The boys are back in town.
After a season in which the Jazz surprised the league over the second half of the year, going 29-6, the front office decided to run it back with largely the same roster. All in all, 20 players have arrived in Salt Lake City for Media Day on Monday and training camp Tuesday. And of the 17 players likely to make the team’s final roster, 15 were on the team at the end of last season.
Most of the roster has been in Salt Lake City for weeks, playing with teammates in “open gym” sessions. These are informal workouts and games, but they’ve proved to be important in building the cohesion and chemistry that the Jazz rely on to score.
For example, last year Ricky Rubio was unable to attend the early sessions due to his play with the Spanish national team in the EuroBasket competition. Early in the season, Rubio’s lack of connectivity with his teammates that showed on the court with wacky turnovers and missed timing was partially blamed on Rubio’s schedule.
Rubio was in town early this year, and the team’s been excited to play together on and off the court. In early September, four players could be seen riding around downtown Salt Lake City on the electric scooters that have taken over the streets and sidewalks in recent months.
While the same players are coming back, that doesn’t mean that the players look the same. Big man Derrick Favors is down to 251 pounds, according to reports. Last year, he was listed at 265. Favors hopes the lost weight will allow him to move more quickly on the perimeter, allowing him to stay in front of quicker players when he ends up switching out.
Jae Crowder is said to be thinner as well. Crowder told The Tribune during the offseason that he “felt like my conditioning wasn’t where I needed it to be,” but appears to have addressed that concern through rigorous workouts during the summer.
Royce O’Neale keeps surprising people with his confidence in open gym, showing an improved handle and ability to get to the rim. O’Neale’s best skill was his defense last season, but Quin Snyder’s egalitarian offense will ask him to do his share of creating with the second unit.
Finally, Thabo Sefolosha is back and healthy after the knee surgery that cost him the second half of 2017-18. Despite his age (34), Sefolosha looks as good as ever, and seems to have impressed that he’s going to be playing a big role in the Jazz’s rotation again this year.
That all of the notes are positive isn’t unusual: This is famously the part of the schedule where all 30 NBA teams are at peak optimism levels. Everything should probably be taken with a grain of salt, if not several.
But maybe the biggest reason for joy in Jazzland is this: the first preseason game — Utah’s matchup against the Perth Wildcats on Sept. 29 — is just a week away.