The biggest move the Utah Jazz made this offseason wasn’t in the draft or free agency, but acquiring Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies. The Jazz also traded Derrick Favors to the New Orleans Pelicans and secured more 3-point shooting with Croatian wing Bojan Bogdanovic.
Despite acquiring reinforcements to improve the team in the offseason, the end of free agency still begs three prominent questions about the short- and long-term viability of head coach Quin Snyder’s team.
Will Donovan Mitchell make the star leap?
The 2017 lottery selection by the Jazz proved skeptics wrong with a breakout rookie season that fell votes shy of the Rookie of the Year Award; however, Mitchell continued his star turn by leading the Jazz back into the playoffs in 2019. Utah fell in the first round to the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets, and will return from summer vacation with quite a few pieces altered.
Averaging 23.8 points and shooting 43.2% from the floor, Mitchell did all he could to keep the Jazz afloat, leading to 50 wins and the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Now the question of how much more can Mitchell achieve is on the tip of everyone’s lips.
Mitchell didn’t make the All-Star team in the 2018-19 season. He isn’t in the same conversation as other guards, so he still has an elite level to reach. Yet, at 22 years old—23 by the start of next season—the Louisville product needs to be the intimidating matchup opponents fear every night. He must take his game to a higher level.
That means shooting better from the field and becoming a better playmaker, too—something he’s surely on track to do. The Jazz will desperately need the offense of Mitchell to match the defensive backbone Rudy Gobert provides for the team.
How much of an upgrade is Mike Conley?
Utah acquired point guard Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and next year’s first-round pick. It was a good move by the Jazz to push the team to the next gear, but at the same time it’s not one of the flashier moves we saw this offseason.
The Jazz have always faced an uphill battle in securing top-level free agents, so trading for Conley was the right idea. Nevertheless, the former Grizzlies floor general will be 32 in October. Questions about his durability and impact will dot his arrival in Salt Lake City.
Conley appeared in 12 games during the 2017-18 season due to an Achilles-related injury. He leaves his distinguished career in Memphis wearing the aches and pains of a team known for stout defense and grinding opponents into dust. It’s fair to wonder how much this will affect Conley’s future health and effectiveness.
While the Jazz gave up a reasonable package to Memphis, there’s only so much Conley can bring back by himself for the Utah team, although he is certainly an upgrade over Ricky Rubio.
What happens if the Jazz fall short in the postseason?
The Jazz have clear aspirations of not only making the playoffs again but advancing to their first conference finals since the 2006-07 season. Despite upgrades at various positions including Conley at the point, the West is still loaded, with six teams at the top—the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah.
That doesn’t include the Dallas Mavericks with Rookie of the Year sensation Luka Doncic and the recovering one-time All-Star Kristaps Porzingis; the Oklahoma City Thunder, who still have competent pieces in the present moment; and the Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz could easily be a 50-win team in the regular season, but in the playoffs they’ll face stiff competition that will give the team a run for its money; even making the second round would be an achievement, but not the ceiling Utah desires.
After trading in chips for the underappreciated Conley, there’s mystery surrounding what next move the Jazz could make, short of Mitchell’s leap, to improve the team.