The Jazz did everything to get to the playoffs by sharing the ball and getting solid production from pretty much everyone on the roster. The only sore spot was a 108-116 loss to Oklahoma City Thunder in Game One of the playoffs series which had Oklahoma’s Paul George in unstoppable form.
Qualifying to the playoffs with the same rank as last season, is remarkable considering struggles the team had to deal with to attain that feat. Losing players of Gordon Hayward and George Hill’s ilk easily cripples franchises on the verge of forging something big.
Both players moved as free agents ahead of this season to Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings respectively.
While Hayward has all but recovered from a terrible ankle injury sustained on opening night, Hill got traded to Cleveland Cavaliers-the team Hayward’s season was lost playing against.
Hayward was voted an All Star in his final season in Utah; while Hill isn’t a star, he is a very good player o have around for consistent production on both ends of the court.
Hayward led Utah in scoring with a 21.9 point average and Hill came second with 16 points while leading the team in assists with 4.2 dimes. Missing out on two central pieces affected the side early on this season but a big turnaround about the time of the All Star Break proved decisive in getting Jazz to the playoffs.
The unique turnaround is the reason individuals in the team, vital to the course, could end up walking from this year’s NBA Awards on June 25 with hardware.
Rookie of the Year-Donovan Mitchell
Jazz lost its best scorer in Hayward but got a replacement instantly after drafting Shooting Guard Donovan Mitchell in the 2017 NBA Draft. Finding a gem of a player with the 13th pick is easily the biggest steal of a very solid draft class. His ability to score and do so when stakes are its highest has made him a cornerstone of the franchise and a strong candidate to win Rookie of the Year.
Legitimate challenge exist in Philadelphia Sixers big man Ben Simmons and Los Angeles Lakers Forward Kyle Kuzma. Spending a year with the Sixers with a foot injury before Mitchell entered the league does not tarnish the appeal of the Australian playmaker’s chances. Detroit Pistons Forward Blake Griffin won the award in 2010 a year after he was drafted number overall but did not play the entire season due to a knee injury.
However, Mitchell’s 20.5 points per game is hard to ignore and he produced in his first playoffs scoring a team high 27 points and adding ten rebounds while dealing with foot soreness against Oklahoma.
Defensive Player of the Year -Rudy Gobert
This has been coming since the French Center stepped foot on the NBA hardwood; with his 7 foot plus wingspan, 7 foot plus height and defensive instincts, it was only a matter of time for the 2013 draftee to be a frontrunner for this award. Over the years, players on teams with better defensive ratings won the prize. San Antonio Spurs Kawhi Leonard and Golden State Warriors Draymond Green have emerged winners since he entered the league with Leonard winning twice.
However, Spurs have not been the same on defense with Leonard out injured and Warriors top rated defense last season has plummeted to 13th opening the way for Gobert to win his first of what could be a regular award grab for the Frenchman. Utah was ranked second in defensive rating in the just ended regular season; a better mark than Spurs and Warriors.
Coach of the Year-Quinn Snyder
While his team’s win shares dropped this season, the impact of Snyder’s calls have been better this time around considering the drop in talent. 51wins last season and 48 wins this season does not take away the fact that Snyder deserves the award which eluded him at last year’s Awards. Leading Utah to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 should have been enough to get him the award but Mike D’Antoni of Houston Rockets got the prize. With the Jazz built on a solid run, Snyder deserves the hardware this season.
Executive of the Year-Dennis Lindsey
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter