SALT LAKE CITY — Unlike past years when the Utah Jazz have come into a new season with several roster changes — last year the Jazz welcomed seven new players to the team — the Utah franchise has had a very quiet offseason.
Only one significant player was added to the roster — first-round draft choice Grayson Allen — and one was let go, backup forward Jonas Jerebko, who ended up signing with the world champion Golden State Warriors.
Otherwise 12 of the top 13 scorers who finished the season with the Jazz are back, making the Jazz the most untouched and stable team in the NBA for the 2018-19 season.
Still there is an array of questions heading into training camp, which begins Monday with media day, followed by the first exhibition game Saturday night against the Perth Wildcats professional basketball team from Australia.
The Jazz have just a week of official training camp and play five exhibition games before opening the regular season Oct. 17 in Sacramento.
How will Donovan Mitchell follow up his spectacular rookie season, now that he is a known commodity with sky-high expectations?
At this time last year, Mitchell wasn’t even expected to start for the Jazz, who hoped the 6-foot-3 215-pounder from Louisville could bring a defensive mentality off the bench and contribute offensively when needed.
Instead, Mitchell quickly earned a starting position and allowed the Jazz to trade their top scorer, Rodney Hood. By the end of the season, Mitchell was averaging 20.5 points a game and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Ben Simmons.
Opposing teams may be better prepared this year for Mitchell, who will need to get his teammates involved more as he receives more attention. Mitchell’s scoring average may dip slightly, but his assists (4.2) and shooting numbers (42.0 FG, 31.3 3-pointers) should both improve and make the Jazz a better team.
Who is most likely to emerge as a second scorer to help ease the load on Mitchell?
Until he got traded last February, Hood was a solid second scorer for Utah, averaging nearly 17 points per game, even though he played a similar position to Mitchell. But Hood is long gone and the player they received in the trade, Jae Crowder, is not known for his scoring prowess.
For the season, the Jazz ended up having one of the most balanced teams in the NBA with eight players averaging between 13.5 and 7.7 points per game with five between 13.5 and 11.5 ppg.
Rudy Gobert isn’t likely to improve much on his 13.5 ppg average, nor is Ricky Rubio (13.1 ppg), who had several big scoring nights as well as some single-digit ones. Derrick Favors, who has twice averaged more than 16 points a game, would seem to be the most likely candidate, but he’s not likely to be playing 30-plus minutes a night like he used to. Joe Ingles can light it up, but he probably won’t ever average more than a dozen points a game.
So the answer just may be nobody.
Will Dante Exum finally live up to his potential as a No. 5 overall draft pick or will he be just another role player for the Jazz?
After being thrust into the starting lineup for a lousy Jazz team in 2014-15, Exum has battled injuries — a torn ACL that kept him out the entire 2015-16 season and the shoulder injury that limited him to 14 regular-season games a year ago.
Exum was showing flashes of improvement last year before he was injured in the preseason and eventually gave the Jazz some good minutes down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The 6-foot-6 guard has the ability to get to the rim and plays solid defense, but the big question with Exum has always been his shooting (39 percent career shooter, 30.6 from 3-point range), and that will be the key to his playing time and success on the court.
Even though he’s in his fifth year in the league, Exum is just 23 years old and still has time to make his mark, but the Jazz would like to see some significant progress from the talented Australian this year as they build their team for the future.
Can Gobert stay healthy for an entire season, and if he does, how will that impact the Jazz record this season?
In his five years in the NBA, Gobert has played a full season only twice — in 2014-15 when he played a full 82-game schedule and 2016-17 when he played 81 games. Every other year, he’s missed a substantial number of games, 36 in his rookie season when he wasn’t part of the rotation, 21 in 2015-16 when he suffered a knee injury and 26 last year when he also had knee problems.
So going by the calendar, Gobert is due for another full season of games.
Long skinny players like Gobert seem more susceptible to injuries, where fluke occurrences often are unavoidable (see 2017 playoff injury against Clippers). So there’s no guarantee Gobert will be able to play in every game this year no matter what kind of shape he’s in.
However, there’s no doubt the Jazz are a much better team with Gobert on the court. With Gobert in the lineup over the last three seasons, the Jazz are 121-77, a 61.1 percentage. When he’s been out, the Jazz are just 18-30 (36.7 percent).
So it’s obvious that the Jazz should win several more games with a healthy Gobert in the lineup — perhaps as many as 55 this season.
What will rookie Grayson Allen’s impact be on the Jazz in his rookie season?
The former Duke standout showed his potential in the summer leagues as a player who can do a variety of things on the floor and isn’t afraid to mix it up with opposing players, something he was known for in college.
Allen isn’t about to break into the starting lineup like that rookie from Louisville did a year ago, but he’s likely to find a way into Quin Snyder’s rotation.
The guess from here is that Allen will play most games, average around 5 or 6 points a game, but fill up the stat sheet with a couple of rebounds and assists per game. And don’t be surprised if he picks up a handful of technical fouls during the season.
Who else might make a significant impact for the Jazz this season?10 comments on this story
The Jazz will return the experience of eighth-year guard Alec Burks, who came on strong in the playoffs last year, and a more mature Royce O’Neale, who went from 15th man to playoff starter after joining the team as a free agent last year.
However, keep your eye on Thabo Sefolosha, who a lot of folks forgot about after he went out with a season-ending injury in mid-January. The 6-7 forward is known for his defense, but he also put up solid numbers for the Jazz, averaging 8.2 points on 49.2 percent shooting and 4.2 rebounds per game. If the 34-year-old can produce similar numbers, which were all above his career averages, the Jazz would be thrilled.