Jeff Green

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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.

Wizards should have traded Bradley Beal

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.    

They should have traded Bradley Beal.

I’m reluctant to declare whether a team should or shouldn’t trade a player. It depends on so many factors outsiders don’t know. Mainly, what are other teams offering (or demanding in salary dumps)? The return (or cost in salary dumps) is essential to any trade evaluation.

But the Wizards should have traded Bradley Beal.

Beal is a young star locked up two more seasons and plays a position, shooting guard, in demand around the league. Look at the astronomical returns Anthony Davis and Paul George generated for the Pelicans and Thunder. It’s hard to believe Beal wouldn’t have fetched something similar.

Of course, Washington would like to build around Beal. Right now, he’s saying all the right things about staying.

But the Wizards will likely stink next season. After living through that experience, will Beal actually want to stay long-term? I would’ve rather traded him this summer with an additional season on his contract than wait to find out.

That was never in the cards, especially because Washington went through key portions of the offseason without a permanent front-office leader. That was a failure of Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. He fired Ernie Grunfeld in April and didn’t remove Tommy Sheppard’s interim title until mid-July, once free agency had quieted. This is a 365-day-a-year job. Washington missed opportunities.

Sheppard’s big move was drafting Rui Hachimura No. 9. I rated Hachimura No. 25 on my board. That could just be a difference of opinion. But I fear the Sheppard – unsure of his long-term status – gravitated toward the player with major marketing upside. If Hachimura struggles, it won’t matter that he’s Japanese.

Sheppard also re-signed Thomas Bryant (three years, $25 million) and sold that as a key step in keeping Beal. An enthusiastic young player, Bryant definitely helped Washington last season. But c’mon. He’s still Thomas Bryant.

Otherwise, the Wizards lost several rotation players via free agency – Trevor Ariza, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Jeff Green and Tomas Satoransky (sign-and-traded to the Bulls for two second-rounders). That was tough on a team with limited mechanisms to add outside players. With John Wall’s high salary serving as a major block, Washington was capped out.

The Wizards had to get creative to form even this barely tolerable roster.

They used most of their mid-level exception on Ish Smith (two years, $12 million). He should be fine as a stop-gap starting point guard. However, I suspect many of contributions will come just through his professionalism amid a losing season.

Washington got Davis Bertans from the Spurs, who unloaded his salary before Marcus Morris reneged on San Antonio. The Wizards also dealt Dwight Howard for the more-functional, but slightly higher-paid C.J. Miles.

Isaiah Thomas was a worthy bet at the minimum, but hope is fading of him bouncing back. He’s already hurt again.

Washington jumped into the Anthony Davis trade when the Lakers wanted to clear cap space for a run at Kawhi Leonard. The Wizards got a second-rounder for taking Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones. Washington got another young prospect, No. 42 pick Admiral Schofield, for effectively taking $1 million of dead salary from the 76ers.

These new veterans likely aren’t good enough to get the Wizards anywhere. The new young players carry only limited promise.

Washington’s short- and long-term hopes rest mostly on Beal – as long as he accepts that burden.

Offseason grade: D+

Blake Griffin on recruiting this summer: ‘I think I was 0-for-3 this year’

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Kawhi Leonard denies he recruited Paul George to the Clippers, but the two definitely talked before George told Thunder management he wanted to be traded to Los Angeles to team up with Leonard.

Spencer Dinwiddie recruited Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn, who ended up bringing Kevin Durant into the mix as well.

There were a lot of stars recruiting stars this summer, and Blake Griffin tried to get in on it he said on the Pardon My Take podcast. It just didn’t exactly go as planned. (Hat tip Hoopshype.)

“I did a few calls, a few texts, a few reach-outs… You know what? I think I was 0 for 3 this year [laughs]…

“I texted him and literally like I think like 30 minutes later it was like ‘Jeff Green has signed with the Utah Jazz.'”

The Pistons were basically capped out this summer anyway, any moves had to be trades or deals for well below the market value of most players. Upgrading the roster this summer was going to be difficult under the best of circumstances.

Detroit did add some nice depth with Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris, but that was always about as good as it was going to get.

Despite Griffin’s best efforts.

Utah reportedly agrees to deal with Jeff Green, adding wing depth

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Utah’s very good, very smart offseason continues.

The Jazz needed one more athletic player who could give them solid minutes at the four on both ends of the court, and ideally one with some playoff experience. Enter Jeff Green, who is joining the team on a one-year contract, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Green played for the Wizards last season, averaging 12.3 points per game, shooting 34.7 percent from three, and being a respectable rotation player.

Green is known for his inconsistent play, but that is something Utah can live with, getting a rotation talent at a fair price. He will come off the bench behind Bojan Bogdanovic, play at the three as needed, and give the Jazz a solid 20-25 minutes a night, with the occasional scoring outburst. Plus he can match up and defend other athletic threes and fours, something needed to survive in the Western Conference.

This is an excellent fit signing by Utah.

Jeff Green dunks all over Dragan Bender (video)

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Jeff Green was on the wrong end of the Lakers’ big celebration Tuesday, all because Lance Stephenson stepped on his foot.

The Wizards forward flipped the script last night.

Green unleashed this monster dunk on Dragan Bender during Washington’s win over the Suns.