When you fall short, it’s human nature, natural inclination, to look outside your walls. I would start with what we can do internally to improve. —Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey
As the Utah Jazz’s 2017-18 season ended with a 4-1 loss to the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs, many minds quickly turned to the question, “What’s the next step?”
For as much as general manager Dennis Lindsey likes to keep things “close to the vest,” he has historically given honest clues when discussing his team’s offseason plans. Last week at the squad’s annual exit interviews, Lindsey focused on the internal improvement he anticipates from his group this summer rather than anything he and his staff might look for in the draft and free agency.
“When you fall short, it’s human nature, natural inclination, to look outside your walls,” he said. “I would start with what we can do internally to improve.”
To that point, rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell should be better in Year 2, while Rudy Gobert and even Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio should still be able to improve. Dante Exum (should he return after restricted free agency), Jae Crowder and Royce O’Neale are also in good position to get better next season.
Add all of that together, and it’s fair to figure that Utah can be better next season even if it doesn’t bring in any outside players beyond the 21st and 52nd overall draft picks.
But even so, there are a few areas, both small and big, that the Jazz could use outside help in via the draft and free agency.
On the small side, Utah’s bench scoring could certainly stand to get better. The Jazz finished 17th in the NBA in second-unit scoring on the season and never really got consistent production.
The trouble is that outside of Exum, who played just 24 games because of an injury he sustained in the preseason, and maybe Royce O’Neale, Utah doesn’t really have a player who has the potential to suddenly turn into a good scorer off the bench unless Alec Burks cracks the regular rotation again.
Crowder is too inconsistent of a shooter to be counted on for a ton, Jonas Jerebko can’t do a whole lot outside of hitting open 3-pointers, and Raul Neto is a third-string point guard. Denver guard Will Barton fits the mold of what Lindsey and company could be looking for, although he’s said that he wants to go to a place where he’ll likely be a starter.
While bench scoring will likely be an easier fix for the Jazz, there are a couple of issues that might be more complicated. First, who will Utah turn to at the power forward position? Derrick Favors has been a stalwart there, although the longstanding questions have never left about his fit alongside Gobert.
Given that Favors will be a free agent, it seemed earlier in the season as if he’d surely be out the door, although he might not have a great free agent market. Could that mean he’d be open to returning to the Jazz?
Lineups with Crowder at the 4 position alongside Gobert worked well, but those typically came when Crowder was playing against backups. Is he or Thabo Sefolosha capable of being a full-time starter? That’s not a whole lot of punch. Might Utah roll the dice on trying to sign someone like Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker, a restricted free agent who has torn his ACL twice as a pro already?
The Jazz’s third need is the most difficult to obtain. Utah needs another starting-caliber player who can create his own offense. All too often last season, the Jazz had to work too hard to manufacture points (they finished 19th in the league in points per game during the regular season), and often relied on Mitchell to bail them out at the end of the shot clock.
As good as Utah’s system is, imagine how much more effective Mitchell could be if he had another player on the floor with him who could put pressure on the defense and create his own shot. Thunder forward Paul George would be a pretty perfect fit on the wing as someone who is also an excellent defender, but a player of his caliber would be tough for Utah to land despite the excellent season it had.
In reality, landing a star is the most challenging aspect to roster construction, especially for the Jazz despite the reputation the organization is building around the league as a place where players improve under the guidance of head coach Quin Snyder.
Utah, however, needs to find a way to become more dynamic offensively to complement its stellar defense in order to move up in the West.