Utah Jazz fell 96-104 to Golden State Warriors in the opening game of the second round of the Western Conference playoffs but before the fall to the 2015 NBA Champions, Utah hit a high note all rebuilding sides need to take notice and replicate.
Last season’s youngest team knocked out highly fancied Los Angeles Clippers from the postseason ending the future of shoe in Hall of Fame player Paul Pierce.
A year before, this would have been impossible to comprehend considering Utah didn’t even make the playoffs in the first place.
However, prior to this season, General Manager Dennis Lindsey made changes to the roster which proved to be the magic trick. Thanks to an abundant of resources, nothing is left to chance in the NBA as seemingly countless scouts comb through players to employ and make their outfits better suited to take on the league’s tumultuous rigors.
But what Utah did by signing George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw was anything but spectacular. Thanks to the impressive collection of talent from the draft, Utah had a slew (and still does have a) of talented players to build on from failures in previous seasons.
First and foremost, get a veteran savvy Point Guard
The world’s greatest basketball league is being ruled by Point Guards and having an elite or superstar player at the position is almost guaranteed to yield results.
The Jazz had Trey Burke (who has been moved to the Washington Wizards and has struggled for playing time), Raul Neto and Dante Exum at the position with varying degrees of success. Trading for Hill has proven to be a masterstroke as the former Indiana Pacers man has demonstrated his leadership qualities to get Utah back to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
That aside, Hill’s presence is critical to the team’s survival thus far as his multiple playoff appearances bests the aforementioned group who have no playoff experience at all. While George Hill is no superstar, he checks the boxes in a very good way. In the series clincher against the Clippers, he recorded 17 points, four rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes.
Nab another scorer
Following the departure of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Deron Williams in subsequent years, Jazz fans have had just one star to cheer since. In Gordon Hayward, Utah has one of the best Small Forwards in the league and recently got his due by making the All-Star roster. However, the downside to having just a star name is the lack of surprise the team can spring on an opponent. With a game on the line, the entire universe practically knows what Utah would do before the ball is alive. In such situations, opposing teams have two options; keep the ball out of Hayward’s hands or at least make it tough for him when shooting.
Johnson’s low key signature addresses this problem as the former Atlanta Hawks man is the league’s best clutch point maker in the past decade per NBA.com. With “Iso Joe” on board, teams have a much harder time defending the Jazz down the stretch since Hayward can get buckets in such situations too. Johnson’s presence on the floor late in Game 1 against the Clippers proved so as the 2001 pick threaded through an opening to launch a game winning floater to set the tone for qualification to the next round.
Get an Oldhead in the frontcourt
Like the Guards, Utah’s fleet of big men- Rudy Gobert, Trey Lyles and Joel Bolomboy) have no playoff experience and Derrick Favors had just one in 2012. Adding Diaw as a veteran fourth man behind the youngsters has also proven to be a big coup for Salt Lake City. The French man brings loads of experience as a Most Improved Player Award winner in 2006 and Champion in 2014.
His deep reservoir of experience was needed to get the young bigs out of jail as Gobert and Favors fouled out early in Game 7 against the Clippers. Like Hill, his end product (10 points, two rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal in 17 minutes) wasn’t outstanding but oiled the cranks enough to get his side strolling to the next round.
Against the league’s greatest regular season team and its hoard of three point shooting assassins, the Utah Jazz are bound to struggle. An exit is in the books but the team’s season has been a tremendous success worthy enough to be emulated by Western Conference rebuilding sides like Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns. The Lakers for instance have a bright future with gems in D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle on the roster.
In an attempt to break the team’s two consecutive year postseason less campaign, management splashed the cash on Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng in the offseason. Though Mozgov comes with an NBA title and Deng comes in with multiple All Star appearances, neither man is the right fit in Luke Walton’s three point heavy, spaced out ultra fast offense. After logging several years in the league Mozgov and Deng are plodders in the modern game. Despite their addition, the Lakers missed out on another postseason campaign to reaffirm the need to add wisely like Utah did.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter