The Weekly Run is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly newsletter on the Utah Jazz. Subscribe here.
While the NBA season officially kicked off Tuesday night with Celtics-Sixers and Warriors-Thunder, most of the rest of the league tips off tonight, including the Jazz, who will face the Sacramento Kings at 8 p.m. MT.
There’s more hype surrounding this iteration of the franchise than there has been in years. A 29-6 stretch run, a playoff series victory, and the return of almost everyone from that roster will have that effect.
When asked how this team compares to last year’s at the same time, Donovan Mitchell was initially self-deprecating.
“To be honest with you, I barely remember! I’d like to forget the first 10 games of [last] season,” he said.
Ultimately, though, he expressed excitement, noting that an extra year of experience for almost everyone on the roster ought to make a huge difference.
“The one thing I did notice, for me personally … there was a lot of uncertainty last year. We didn’t know what the hell to expect. Obviously, losing Gordon was tough, we had six or seven new guys trying to learn the offense,” Mitchell said. “Now this year, we really only have Tyler, Grayson as the only two new guys. And those guys are catching on so fast. We know where we need to be, we know our spots. So it’s a lot easier for us to come in this year with the expectations and knowing what we need to do.”
Because we’re not all stuck in a time-warp (as far as we know), some things will be different, of course. Derrick Favors was “dead-ass serious” in working on his long-range shooting. Quin Snyder is emphasizing taking more 3s in general. Ricky Rubio has gotten more acclimated to playing off the ball. Dante Exum expects to spend some time at the 3, and Thabo Sefolosha, once he returns from suspension, figures he’ll get plenty of minutes at the four.
One thing that won’t change, so long as Snyder is around, is the team’s commitment to defense.
The coach acknowledged that it wasn’t where he wanted it to be in a couple of the preseason games. But he also feels like it’s coming around, just in time for the games that count.
“A lot of it, for us, is just focus, mentally. Some of our habits are there. But like anything, if you don’t do it, it can cease to become a habit. Sometimes there’s a sense that, in practice you work on those things but in a game you get to do whatever you want to, and there’s maybe less attention to detail in that sense, less concentration,” he said. “I feel like, the last couple games, we’ve been able to drill down on that. I think that’s what competition does for you. Sometimes, in the moment, competition helps you focus.”
THE WEEK IN REVIEW
• Sans Gordon Hayward and off to a 19-28 start a year ago, both pundits and opponents may have overlooked and underestimated the Jazz. They know that won’t be the case this season. [Tribune]
• For more than a decade under Jerry Sloan and Ty Corbin, the Jazz were always one of the league’s worst teams in free throws allowed, which hindered the efficacy of the defense. The Trib’s Andy Larsen explains how Snyder has been changing that. [Tribune]
• Obliteration. Annihilation. Total and utter destruction. Whatever you label it, that’s what the Jazz did to the Kings in their preseason finale. So with the rematch coming in tonight’s season opener, how does Utah avoid being overconfident based on that result? [Tribune]
• More from Andy: The last time Alec Burks was totally healthy and playing a major role for the Jazz was 2013-14. But he’s been one of the team’s best off the bench this preseason. Longtime teammate Derrick Favors declared AB is back to where he was. Burks says he’s actually much better now. [Tribune]
• More still from Andy: Thabo Sefolosha will sit out the season’s first five games after being suspended for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program. His absence could be an opportunity for former G-League standout Georges Niang, who will be with the Jazz full-time this year. [Tribune]
• The Tribune’s Digital Life reporter, Sean P. Means, came upon a Vice food blog which revealed that London restaurateur Gordon McGowan has a trendy cocktail bar there named after former Jazz point guard John Stockton. [Tribune]
ICYMI … THE SEASON PREVIEW SECTION
• Mitchell became beloved in the community not merely for his on-court exploits, but for scheduling events at high schools, attending college football games, attending random pool parties, even buying people’s groceries, the Trib’s Christopher Kamrani wrote. Mitchell is learning, though, that much as he may want to, he can’t say yes to everything. [Tribune]
• There were no expectations of the Jazz a season ago. There sure are now. So what do we expect now that we’re expecting? What exactly is this team’s ceiling? [Tribune]
• Rudy Gobert is on record as saying, “We want to be world champs.” Tribune columnist Gordon Monson takes a look at whether the Defensive Player of the Year is delusional or actually on to something. [Tribune]
• Andy explores the intriguing tale of Grayson Allen, from how he wound up in a Jazz uniform, to the surprising contributions he may make as a rookie, at least if his preseason performance means anything. [Tribune]
• Many fans of the team got sticker shock when restricted free agent guard Dante Exum was retained with a new three-year, $33 million contract. But the former lottery pick and oft-injured Aussie is determined to prove he can still be the player the team thought it was getting five years ago. [Tribune]
SOME OTHER PERSPECTIVES
• Deseret News columnist Brad Rock takes note of the fever pitch going on locally about the Jazz and issues words of caution that it may be best to not expect too much. [DN]
• Meanwhile, Reid Forgrave of cbssports.com went the opposite direction in his “Bold NBA predictions” column, prognosticating an NBA Finals matchup between the Toronto Raptors … and the Utah Jazz. [CBSSN]
• Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer also gives the Jazz a shot at the Finals in his “Best Case, Worst Case” assessment. The latter, at least, simply has the Jazz making the playoffs but going nowhere in them. [Ringer]
• Analytics website fivethirtyeight.com rates the Jazz as the fifth-best team in the league, and gives them a 98-percent chance to make the playoffs, a nine-percent chance to make the Finals, and a five-percent chance to win it all. [fivethirtyeight]
THE WEEKLY RUN PODCAST RETURNS
The podcast is back! I make my debut, and the deceptively benevolent-looking Andy quickly throws me to the wolves by revealing my deepest, darkest, dirtiest secret. Also, we take a took at some Jazz over/unders from Bovada.