For almost any other young team trying to make progress in the crowded West, having a young player such as Gordon Hayward leave as a free agent would have been devastating. Hayward was the face of the Jazz—the scorer, the closer, the team's lone All-Star since Deron Williams six years ago.
But Rudy Gobert was Utah's rock.
At 7'1" with an eight-foot wingspan, Gobert spent 2016--17 harassing shooters like a science fiction villain, gliding from the rim to the three-point line and back. Utah broke through last season—winning 51 games, its first division title in a decade and a first-round series win over the Clippers—because of his progress, not Hayward's. Gobert led the league in blocks per game (2.6) and was second in defensive rating (99.2). The Jazz outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions when Gobert was on the floor.
Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles and a healthier Derrick Favors will make up for Hayward's scoring. Ricky Rubio will take over as playmaker. The Jazz be a work in progress. But in the 25-year-old Gobert, they still have a cornerstone to build on.
COACH QUIN SNYDER
(4th season with Jazz)
2016--17 RECORD 51--31
(1st in Northwest)
61 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PG RICKY RUBIO [NEW ACQUISITION]
11.1 PPG; 9.1 APG; 1.7 SPG; 40.2 FG%
87 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SG RODNEY HOOD
12.7 PPG; 3.4 RPG; 40.8 FG%; 37.1 3FG%
SF JOE INGLES
7.1 PPG; 3.2 RPG; 45.2 FG%; 44.1 3FG%
67 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PF DERRICK FAVORS
9.5 PPG; 6.1 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 48.7 FG%
15 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
C RUDY GOBERT
14.0 PPG; 12.8 RPG; 2.6 BPG; 66.1 FG%
SF JOE JOHNSON
9.2 PPG; 3.1 RPG; 43.6 FG%; 41.1 3FG%
PG DANTE EXUM
6.2 PPG; 1.7 APG; 42.7 FG%; 29.5 3FG%
PF JONAS JEREBKO [NEW ACQUISITION]
3.8 PPG; 3.5 RPG; 43.5 FG%; 34.6 3FG%
• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP UTAH
They're a slow, low-possession, clock-control team that prides itself on defense, toughness and making the other team's life miserable. They can be the best defensive team in the league, and with an average offense—that puts them into the playoffs for sure.... RODNEY HOOD is their x-factor. They absolutely need him to take that big jump to fill Gordon Hayward's shoes. The opportunity and timing are great. They don't need him to score 30; they grind out wins and just need him to get it done late in games. Hood definitely has more to his offensive game than he's shown. He's confident and patient on the ball, he can run some pick-and-roll, and he can shoot.... I like the fit for RICKY RUBIO. They play to his strengths by emphasizing defense—he's strong on the ball—and they aren't a team that absolutely needs shooting from his spot. That said, some of Minnesota's late-game struggles could travel with him. He'll help keep their ball movement up in the half-court and he should pair well with RUDY GOBERT on pick-and-roll.... DERRICK FAVORS probably needs to get traded to a team where he can be the starting center rather than a guy who splits times at two positions and winds up stuck in mismatches.... DONOVAN MITCHELL was the most impressive rookie at Summer League. He's crazy long for a two guard.... Another reason they might be better than people think is that Hood, Favors, DANTE EXUM and ALEC BURKS all underperformed last year, mostly due to injury. Give them average health, and all of those guys are quality contributors.
TELLING 8.1 STATISTIC
Despite losing Hayward, there's enough talent to make the playoffs. Just not enough to win a series.