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MANILA, Philippines – In a span of a few days, the Utah Jazz became one of the most talked-about teams in recent NBA history.
No, it was not because of their good 41-24 record as a 4th seed in the tough Western Conference, nor was it due to Donovan “Spida” Mitchell’s clear rise as a future All-NBA Team-caliber talent.
It was because of the man who started it all, the NBA’s coronavirus “Patient Zero” Rudy Gobert.
It has been a while since the news broke out Gobert tested positive for the virus, forcing the NBA into an unprecedented shutdown and changes in schedules, seeding, and tournament format.
And if the swirling rumors are to be believed, the virus and its connections to the Jazz have left a sour note on their road back to organized basketball, which could prove costly when it matters most.
Current roster composition
Rumored chemistry issues aside, Gobert and Mitchell have been a hand-and-glove fit alongside each other ever since the latter took the league by storm two seasons ago.
Since his highly-publicized Rookie of the Year war with eventual winner Ben Simmons, the 23-year-old Mitchell has grown as a young superstar with averages of 24.2 points on a 45% clip, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.0 steal.
Meanwhile, the 7-foot-2 Gobert has always been known as a top-tier defender and rim-roller, as evidenced by his ongoing two-year reign as Defensive Player of the Year.
With norms of 15.1 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks on a shade under 70% shooting, the presence of Gobert, a first-time All-Star this year, is invaluable on both ends of the floor for the Jazz.
Filipino-American combo guard Jordan Clarkson and Australian point forward Joe Ingles, meanwhile, lead the Jazz bench mob.
The 6-foot-8 Ingles is actually the team’s leading dime-dropper with 5.2 assists a night, which Clarkson has utilized for his 15.6 scoring average in under 25 minutes per game.
Solid as the Jazz’s lineup may be right now, it unfortunately has two major issues left to be addressed heading to the playoffs.
Former Memphis Grizzlies top point guard Mike Conley has struggled mightily in his arrival to Utah, and has seen his scoring averages drop from 21.1 in 2019 to just 13.8 this 2020.
It did not help that he sat out multiple games due to an injury, which incidentally is what closed the chapter on Bojan Bogdanovic’s career-best year.
No thanks to a broken right wrist, the Croatian forward has been ruled out for the rest of the season, which leaves a huge 20.2 points-per-game hole left to be filled by other scoring sources.
Regardless, the Jazz are still stacked from top to bottom, and their success will just depend on how those pieces will play together, which is another issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later.
Remaining games: Pelicans, Thunder, Lakers, Grizzlies, Spurs, Nuggets, Mavericks, Spurs
Fortunately for the Jazz, they get the perfect schedule to get a feel for the opposition and themselves to get them back to top contention form.
Unlike most teams in the Disney World Orlando bubble, Utah gets an eight-game run of purely Western Conference teams, with easier opponents as well like the San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Pelicans.
This will be the perfect window for Gobert and Mitchell to settle their alleged differences due to the virus controversy and for Conley to finally get back to his old Grizzlies form.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team can continue to fill out the role left by Bogdanovic, which may mean more minutes for other good role players like Royce O’Neale and Emmanuel Mudiay.
The path to the Western throne is wide open for the taking. If there was ever a better time for the Jazz to get back on top like it was the 1990s again, that time is now.