just 23-years-old, the athletic playmaker provides this group with serious potential as a slasher and playmaker. Alongside Dante Exum, who is mostly an unknown due to his long struggle with injuries, Mudiay could work himself into Sixth Man of the Year contention if everything goes his way.
Doubling down on a 50-win season is no easy task, but all signs points toward the Jazz doing so and potentially grabbing home court advantage in the process.
Next: Overcoming a difficult matchup
Overcoming a difficult matchup
Of the many star-quality players in this series that could swing the pendulum in one direction or another, it’s Spurs center Jakob Poeltl who can play the biggest part in combatting the Jazz and their deep roster.
For as talented as he is, LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t well equipped to battle against the back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year in Gobert. Poeltl, on the other hand, possesses similar strength, length and physicality to match up against the French sensation. Poeltl’s highest scoring game of last season was a 20-point outing in Utah where he made 9-of-11 field goal attempts along with seven boards and a block.
Putting Aldridge back at his natural power forward spot forces the Jazz into tough matchups with a rotation of Green, Bogdanovic, Davis and Royce O’Neal to deal with the seven-time All-Star’s barrage of post shots and nifty jumpers. This should open up the floor for players like DeMarre Carroll, Rudy Gay and Marco Belinelli to fire away from the perimeter.
As for the guard matchup, San Antonio’s duo of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White will be put to the test against the Jazz. Utah’s aforementioned guard tandem can score from just about anywhere, forcing the Spurs to keep on their toes. Murray and White hold advantages in both size and length on their matchups and can use this to disrupt jump shots and attacks to the rim alike. It’s easier said than done, but the Spurs can take care of business as long as they’re not getting exploited by Conley and Mitchell.
Both of these teams control their own pace and play with their heads. Jazz coach Quin Snyder comes from within the Spurs system, as he formerly coached the Austin Toros and later on coached under Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, so he’ll be familiar with many of the more classic strategies implemented by Pop.
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This series could go either way, but a 2-2 split of the season series could be considered a win for the Spurs if Utah fulfills its potential down the stretch.