In February 2015, Utah Jazz made a trade that seemed odd at the time. In trading away starting centre and offensive fulcrum Enes Kanter for a first round draft pick, it looked like the Jazz were aborting their rebuild, only to enter another one
Little did we know, the trade unleashed the beast that is two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. The Frenchman completely changed the teams fortunes. From a 19-34 record at the time of the trade, the Jazz closed the season on a 19-10 run. With Gobert manning the middle the Jazz made their name on defence.
The last few playoffs, however, have shown the fatal flaw in the Jazz's model. In losing to the James Harden led Houston Rockets in the past two seasons and the Warriors juggernaut the season prior, the Jazz were able to contain those two deluxe units in the half court, but were completely incapable of applying scoreboard pressure of their own.
Their expected offensive leaders were either too young (Donovan Mitchell) or a second option masquerading as a first (Gordon Hayward). Against the NBA elite that just didn't pass muster.
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This off season, the Jazz have made somewhat of a philosophical switch. They've traded away some of their defensive fortitude, for offensive creativity.
First came the trade with Memphis for perennially underrated lead guard Mike Conley. Turning 32 last Friday (Happy Birthday, Mike), the veteran appears to be a perfect fit for what Jazz GM Justin Zanik wants: a creative offensive player to allow Mitchell some room to grow, whilst losing very little on the defensive end.
It can't be overstated how much of an upgrade this is for the Jazz. Despite the outgoing Ricky Rubio's delightful passing & equally delightful beard, Conley gives the Jazz a third potential all-star; a player adept in creating late clock shots for himself & others.
The Jazz also released long time stalwart and club captain Derrick Favors. The defence with he and Gobert on the floor was borderline impenetrable, but Favors lack of shooting clogged the offence. Enter former Pacers sharp-shooter Bojan Bogdanovic, signed as a free agent for $73 million over 4 years.
Bogdanovic can really fill it up. He carried a Victor Oladipo-less Pacers team to 48 wins, scoring 18 points per game on a scorching 42.5% from deep. His ability to stretch the floor opens up so much potential for Utah.
He draws bodies from the paint, allowing Gobert to continue his ascent into an elite roll man. He creates driving lanes for Mitchell and Joe Ingles that were not there last playoffs. A unit of Conley-Mitchell-Ingles-Bogdanovic-Gobert is a frightening 'pick your poison' proposition for opposing defences.
It will be interesting to see what coach Quin Snyder does with the talent at his disposal. His sides have ran some of the most intricate offensive sets in the NBA in recent years, in large part to pry open gaps that his troops just didn't have the ability to create for themselves.
Will Snyder loosen the reigns a little? If he doesn't, does that stifle Conley, Bogdanovic and Mitchell's ability to keep the defence on it's heels?
Resetting the starting unit only tells half a story, though.