It’s been well noted that the Utah Jazz are a team that could be bounced out of the playoffs equation this season. Their divisional rivals have traded well, with Oklahoma bringing in superstars in Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, whilst Minnesota and Denver are right in contention with the acquisitions of Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap, respectively. As such, these three Jazz players have the most to prove as they look to help prove the critics wrong.
Last season, Rudy Gobert produced career-best numbers with 14 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per contest. The center was outstanding as he helped the Utah finish fifth in a tough Western Conference before eventually being eliminated by the Golden State Warriors in the second round.
For Gobert and the Jazz the narrative has changed, with the Frenchman no longer playing second fiddle to the now-departed Gordon Hayward. Gobert also has a new point guard in the offering with Ricky Rubio replacing George Hill, who left for Sacramento. Spanish point guard Rubio is an elite passer and the 25-year-old must be ready to receive as he will have plenty of opportunities at the hoop. Now that the keys will be given to Gobert as the top dog on the Jazz roster, Utah's playoffs rest largely on his massive frame.
One of several new players finding their way to Salt Lake City in the offseason, Rubio has plenty to prove to all of his critics. The playmaker is arguably one of the best passers in the league having averaged 8.5 assists throughout his career. Last season he averaged 9.1, which was a career high. The Jazz have plenty of faith in Rubio as they traded a future first rounder to secure the services of the 26-year-old.
The fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft isn’t a score-first point guard, which is perfect for the Utah system. We could see Rubio rack up 10 assists per game as he will have the likes of Gobert dominating in the paint and long-threat options such as Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson. Rubio may not yet have made the playoffs in his career, but the two-time Olympic medalist could break that drought in Utah.
With Hayward departing for the Boston Celtics in the offseason, Utah have a gapping scoring hole that needs to be filled. With multiple teams within the Northwest division getting considerably stronger, Utah will look for Hood to step up to the plate and get buckets. Formerly of Duke, Hood’s numbers in terms of points per game were down from 14.5 to 12.7 last season, although he missed a considerable amount of time due to injury.
Despite the decrease in his productivity, the 24-year-old showed his best three-point season, shooting 37.1% from downtown. The key question is whether Hood can be a consistent and viable offensive option for the Jazz this season.
Will Utah make the playoffs this season? Comment below!