Usually losing the best free agent on the market and a max level contract player can set back an NBA franchise for years and make them a much worse team overnight, look at the Cavaliers when LeBron James left for Miami in 2010, until he came back and saved them of course, but that won’t be the case in Utah this season.
Many Utah Jazz fans are still morning the loss of Gordon Hayward, who agreed to a four-year, $128 million contract to join the Boston Celtics just over a week ago and rightly so. Even his former teammates are unhappy about his departure. He is a very talented and skilled wing player in his prime in a league devoid of great wing players, but the Jazz are uniquely positioned to still be a good team in 2017-18 for a number of reasons.
While it may be difficult to reach the second round in the western conference again with the improvements across the western conference including the Thunder, Rockets, Timberwolves and Nuggets to name a few, they can still be a 45 to 50 win team.
The Jazz were the league’s top defensive team in the NBA last season, led by the NBA’s best rim protector in Rudy Gobert and a really well-coached and effective defensive scheme and that will not suffer with Gordon Hayward gone, it may even improve. George Hill was a great defender at the point guard position, but Ricky Rubio is not a drop-off on that end and could help create more turnovers with his ability to play passing lanes and ignite the fast break. Their physical style of play and slower pace are in contrast to many other teams in the western conference and around the NBA. They will be a tough match-up for many teams competing for the final four playoff spots in the west.
Reason number two that the Jazz may not be in for a big drop off in 2017 is their depth at the two and three position. Rodney Hood, if he can stay healthy, has the potential to step into a starting role at the two or the three and with an increased role to average 15 to 18 points per game while shooting 37 to 40 percent from three and being a really good slasher. Joe Ingles is one of the most underrated and beloved wing players in the league by advanced statistics fans as his elite three-point shooting, very high I.Q. offensive and defensive abilities and passing ability make him a valuable asset as their starter at the small forward position.
Throw in a still very effective and skilled scorer and additional ball handler and shot creator in Joe Johnson, a talented young wing in Alec Burks (when healthy) and maybe a steal in the 2017 NBA Draft in Donovan Mitchell, who has been the best player in the NBA Summer League, and you have a number of guys who can combine to fill Gordon Hayward’s shoes.
Reason number three is the flashes of improvement for Ricky Rubio and how much better he will make Rudy Gobert offensively. When Rubio was given full reign and ability to run the show for the Wolves after the trade deadline last season, he averaged 18-10-4 on 47 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from three-point range in March.
If he can shoot about 45 percent from the field and 36 percent or better from three for an entire season, he instantly becomes a top 10 point guard in the NBA with his genius ability to pass the ball and see the floor combined with his high level defense. A change of scenery could lead to a breakout year for Rubio in Utah.
Outside of losing Hayward in free agency, the Jazz have had a very savvy off-season and continue to be a well-run and well coached organization.
I foresee them coming close to winning 50 games once again in 2017-18.