The Utah Jazz are struggling. Most thought they would. They’re incorporating all kinds of new pieces (the most notable of which is star big man Al Jefferson), missing a pretty prominent rotation player due to injury, and trying to make it all work in one of the league’s more deliberate and complicated offenses. We knew it was going to take time before Jefferson, Gordon Hayward and company were fully comfortable running Utah’s sets, but one can’t help but wonder how much time the Jazz actually have.
It’s a long, long season. Utah is only two games in. But the playoff race in the West is going to be pretty competitive, and Utah will have to become a vastly more effective team if they’re going to snag a spot in the post-season. Portland, Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio, and Los Angeles all seem to be going about business as usual. New Orleans bested a tough Milwaukee Bucks squad for their first win. Denver completely destroyed Utah in their season opener. Even the flawed neo-Suns were able to stick it to the Jazz last night, a sign of just how far Utah has to climb to even be in the playoff hunt. Starting the season poorly isn’t damning, but considering all that the Jazz will have to overcome this season, they need to turn things around fairly quickly.
They’ll need to score much more than 93.7 points scored per 100 possessions. They’ll need to allow far fewer than 113.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ll need to get better and they need to do it on the rest of the league’s time, because some of those other Western Conference challengers may not be willing to wait around.
The Rockets and Grizzlies have also started their seasons with losses, but both are fully capable of competing for a playoff spot. And what if the Warriors or Kings are able to become legitimate dark horse contenders for a low playoff seed? There are still so many unknowns, but one thing we know for sure: there are too many quality teams in the West for the Jazz to tread water and hope to make it through April. They have talent. They have one of the best coaches in the game. But they face a crueler timeline than any of the other quasi-elite teams in the conference. The rest of the bunch has some assembly required, but Utah is starting from scratch. Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap are still around, but replacing Carlos Boozer and introducing a very talented but very different alternative, all while acclimating another starter and a number of role players to the system, is pretty tough.
It may seem like Utah has plenty of time, but they’re already on the clock. Losses like these are excusable now, but the season will quickly transition into a less forgiving phase. Games and days and weeks will roll, and should the Jazz remain the team we’ve seen in their first two games — awkward on offense, ineffective on defense — then a late-season surge may not be enough to save their playoff chance.