Last season, Quin Snyder said he wasn’t hung up on superfluous things, such as focusing on day-to-day scores and numerical results, such as closely watching the Western Conference standings, such as counting up his team’s win total. Instead, he was dialed in on a collective kind of improvement.
He still is, and probably always will be.
The rest of us? Bag that.
Now, it’s about a number. A big number.
Since the vibe surrounding the Jazz is all positive, what with psyched fans breaking attendance records for recent summer league games and Jazz players helping out, supporting the young prospects, being swell fellas, attending games, and with nearly all the incumbent free agents re-signed and ready to rock and roll, it’s time for a much too early prediction about what all of this means. It’s time to post a number.
The Jazz will win 55 games this coming season.
Write it down, circle it, highlight it in bright florescent marker. If it doesn’t happen, laugh at it. Laugh at the fool who made the prediction. We’re all just guessing here.
But here’s the thing: It will happen.
The Jazz can drive 55.
That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it. They will lose only 27 times in 2018-19. How do I know? I don’t. But I am in tune with the ripples in the basketball universe. I can feel it. I can sense it. Maybe you can, too.
One European sports book recently placed the Jazz win total at 44.5 games, behind eight other teams, and tied with the Thunder and the T-wolves. That’s 3.5 fewer wins than they had in 2017-18, a projection which is about as logical as watering your garden with battery acid and expecting your vegetables to thrive.
As those proficient at math will note, the 55 total is only seven more than what they had a season back. Is that a preposterous reach?
Not at all.
There’s only one snag: Injuries.
It will not, cannot happen if key members of the team get hurt and are forced to sit over long stretches. It’s impossible to predict or account for those occurrences. Short of any of that, though, the Jazz are good.
Here’s the reasoning:
Other than the Lakers, who will be considerably improved with LeBron and — who knows? — maybe Kawhi Leonard, the teams projected to land around or above the Jazz haven’t really gotten all that much better, with the possible exception of Golden State. And the Jazz weren’t going to catch the Warriors in the regular season this next time around no matter what.
Houston hasn’t gotten better. Portland hasn’t gotten better. San Antonio hasn’t gotten better. OKC hasn’t gotten better.
The Jazz have gotten better in a most unique way — by staying the same. Reeling in Derrick Favors and Dante Exum and Thabo Sefolosha and Raul Neto and Ekpe Udoh is a win.
Nobody around here has forgotten what happened last season, when a team that had lost its two best offensive players, an All-Star forward and a veteran point guard, was forced to regroup by turning over half its roster, adding a new starting point guard and a bunch of guys who didn’t even recognize one another on the first day of camp, integrating a rookie who turned out to be the team’s leading scorer and the only authentic playmaker in the group.
Moreover, that new point guard — Ricky Rubio — was thought to be unable to shoot and had to be tutored, re-engineered, and generally brought up to speed regarding Snyder’s offensive and defensive schemes. The same could be said for all the other newcomers.
And one of the players who was to be counted on as a mainstay scorer — Rodney Hood — ended up being unreliable and dissatisfied with his role, and was traded in February for a wing that had struggled in Cleveland and was no longer wanted there.
On top of that, the Jazz suffered injuries, foremost among them the two-month loss of Rudy Gobert, the best, most impactful defensive player in the league. Exum, who had made great progress during the previous offseason and was figured by coaches to be a key, was out for all but the final month of the regular season.
Now, all those players are fully healed and informed and understand Snyder’s systems and preferences. They not only grasp what they formerly had not completely processed, they’ve done it together, bonding in a manner almost never seen in the NBA.
That’s why half the team — including the two pillars, Donovan Mitchell and Gobert — is in Las Vegas, watching and cheering on a Jazz summer league squad of which only one or two players will be a part of the regular outfit once the season starts. That’s as amazing as it is rare.
But this is about more than camaraderie.
It’s absolutely logical to believe Mitchell will be more efficient and a greater force than he was last season, having the conscientiousness and diligence and intelligence and experience to be exactly that. Gobert will be better. Jae Crowder and Exum and Favors will be better. As mentioned, Rubio will be better, and if Grayson Allen can hit a few perimeter shots and make some plays, there’s little reason to doubt a noticeable Jazz jump.
Those are just reasonable projections. It’s got nothing to do with blind optimism or homerism or provincialism. It’s got to do with what’s plain to see, what’s easy to expect.
The Jazz will get their 55.
Anybody who puts them at 44.5 is misinformed and mistaken. They’re either not paying attention or hoping for the basketball gods to smite the Jazz with enough ailments and curses for them not to fulfill their obvious and ample potential.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.