As a team, the Utah Jazz have high expectations for the 2020-21 season.
The Jazz believe that they are fielding a better team than they did last season and as such should be able to make a deeper run in the postseason and be one of the contending teams in the Western Conference.
Here’s what to expect from each individual player:
In the NBA bubble, Mitchell exploded on the offensive end. But that was partially out of necessity. The Jazz were stretched thin and were missing their second-leading scorer. Now that Mitchell is in the last season before he starts making superstar money, it’s an expectation for him to dazzle as a playmaker and as a defender while also being the leader of this team.
He has the right kind of teammates and a system in place that will allow him to excel in working both on and off the ball and making quicker, more effective reads so there’s no excuse for it not to work. Mitchell himself has said that he wants to improve on defense, which is why he believes he was drafted in the first place. He has a real chance to become one of the best two-way players of his generation and that’s exactly what the Jazz expect from him.
Like Mitchell, Gobert is just months away from earning one of the highest paychecks in the league. Gobert got to this point by being one of the best defenders in the league and impacting the game in ways that aren’t recorded on a stat sheet but are clear to even the untrained eye. Expectations are high for Gobert. He has to play like a player worth a $205 million contract.
Anchoring the Jazz defense is really an understatement. He’s their most important player on that side of the floor and he can’t take plays off. The expectation is that Gobert will defend like a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and that he will play with the poise and strength of offense that earned him all All-Star nod in 2019-20.
In Conley’s case, last season can be chalked up to a year of learning. He won’t have that excuse this time around. Conley has to look like a player who understands his role this season. He’ll be playing off ball a lot more than he ever has, so unlike his time in Memphis, the Jazz aren’t expecting him to initiate the offense through every important moment. Instead he’s expected to knock down shots, come off screens, impart wisdom on the younger players and play point when Mitchell is off the ball.
Conley has said that his place on the Jazz is clearer now than it was last season and it’s expected that his understanding comes through on the court.
There are expectations for Bogdanovic that differ from last season. There have been hints that he could be used in a post-up role a little more this year, but Bogdanovic is malleable and a quick learner who never looks out of step for long. The Jazz expect Bogdanovic to hit shots, which should be no problem for him even after wrist surgery that kept him out of the playoffs. The biggest thing this season for the Crotian sharpshooter is going to be being honest about his body. He’s just only recently playing basketball for the first time since his surgery and if there is any sort of intense soreness or if he needs to be easy with things, it’s largely going to be up to him to speak up.
It looks like O’Neale did a lot of work in the offseason. He looks leaner and stronger coming into 2020-21, which bodes well for someone looking to be a little quicker and lighter on his feet.
O’Neale is the best wing defender on the Jazz, but there were moments in the playoffs when he looked like he was just a step behind his opponent. I think a lot of that was him being asked to do too much with too little. The Jazz are deeper this season and O’Neale won’t have to take on so much of the defensive burden, but he still needs to play at an exceptional level. No one expects for O’Neale to blow people away on the offensive end and it will never be a problem if he misses shots, as long as he maintains defensive integrity.
Clarkson has been working for a couple of years on cleaning up his offensive game. He’s eliminating some of the low efficiency shots he used to take, and the Jazz are reaping the rewards of that work. Clarkson’s role is simple: run fast and shoot often.
There are certainly times when Clarkson can play a little too fast and take over the ball a little too much, but the Jazz are morphing into an early shot clock team that fits exactly the type of player Clarkson is. On top of that, Clarkson seems to get just a little better every couple of months and if he can keep doing that in a Jazz uniform, everyone is going to be happy.
The Jazz need Ingles to learn to thrive off the bench. He had trouble with that last season and it didn’t help that injuries had him in and out of the starting lineup and stability of the bench was questionable. This season he’ll have Derrick Favors back on the court, which should give him a level of comfort and infuse the bench with a reliable action. There is some fear that he is at the tail end of his career and could be slowing down. Even so, the Jazz expect him to still defend at a high level and he has to find a way to get past his tendency to pass up open shots.
In his second stint with the Jazz, the expectation is that Favors can deliver exactly what he did when he was here last time but in a reserve role. His rebounding and defensive determination in the paint are paramount to the success of the bench, and it’s clear that he hasn’t lost any of his chemistry with Ingles in the pick and roll, which is exactly what the Jazz were hoping for. He doesn’t have to put up huge numbers; he just has to help the second unit maintain leads and be better than Tony Bradley or Ed Davis, so it’s not that high of a bar.
Among the players at the end of the bench, Niang has seniority on his side after being used pretty regularly last season. He was one of the best shooters on the team, hitting 3-pointers at a 40% clip, and he very quietly improved on the defensive end and had some nice moments on that side during the playoffs. What the Jazz need from Niang is pretty simple; knock down shots and continue to improve on defense.
It’s possible that Harrison’s playing time will be a little up and down. It’s not totally clear how much the Jazz plan on using him, and it’s very possible that his biggest role will come in the postseason. As a defensive specialist, Harrison might be utilized by Snyder if there are particularly crafty wings that are giving the Jazz fits. Even when he was in and out of the lineup or playing irregular minutes with the Chicago Bulls, Harrison still maintained his reputation as a lockdown defender so there’s no concern that he’ll be ready when called upon.
Oni got quite a few reps in the Orlando bubble during the seeding games that led to the playoffs and received praise from Snyder and teammates up and down the roster. It looks like he is going to get a little more playing time this season so he has to step up. The Jazz are going to need players with Oni’s profile who they can keep on the roster for cheap once Mitchell and Gobert’s extensions kick in so it’s imperative that Oni continues on the trajectory of incremental progress. If by the end of this season it doesn’t look like he can be a reliable part of the deep rotation, the Jazz will look elsewhere.
During the playoffs, the Jazz were stretched pretty thin with an already short rotation, leading to Morgan playing pretty meaningful minutes in four of their seven games against the Denver Nuggets. He also played in 21 regular season games last year, albeit mostly in garbage time. With all of that in mind it stands to reason that Morgan will have his fair share of chances this season. In those minutes he needs to continue the progress he’s shown on his interior defense and hit those corner 3s. I’d think that the Jazz would also like to see him work on his body a little bit more. Getting stronger and leaner will only make him better.
There’s a very good chance that during the season there will be times that Gobert or Favors are unavailable to play, due to injury, COVID-19 protocols or just rest. The coaching staff could look for Azubuike to step in as a substitute in those situations and have some real playing time. For a rookie center, one of the most important things is learning control. Whether it’s in limiting fouls, turnovers or missed rotations, the more that Azubuike can show that he is learning and improving the better.
Control will also be a top priority for Hughes, though it will come in different ways. Rookie guards often have a tendency to play too fast and a little recklessly. Hughes might not get the same amount of opportunity for game reps as Azubuike, but when he does get onto the court, it would be nice to see him play selflessly, slow down a little and show that he isn’t just trying to get his.
Brantley showed a ton of promise in his limited time last season. Much like Oni, when Brantley gets the opportunity to play it’s imperative that he is focused and relentless on the defensive end. That’s really what is going to catch the eye of the coaching staff. If he’s able to show enough, and the Jazz don’t fill their final roster spot with someone from the outside, they could choose to convert Brantley’s deal from a two-way to a regular NBA contract before they head into the playoffs.
The good thing about being the newest player on a two-way deal is that there are little to no expectations. All Forrest has to do is be a good teammate, work hard and try to stay ready. He had some really nice moments in the preseason so even though he’s likely to get the least amount of playing time, he could get a chance if the Jazz are in a pinch.