The Memphis Grizzlies will battle their first Western Conference foe of the season, as they travel to Utah to face the Jazz. Donovan Mitchell and company are looking to build off a surprisingly successful campaign last season, establishing themselves as an elite defensive team and a potential darkhorse candidate out West.
1. A lot of the national media is sippin’ on the Jazz juice. What are your overall expectations for this season? Are you buying the hype?
Through the first two games of the season, there’s a lot to be excited about. The Utah Jazz offense is one of the best offenses in the NBA through the first week and the Jazz’s bench looks to be one of the deepest this side of the Mississippi. The Jazz went down to the wire against a Golden State team that had fresh legs. Denver may have topped that Golden State team on the second night of a back to back, but they should send a thank you card to Salt Lake City because Utah wore them down.
It is exciting, but there are some parts to Utah’s start that don’t look sustainable. Utah never was known for having a “blow the doors off the building” type offense. Utah’s defensive rating is severely lacking. Utah is supposed to be a team that you can’t score on and through the first two games of the season the Kings and Warriors have scored on them quite easily. It’s just two games, but this trend goes back to preseason when Utah was playing NBA-caliber starters.
Quin Snyder said he was thrilled with Utah’s progression and didn’t expect to see them this far along this early in the season — one can assume he was referring to their offensive bonanza. But for Utah to be one of the top teams in the league, they need their defense to catch up to their offense.
2. Who is most likely to step up and become a legit 2nd option next to Donovan Mitchell this season?
Before the first game of the season this question would have yielded a big “IDK”. But through the first week of games, Joe Ingles is actually the Jazz’s leading scorer. So maybe we should start asking ourselves, “Is Donovan Mitchell okay with taking a secondary role with the team?” Kidding aside, Joe Ingles looks like he’s breaking out. Through two games he’s averaging 24.5 ppg on a blistering 70% from the field and 64% from three.
A big part to that is the gravity that Donovan Mitchell demands on offense. Teams are working hard to shut him down more than ever. That’s translated into some rough shooting nights for Mitchell to start the season. If that continues, then that will only open up Donovan’s scoring. Most opposing teams’ game plans probably outline in bold letters not to leave Ingles open in the corner, but now Ingles is being a dominant playmaker and taking threes off the dribble and behind screens. He’ll even take people off the dribble and drive to the rim regularly. If this aggressive Ingles is here to stay, he’ll be the Utah Jazz’s legit 2nd option.
3. Mitchell was very active this summer and looks like the biggest “superstar” in his draft class. Do you think he could recruit All-Star free agents to a small market like Utah?
Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski seem to believe so. But it might not be the 1A tier of All-Star, but 1B. While Kevin Durant might not run to Utah to be part of their team — we can wish, but we can agree that’s not happening — Utah most likely is going to be able to nab an All Star like a Khris Middleton. There are All Stars who are great players that will feel like they could become even better in Utah’s system and development.
Look at Joe Ingles, Donovan Mitchell, Gordon Hayward, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gobert, and now Dante Exum and Alec Burks, all those players are reaching their potential with that organization. There very well could be a LaMarcus Aldridge-type signing that will catch everyone off guard next offseason.
Another possibility is, Utah has an embarrassment of wealth when it comes to their bench. That allows them to go after a trade target if things start to go south for any franchise with a loaded cap sheet ready to blow it up. It’s early in the season, but keep an eye on the Wizards as the experiment is going south and the locker room looks ready to blow. The Jazz really wanted Otto Porter after being spurned by Hayward, but Hayward’s false start on his Player’s Tribune article delayed a possible deal getting done.
4. Dante Exum was a hot commodity coming into the 2014 draft, earning comparisons to Memphis legend Penny Hardaway. Is there still hope for him? Could he become a long-term backcourt partner next to Mitchell?
Unequivocally yes. Dante Exum, now healthy, is showing why Utah has been so patient with young phenom. Injuries have delayed Exum’s breakout year twice (and Hayward’s possible influence to play with more veterans for a playoff run), but now Australian speedster is really showing out. In his first two games, Dante is averaging per 36 minutes 21.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, and 3.2 apg on 57% from the field and 50% from three. Anyone who questioned the Jazz for giving the youngster $11 million/year for 3 years is going to be eating some crow if this continues.
Exum is looking like he’ll be a great partner in the backcourt for Donovan Mitchell as he has shown the ability to get his own shot with ease through two games.
5. Huuuge Grayson Allen guy here. Some may have seen him as a reach at 21, but he seems to have built good chemistry with Donovan. What are your expectations for him both in the short & long term?
In the short term, Grayson Allen will not see the floor outside of garbage time unless there’s an injury to one of Utah’s stable of guards. Alec Burks, Dante Exum, and Royce O’Neale are all ahead of him on the depth chart. Alec Burks who was the first one he’d have to beat to see the floor has been having a phenomenal start to the year. What seemed like an easy player to rise above on the depth chart has become insurmountable.
In the short term, Grayson Allen might be seeing a lot of time with the Salt Lake City Stars, not because he’s not good enough to be a rotation player now in the NBA, but because he’s not good enough to be a rotation player on one of the deepest teams in the league. I already mentioned how Dante Exum started out the season hot, Alec Burks has as well. For Grayson to climb past Royce O’Neale on the depth chart, he’d have to grow some inches and get a bigger wingspan as Royce’s main contribution is his defense.
Long term, I really like the fit. Alec Burks is a restricted free agent and I’m not sure Utah re-signs the guard out of Colorado. Burks could even be a trade piece at the deadline, if Utah gets brave. That could open things up for Grayson in the rotation, but most likely Grayson’s time to shine will come in the 2019-2020 season. We’ll get glimpses — he might even get a chance to shine if injuries strike Utah throughout the year — but for the Grayson Allen fan club, you’ll have to wait a year before you get to see the show.
Thanks to Mychal for getting us his insight on the NBA’s resident hipster team and one of my favorite college basketball players of all time, Grayson Allen. Follow him (@My_Lo) and SLC Dunk on Twitter for great Jazz content.