Only one team in NBA history has been as good and as young as the 2014-15 Jazz:
The 2009-10 Thunder, who went 50-32 with an average age of 23.2.
The next season, Oklahoma City improved to 55-27 and reached the Western Conference finals.
Can Utah – which went 38-44 with an average age of 23.4 – make a similar jump?
Before we go any further, Jazz coach Quin Snyder wants to throw a bucket of cold water on this optimism. And his points are noted. Utah has accomplished nothing of note yet.
But young teams tend to get better, and the Jazz look primed for a breakthrough. The Thunder started at a higher point, but matching their five-win improvement could get Utah into the playoffs.
The bar in the West just doesn’t look as high as in recent years, when the No. 8 seeds were 45-37, 49-33, 45-37, 36-30, 46-36, 50-32, 48-34 and 50-32.
The Trail Blazers should drop significantly after losing four starters. The Mavericks appear in line to take a step back. The Pelicans face multiple injuries. The Suns keep shuffling but don’t look substantially better. The Kings should improve in the short term, but they’re coming from a fairly low point. The Lakers have even less reason for immediate optimism and are coming from even further behind.
The door is open for the Jazz if they make a leap.
But they might not even need one.
The Jazz went 19-10 after the All-Star break, playing by far the NBA’s best defense in that span. They leaned heavily on Rudy Gobert, who looked like a budding star. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors were excellent complements to the center.
Simply, Utah looked like a playoff team after trading Enes Kanter and elevating Gobert.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they lost a core piece to injury – Dante Exum, whose low-usage, defensive-first style fit this team well. Trey Burke is a clear defensive downgrade, and he needs the ball more in his hands offensively. That will disrupt things – especially if he shoots as poorly as he did his first two seasons.
If Gobert continues on this track, though, we won’t be talking about the Jazz getting by for long. We’ll be analyzing their playoff matchup.