It is the Great NBA Crapshoot of 2020.
And where and how the Utah Jazz will roll through the thing, if there is a thing, is a competitive mystery full of intrigue.
Whispers have become shouts that the league will restart its season in the weeks ahead, aiming for a date prior to the end of July. The exact format for such an endeavor is yet to be determined.
Some say the regular season will continue — with regional broadcast money to kick in if teams get to a minimum of 70 games, per contractual guarantees — and some say that’s ridiculous, considering that lesser teams will have little motivation to play out even a reduced schedule. Some say the league will drop into a playoff-only format in which teams will either be seeded like normal, one through eight in each of the conferences, or mixed together in a one-through-16 setup.
The specifics allowing any of those scenarios, or some other, would cluster around a bubble environment in which the teams either sooner or later gather in a single location — likely Orlando, Fla. — to exist in a relatively confined space to face each other on the court.
If that happens, if it’s worth having happen, with safety concerns and all, the question around here then becomes: How will the Jazz do?
Concentrating on the present makeup of the team as opposed to potential playoff opponents — as is, they would face Oklahoma City in a traditional Western Conference first-round matchup or Houston in a mixed bag — the puzzle has many pieces, beyond how the Jazz were playing before March 11 and whether they would continue on that line.
What we know is that Bojan Bogdanovic is out, no matter what.
And the recent surgery performed on his right wrist is a major hurdle for the Jazz to overcome, under any scenario. The Bogdanovic signing was one of the more successful aspects to what the Jazz did last offseason, adding him to an attack that needed firepower. He gave it, shooting 45% overall, 41 from deep, averaging 20.2 points per game.
All told, the Jazz’s offensive rating was eighth before the interruption. Last season, it was 15th. Bogdanovic isn’t the only reason for that, but he was a big part of it. On the other hand, the Jazz’s defensive rating was 11th before the stoppage, as opposed to second last season. Bogdanovic isn’t the only reason for that, but he was a big part of it.
For the Jazz to compensate for that loss — Bogdanovic averaged 15 shot attempts — they would need Joe Ingles to get more aggressive, after averaging fewer than eight shots heretofore. Ingles’ averages this season fall short of what Bogdanovic was doing, but not by much, and, in one case, not at all. He was hitting 44% of his attempts, 40% on bombs. Ingles’ effective-field-goal percentage topped Bogdanovic’s, .566 to .548.
Also, Mike Conley would be called upon to provide more scoring in the absence of Bogdanovic’s 20.2. In a season that saw the point guard start slow, get injured, restart, get injured again, and then begin to settle in, his numbers are south of what they could or should be — 13.8 points on marginal overall shooting, and 4.3 assists.
Conley is better than that. And for the Jazz to fulfill their potential in the playoffs, he would have to be.
Defensively, the Jazz, without Derrick Favors, are not what they used to be. But they still have the planet’s best defender in Rudy Gobert, and depending on whether the big man can make up for some of the deficiencies on the perimeter, they could elevate a notch or two at that end. Their bench, though, is not loaded with defensive stoppers.
Donovan Mitchell’s scoring explosiveness (24.2 points), with improved efficiency (51.7 eFG), and the addition of Jordan Clarkson boosted the Jazz, and the question becomes, could each of them rise up even more?
Mitchell will get better. Clarkson might.
Other questions center on less numerical issues. Stuff such as …
— Have Mitchell and Gobert tamped down or eliminated their differences to a point where they can perform at their peaks on the court together?
While they sometimes get in each other’s way on attack, from a basketball perspective, the remaining troubles of a more personal nature can certainly be solved. Each of these guys is driven to accomplish the same goal and both are self-aware enough to work through whatever ephemeral static has clouded their group picture in the past.
— Have the players kept themselves in shape enough to return to some sort of training camp where they can more advantageously meld into a team again?
Beats me. Every player has had a varying set of circumstances as far as concentration of COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions at their location. But Jazz coaches have stayed in touch and provided workout programs for them, coordinating all of that from a distance. Most of the Jazz players seem conscientious enough, whatever their individual circumstances, not to have been regularly pounding cheeseburgers and cake over the past two-and-a-half months. The Jazz are not the youngest team in the league, but neither are, say, the Rockets, the Lakers and the Bucks.
— Can the Jazz recapture their progress, pick up and move forward relative to other teams in a restart?
This is a complicated question because Quin Snyder’s teams typically haven’t jumped out of the gate at the beginning of seasons, in part because his schemes at both ends require refined communication and coordination. Opponents with dominant superstar players might need less refinement, less coordination.
Conversely, the Jazz coach is one of the NBA’s smartest, and he is well aware of the conditions at hand. Moreover, don’t know if anybody subscribes to the powers of the mind, but Jazz players have had time, even in their more dormant state, to mentally review and rehearse on the big screens in their brains what Snyder wants them to do.
All of which means this: Nobody really knows what will happen next, how the Jazz and other teams will respond in the weeks ahead, even if we do know a finish to the season is coming.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.