For Utah To Win An NBA Championship, They'll Need To Find A New Kind Of Music

This image is a derivative of 2013 Utah Jazz 1 by Michael Tipton (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last season the Phoenix Suns executed one of the most dramatic queue jumps in pro sports history, ignoring their 10-season playoff drought to storm through to the NBA finals. 

In an always stacked and restless Western Conference it would have unquestionably been the Utah Jazz who were most miffed by Phoenix’s rise, again left to watch on as yet another local foe stormed to the front of the line. 

For a while now Utah have done everything right and at a minimum should have an NBA finals appearance to show for their labours, yet alas, haven’t even advanced to a Western Conference finals in 14 years.

Over the last 6 seasons they’ve gone a massive 114 games above .500 which is a crazy achievement in an always loaded conference. Last season they won more regular season games than any other team in the league and entered the playoffs as the only squad boasting both a top-5 offence and defence.

As for this season, the Jazz appear to be just as threatening, already jumping out to a 19-7 start which is the third-best mark in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Phoenix.

They’re the 5th favourites for a maiden franchise NBA championship according to the Stats Insider’s futures model, are currently on an NBA-best 7-game winning streak and house the league’s most efficient offence while maintaining a top-5 defence. 

They’re great, but as always with Utah, their excellence comes with a host of caveats. 

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The obvious starting point for Utah’s frustrating NBA existence is the fact their path to glory in the West is much more complicated than the East. 

When their current 5-season streak of playoff basketball started the Warriors were creating utter mayhem while in the ensuing years both the Lakers and Clippers went about assembling ‘super teams’. Just as those squads have stumbled a little this season the Warriors have returned to their destructive best while the Suns look utterly menacing.

Utah just can’t seem to find a moment’s peace.

The standard of opposition in the West notwithstanding there’s the not too small matter of Utah choking spectacularly come playoff time. 

Last season they blew a 2-0 lead against a banged up Clippers outfit and exited in the conference semis. The year prior they famously tossed away a 3-1 lead against Denver in the first round. 

The agony for Utah is that they’ve clearly constructed a roster that’s almost championship worthy and has even become a destination for free agents, the likes of whom would have previously baulked at the notion of taking their talents to Salt Lake City. In recent off-seasons the Jazz have been able to bring in the likes of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanović to team with draft-sourced superstars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

Yet for all of their excellent roster construction Utah haven’t been able to make much noise when it matters most with their greatest weapon also prevailing as one of the team’s biggest problems. 

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For as truly brilliant as Donovan Mitchell is and for how much his game has evolved the Jazz are going to need to get a whole lot more creative with how they deploy him should they progress in future post-seasons. 

Their star guard is once again setting his team alight and is the main source of yet another blistering regular season. He’s playing a team-high minutes, pouring in 24.2 points per night and is having a massive 33.2% of Utah’s offence run through is capable hands- the 6th biggest number in the NBA. 

And while that number is jolting, it’s well worth remembering it ballooned to an astonishing 39.1% during their Clippers collapse last May. 

In that sunken series against LA, Mitchell took 66 more field goal attempts and scored twice as many points as any other Jazz teammate. While his dizzying 34.9 point per night spoke to a player who’d clearly gone to a whole new level, their one-man gang offence ultimately became a gift for the opposition. 

In that series Utah had just 7 players play at least 13 minutes per night whereas the Clippers had gave those minutes to 10 different players conjuring a variety of ways to beat a team who'd put way too many eggs into the Mitchell bag.

Of course, possessing a cornerstone franchise player who can score points seemingly underwater and with his arms tied behind his back is a problem just about every NBA team would kill to have. With that said, what forms a much more important role in winning silverware in the contemporary NBA is achieving a more harmonious balance within your squad and which makes use of numerous attacking sources. 

While indeed Giannis Antetokounmpo is the undisputed king in Milwaukee his usage rate tapped out at 31.6% during the Bucks' Finals win against Phoenix last season while all of Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday went over 20% themselves. 

The season prior and when the Lakers trumped in the Disney World bubble neither LeBron James nor Anthony Davis breached 30%. The season before that and when Toronto caused one of the biggest upsets in NBA history, Kawhi Leonard’s usage rate was 28.9% despite scoring like crazy and netting Finals MVP honours. 

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For Utah to take the next step they're going to have to find ways to function outside of Mitchell’s powers while still being thankful they have his services. 

Playoff and championship winning basketball remains about having superstars, yet progressing within is also all about using those superstars wisely and having bandmates know their parts while performing them exceptionally when required. 

While Utah have been steamrolling the regular season in recent seasons the caliber of opposition clearly shifts in the playoffs as too does the intensity and the necessity of constant in-game alterations.

For the Jazz to win 16 games and claim an NBA title within this cauldron of intensity, the Jazz will have to find a lot more variation within their sound. 

If they don’t, they’ll have no excuse to feel sorry for themselves when others jump in front of them in the queue.

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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