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Utah has talent, but how far can they go without a superstar?

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Everybody is hot on teams in the Western Conference this year. The Los Angeles Clippers have several superstars. LeBron James finally has Anthony Davis with the Lakers. The Denver Nuggets are back and as deep as ever. The Houston Rockets are trying something new with Russell Westbrook. The Portland Trail Blazers have revamped much of their roster. That’s not left much room for the Utah Jazz, one of the favorites to dominate the regular season this year.

But the Jazz, who are moving forward with Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Ed Davis to go with much of the same team they fielded last year, are a team without a superstar. Depth and cohesiveness will be the weapon that Utah tries to wield against its rivals in West this season, and based on the personalities in play, there is real hope they can do just that.

At the core of this hope is one of the league’s best defenses. According to Cleaning the Glass, Utah was first in the NBA in opponent points per possession, effective field-goal percentage, and offensive rebounding rate. The Jazz were also stingy when giving up shooting fouls, and that perhaps made up for some of their inconsistencies on offense.

In 2018-19, Utah was a decent enough 3-point shooting team and a great squad at attacking the rim in terms of percentage. But the Jazz struggled on corner threes, where they took the second-most shots of any team in the NBA. This was coupled with some of the issues in how the Jazz offense ran. With Ricky Rubio at the helm — and in one of his better years, no less — the team lacked a dynamism at times when they needed it most. Without a team effort, it was often difficult for Utah to get something on the board in critical situations.

That’s the same worry that will present itself this season. Both Conley and Davis are great players, but they aren’t the type that will take over a game consistently in clutch moments. The hope is that Donovan Mitchell will be more comfortable in a role he filled last season, playing off the ball as a combo-guard much in the vein of CJ McCollum.

At age 23, there is lots of room to grow for Mitchell. Hyped as a rookie, opinion has started to turn on the Jazz third-year player. Last season for Utah, Mitchell failed to curb his turnover issues. He also didn’t create offense based off of his usage percentage in a way that was more efficient and it had been as a rookie. Mitchell shot 37 percent from 3-point line last year, which was in the 67th percentile for his position according to Cleaning the Glass. It will be massively helpful if Mitchell can continue to grow his game from beyond the arc this season.

Mitchell is more athletic and explosive than some of the other combo guards we’ve seen come through the NBA as of late, and the real question will be whether he can put aside his first instinct and play smarter next year. Jazz fans are hoping for just that, and perhaps having an older mentor in Conley will help push him in the right direction.

To that end, there are some interesting players on the Jazz roster that clash with the idea that this is a “team only” squad. Emmanuel Mudiay, Dante Exum, and Jeff Green are all players who can attack and play outside of the scheme of normal, boring Quin Snyder offense.

Of course, Utah’s strength will still be its team-oriented style. Joe Ingles is now paired with Bogdanovic in the frontcourt, and that should boost the Jazz 3-point shooting numbers significantly. Last year for the Indiana Pacers, Bogdanovic shot a whopping 52% on all corner threes. He also shot 42% on threes in total, and that should boost the Utah offense as both Conley and Mitchell create opportunities on the drive.

In this same concern is the idea that Conley, a significant upgrade over Rubio, can actually shoot the 3-pointer. The former Memphis Grizzlies star is a 37% career 3-point shooter, far better than Rubio’s mark of 31%. That should stretch the geometry of how opposing defenses try to contain Utah, and give everyone on the floor more opportunities to score efficiently.

The Jazz are a team without a superstar, and that’s cause for concern in today’s NBA. Utah’s defense will once again be great — Rudy Gobert will see to that. But when we talk about lacking stars, we’re really asking questions about a team’s ability to create outside of a team perspective. If the Jazz are going to pick a year to test the team-first theory, this would be the one to do it in the Western Conference. Utah should still be a favorite to make it into the playoffs, but how deep they will go will depend on if their new additions can galvanize in time to withstand attacks from opposing rivals.

Jamal Crawford finds it “baffling” no team has called to sign him yet

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Iman Shumpert got his call from the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony got his call from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jamal Crawford is still waiting for his call, and he’s confused why it hasn’t yet come. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com.

“I know I can play,” Crawford told NBA.com, “and I would think my reputation is still solid. It’s baffling to me…

“Physically, I feel better than I did last season,” he said. “I’m able to get my body together. My skill set is sharp. I feel that I’m good. My mindset is be patient and hopefully something good comes about it. I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

Like Anthony, Crawford needs the right role, but he can help teams.

He’s not young at age 39 but, in the right situation, he could help a team get buckets off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, and his defense is a bigger concern to front offices, but the man still averaged 7.9 points per game last season off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last season (including a 51-point game against Dallas). 

Some team is going to give Crawford a chance. Probably. Until then, he is staying ready, waiting for the phone to ring.

 

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks over not one but two Pacers (VIDEO)

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Once Giannis Antetokounmpo gets rolling downhill, good luck.

The Pacers found that out the hard way with not one but two players getting dunked on by the Greek Freak. On the same dunk.

Damn. That’s not fair.

It’s also not the only highlight play for Antetokounmpo on the night.

Milwaukee was up double digits on the Pacers early in the fourth quarter, and of course, Antetokounmpo was leading the way.

NBA teams enhancing fan experience with high-tech replays

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ATLANTA (AP) — NBA fans will soon be able to look up at the big videoboard above the court and get a different look at that deep Trae Young 3-pointer early in the first quarter. Or see a different perspective of that monstrous Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk.

In a reversal of roles, NBA teams are bringing the video game experience back to the live action – one arena at a time.

The Atlanta Hawks Friday will become the fifth NBA team to unveil significant financial investments into new 360-degree replay technology designed to eventually give fans the power to change the way they see the game.

“It’s the wave of the future,” said Hawks vice-president of live experience Joe Abercrombie, who says the technology also is “one more thing to give people a reason to come” to the arena.

The Bucks, Mavericks, Pacers, Wizards and now the Hawks are using the technology to package and replay highlights in the arena during games. The Bulls, who host the 2020 All-Star game, are scheduled to come online next month.

“It’s very nice. I especially like that up-above view,” said Allen Hazlett a fan from New Berlin, Wisconsin, after seeing the new technology at Thursday night’s Bulls-Bucks game in Milwaukee.

“I think it’s an added benefit for the fans. For those that aren’t here all the time, to see that, I think, really ups the fan experience for them. I don’t think people realize until you go somewhere else and you don’t see it how lucky we are to have this arena. Everything here is state of the art.”

The six teams have joined NBA partner Intel, which provides the technology for the new video replays. The process begins with 38 5K video cameras strategically located around arenas. The high-tech cameras work together, bringing 360-degree replays to in-game video boards, TV broadcasts and fans’ devices through social media.

It’s the latest effort by teams to entice ticket-buying fans to come to new and renovated NBA arenas. Atlanta spent almost $200 million to renovate State Farm Arena; Milwaukee last year opened its $477 Fiserv Forum.

“For us it was really a no-brainer,” said Matt Pazaras, the Bucks’ senior vice president for business development and strategy.

“There’s nothing like seeing a Giannis dunk live, and if we can supplement that experience with this technology, great. But if people are experiencing the Bucks wherever they are, hours away or thousands of miles away, we can still make the experience better.”

NFL fans already have seen 360 replays on TV. Those replays start from the traditional side camera before swinging around to bring the viewer behind the quarterback.

Not that the NFL was first in line.

Gamers have been manipulating all-angle replays for years. Video game-savvy kids may roll their eyes when their parents come home from NBA games eager to share their stories about their first looks at 360-degree replays.

Those video games were designed to mimic the real games. Now it’s time for some role-reversal.

Rich Green, Intel’s director of sports, said popular video games Madden NFL 19 and NBA 2K20 “have camera angles and if you do replays, you can spin the camera around.”

Added Green: “Now we’re going to have that in live games. Now they can watch their favorite player and follow just him. It increases their level of engagement.”

The new technology isn’t just for the fans.

Coaches and scouts can make use of the enhanced replays to improve player evaluations.

“I think the future of this is going to weigh heavy for basketball operations and player development,” Abercrombie said.

Players now have better tools to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Abercrombie said players who take dozens of shots in a practice can now study their shooting form in a new way.

“Players have asked ‘Can I shootaround and you take a look at the way I’m shooting and I want to spin around and take a look at the way I’m releasing,”‘ he said. “You think about traditional coverage of a game, there’s only four angles. Two on the floor and two up.

“When you think about 360 view and repetitive shooting over and over again, they can say ‘Oh, I see where my tendencies are.”‘

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, a former executive at Turner Entertainment, says TV sports leaders have dreamed for years of the day fans could control the way they watch a game.

“We’ve been reading for years that ‘You can be the director,”‘ Koonin said. “Actually, you can do that with this. The capabilities are unbelievable. … We think it’s the next generation of sports media.”

Green said there is more to come as new ways to utilize the technology will be found that are not yet possible.

Green said such high-tech terms as “voxels” – similar to pixels in the 3D age – and “volumetric video” will become common. He said fans will be able to follow a game from the viewpoint of their favorite player.

“How you watch a play could be completely different from how I watch it based on how we control what angle we want to see,” Green said. “That’s why we’re just scratching the surface.”

 

Watch Lance Stephenson get into flopping battle in China

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You can take the flopper out of the NBA but you can’t take the flopping out of his game.

Unable to land an NBA contract this season, Lance Stephenson signed with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association. He has taken his flopping skills to China.

However, he may have met his match with one Chinese player, who tried to sell a non-contact, off-the-ball, sniper-in-the-grassy-knoll level flop that even legendary flopper Vlade Divac would have called extreme. The Chinese referees saw through that and awarded a technical to Stephenson’s team.

Then Stephenson drew another foul later in the game with a flop as he tried to grab the ball away from a player after the play. That drew a foul on the opposing player, who complained and then got his own technical.

It’s all just Lance being Lance.