The NBA season is over for the Utah Jazz, and this past year has been one of the most interesting and fun to watch.
At the beginning of the season, injuries to key players and a very difficult schedule caused the Jazz to fall nine games under .500. But with health returning, players continuing to develop and a rookie doing amazing things, the Jazz finished the season 30-7. During this stretch, the Jazz had winning streaks of 11, nine and six games. The Jazz had one of the best midseason turnarounds the NBA has seen in recent history, finishing fifth in the Western Conference.
The way this team played caught the eye of local fans and media and is also receiving a ton of national attention. The league is beginning to #takenote. The finalists for these awards were announced Wednesday. Here is the case for each one of them:
Rudy Gobert, Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-Defensive
Despite missing 26 games, which would be the most games ever missed by a player to win this award, Gobert has been completely dominating on the defensive side of the ball. When he’s on the court, the Jazz allow just 97.9 points per possessions a game, which would be best in the NBA by almost four points.
ESPN's Tim MacMahon wrote in an article that Gobert ranks first in defensive win shared, defensive real plus/minus, opponent’s field goal percentage and defensive rebounds percentage. He ranked second in opponent points in paint allowed per game and opponent 3-point percentage. He ranked third in blocks per game.
The stats show how good Gobert has been this season, but following it up with the eye test, its obvious how much he affects the game. His dominance was never clearer when player after player drove into the paint, only to see Gobert and change their minds. This usually leads to a terrible shot or a turnover. During the first round of the playoffs, Russell Westbrook, one of the game’s best at attacking the rim, struggled to finish at the basket when Gobert was near.
MacMahon also quoted Quin Snyder when asked by a reporter if Gobert was the most dominating defender in the league after the Jazz had defeated the Dallas Mavericks: "I think it's an empirical fact, frankly." Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, before playing the Jazz in March, said "Gobert is a defense unto himself." And the Jazz general manager called Gobert “the Utah Jazz version of Bill Russell,” who is one of the best defensive big men of all-time. High praise from some very respected people in the NBA.
I put the odds of Gobert winning this award at 85 percent.
Quin Snyder, Coach of the Year
Snyder has been unbelievable this season in his and his staff’s ability to prepare game plans and develop players. Snyder lost four of his top offensive players from last season (Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson) either via free agency or trades, and he still found a way to have an average offensive team. They finished 12th in offensive rating. He has been able to bring out the best in every player he coaches. Joe Ingles gets better every year and Ricky Rubio’s jump shot is now respectable (reason enough to give him Coach of the Year). Snyder has been successful at playing two big men together in a league that gets smaller by the day and helped rookie Donovan Mitchell develop into a superstar.
Snyder played a key role in helping the Jazz turn around their season. In a piece on The Ringer by John Gonzalez: “People look at the wins,” Gobert said, “and usually they give more credit to the players. But he’s definitely played a big part in that.” The Jazz made it to the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row, a bet not even a foolish gambler would put money on after the offseason the Jazz had. Kobe Bryant, who Snyder coached for a season in L.A., said, “I’ve got to talk about my man Quin Snyder. The job he has done is freaking insane. It is insane. I love Quin. I always have. I’ve been a big Q guy forever and the job that he has done seems like it’s going under the radar, which, why, I have no idea.” To add to his candidacy, his top assistant coach, Igor Kokoskov, was named head coach of the Phoenix Suns just after the season ended.
Snyder will have steep competition for Coach of the Year. Brad Stevens of the Celtics did a great job helping his team overcome the injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. In recently fired Toronto Raptors' coach Dwane Casey rounds out the list of finalists. Casey was named NBA Coaches Association's Coach of the Year last week..
I put the odds of Snyder winning this award at about 30 percent.
Donovan Mitchell, Rookie of the Year and First Team All-Rookie
Mitchell has had a spectacular rookie season, the best Jazz rookie since Karl Malone. Mitchell led the Jazz and all other rookies in scoring, averaging 20.5 points a game. He is also the first rookie since Carmelo Anthony to lead his team in scoring and to the playoffs. As the season progressed, Mitchell become the No. 1 focus on other teams' scouting reports. His ability to learn and adjust at a high level is remarkable and helped him become a star. “One thing about him is he's not afraid to try things and really apply it," said Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant. “That's something that's rare. A lot of guys want to stay in their comfort zone. He has the ability to go out there and apply it."
Early in the season when other NBA stars started noticing Mitchell, Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote, “Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. The NBA’s superstars always seem to go out of their way to stop the Utah Jazz rookie on the court after games and share a few words of encouragement.” Other NBA stars see “it” in Mitchell, who has also won four straight Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards.
Most years, Mitchell would win this award hands down, but the play of Ben Simmons of Philadelphia has also been exceptional. Simmons, a 6-foot-10 250-pounder can move and play like a point guard and has drawn comparison to one of the NBA greats in Magic Johnson. As a rookie (which is debatable, just ask Mitchell’s hoodie) he averaged a near triple-double, 15.8 points, eight rebounds and eight assists per game. He also led his team to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
The odds of Mitchell winning this award seem to be 30 percent.
The last major award that a member of the Jazz has a real shot at winning is Ricky Rubio for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. An article by Bruce Y. Lee of Forbes magazine summarizes why Rubio is up for this amazing award. “Rubio had strong personal interest in raising awareness, funds and support for lung cancer research after his mother succumbed to the disease in 2016. He has visited patients, surgeons and researchers, hosted “Ricky Rubio Lung Cancer Awareness Night,” and has helped raise funds for cancer research, including donating some of his own money.” All 10 nominees have done great work in the community but let’s hope Rubio takes home this honor.
The odds of Rubio winning this award seem to be 50 percent.
Other Jazz players and staff members deserve at least an honorable mention on this season’s award ballot. Dennis Lindsey did a fantastic job of building the team while losing their All-Star over the summer. Every move he made seemed to work perfectly, putting him in a position to earn some votes for Executive of the Year.
Joe Ingles continues to improve and hopefully will get a few votes for Most Improved Player. Victor Oladipo has this award wrapped up, but Ingles went from a fringe NBA player and has become a top 10 small forward in the league this year. The Jazz were just better with Ingles on the court; in ESPN’s real plus-minus, Ingles is the fifth highest small forward in the league and second on his team to Gobert.
Royce O’Neale made a name for himself as one of the best rookie wing defenders. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, in his All-Defense Team article, called O’Neale a top five small forward wing defender. Hopefully the voters will see the value in defense and reward him by selecting him to the Second Team All-Rookie.
This season’s team was one of the most fun and enjoyable teams to watch in Jazz history. Here’s hoping that many on this team get the recognition they deserve.
Follow Kincade on Twitter @kincade12 or email him at [email protected]