Last season, the Utah Jazz finished the regular season with a 50-22 mark, giving them the NBA’s best record for the first time in franchise history.
But, thanks in part to an injury suffered by Mike Conley and having a hobbled Donovan Mitchell, as well as an inability to combat small-ball lineups, the Jazz bowed out of the playoffs in the second round.
Utah collapsed after taking a 2-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Clippers, who played without their top star Kawhi Leonard.
This loss, coupled with the squandering of a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the previous postseason, continues to sting.
So the 2021-22 season stands as something of a make-or-break campaign for Utah’s core.
Another Playoff Disappointment
The Jazz sported the league’s best point differential as well, plus-9.2, a full three points better than the second-highest team.
Utah posted the sixth-best Net Rating in league history with their plus-11.2 mark.
Anchored by a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in All-Star Rudy Gobert, the Jazz posted the league’s third-best defensive efficiency rating, allowing 107.5 points per 100 possessions.
But in the playoffs, the team collapsed once again.
The team surrendered 121.7 points per 100 possessions in the postseason, and ultimately squandered another commanding series lead.
Against the Clippers, Utah surrendered 125 points per game over four straight losses that ended its season.
What’s more, the Jazz coughed up a 25-point lead in Game 6 against Los Angeles, throwing away the opportunity to host Game 7 on their home floor.
It didn’t help that the team lost Conley to injury in the first round.
On the bright side, this disappointing playoff effort has the chance to galvanize this core.
"They're going to come back with a vengeance to show everybody this wasn't a fluke."@DarthAmin tells @Jumpshot8 why he thinks the @utahjazz will be the best team in the West again next season.#TakeNote pic.twitter.com/8RxLSdDWgE
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) August 21, 2021
Jazz Poised For Postseason Push
The Jazz return their top seven players from last season’s 50-win campaign.
The team also has a great deal of hope in 2021 first-round selection Jared Butler.
These complementary pieces should help combat the defensive deficiencies the Clippers exposed through the use of small-ball lineups.
This lineup versatility might afford Jazz head coach Quin Snyder with the opportunity to experiment more with his lineups.
Donovan Mitchell from way outside. Logo Spida? 👀
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) August 30, 2021
Adding Gay allows Snyder to have a capable veteran floor spacer occupying the four position.
Paschall, meanwhile, enters not only as a childhood friend of Mitchell, but also as a quality young player with upside.
But the biggest key to next season’s success in Utah remains the development of Mitchell.
Mitchell seems to be entering the prime of his career.
The 24-year-old shooting guard is coming off his second-straight All-Star berth.
His 26.4 points per game averaged ranked 11th in the NBA last season.
And he’s one postseason removed from a 36.3 scoring average which led the league.
Against the Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals last season, Mitchell netted the most three-pointers in a single series in NBA history.
Mitchell posted career highs in points (26.4), assists (5.2), and three-point percentage (38.6) last season, but was surprisingly left off the All-NBA teams.
Of course, it helps that the Positive Residual formula ranks the Jazz’s regular-season slate as the easiest in the NBA.