The Jazz X-factor for 2021-22 NBA season, and it’s not Donovan Mitchell
The Utah Jazz are entering another NBA season ready for contention. The core of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert has been together for a couple of years now and with Mitchell entering his prime soon, they must feel like time is running out. While they have had limited success in the last couple of years, including some memorable playoff moments and victories, the Jazz are still a few steps away from fully challenging for the title.
The Western Conference is very strong, but the Phoenix Suns have shown everyone how it is possible to come outside of the woodwork and challenge for the title. Their attempt was not successful in the end, as the Milwaukee Bucks ultimately won the title, but it is still proof that even in the West, a team can surprise anyone.
That is what the Jazz were aiming for coming into the last couple of seasons. Unfortunately for them, teams like the Clippers, Nuggets, and the Rockets were simply too strong. However, Donovan Mitchell is now more experienced and he is ready to show the world what Utah can do. He cannot do that alone, obviously, so he will need the supporting cast to step up in a major way.
The support for the duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is very strong and it got stronger in the offseason. The front office added proven scorer and veteran Rudy Gay and backup center Hassan Whiteside, who can still provide valuable minutes for a Playoff team. Regardless of these and the Jazz resigning guard Mike Conley, it is clear that the X-Factors will be wing scorers, more precisely Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles.
Starting with the Croatian, Bogdanovic has been nothing short of great for the Utah Jazz. In the last two seasons, the former Net, Wizard, and Pacer averaged 18.5 points on 44.3% shooting from the field and an elite 40.2% from behind the arc. It is true that his first season was better than the one that just ended, but Bogdanovic is a certified bucket-getter. He also had some memorable moments, including denying Robert Covington a game-winner by hitting one himself, with only one second left on the clock.
Bogdanovic was brought to the Jazz to be a scorer and that is what he has done. However, should the Jazz look to contend and properly challenge the likes of Clippers and Lakers, Bogdanovic will need to diversify his offensive arsenal. He has a fairly large frame, being six-foot-seven, 226 pounds and he should use it more. Rather than just shooting threes, Bogdanovic can show his sweet shooting stroke by hitting mid-range jumpers and baby-floaters, which he can easily get against shorter opponents.
It would be difficult to ask the forward to make strides improving defensively, considering his age (32) and experience. However, he could be a solid defensive body in a defense anchored by French center Rudy Gobert. Still, if Bogdanovic can hit open shots and get defenders away from the paint so that Donovan Mitchell has more space to operate, his play will be absolutely perfect and will immensely help the Jazz win more games.
On the other wing, Australian Joe Ingles is slowly exiting his prime, but can still ball. After a somewhat down 19/20, Ingles returned to his standard and, oddly enough, had almost identical numbers. He averaged 12.1 points on 48.9/45.1/84.4 shooting splits, which is very good. If a shooter can make 45% of his three-point attempts on six tries a game, that is truly elite and Ingles has proven to be a valued contributor to the Jazz.
As with Bogdanovic, Ingles could improve by diversifying his attacking portfolio, but while Bogdanovic has certain physical tools to be better in other aspects, the Australian looks a bit slower than the Croat and lacks the explosiveness that Bogdanovic has. However, as long as he draws the attention of defenders, that leaves space for cutters and slashers in the squad, primarily Jordan Clarkson and Mitchell, Ingles is doing what he is paid for as a Jazz X-factor.
Due to the age of both Bogdanovic and Ingles (32) and a lack of other players in the league who can really fulfill what these two players mastered, it will be difficult for the Jazz to find replacements in the future. Thus, the Jazz should be going all-in this year and make sure they capitalize on the clearly wounded Clippers and Lakers.
For this to happen, however, they will need both of the mentioned Jazz X-Factor players to keep up their great play from the last couple of seasons. Additionally, they will need Jordan Clarkson to build on his career year and further improve to completely take over games against bench line-ups in the NBA season.
All in all, while most will not have the Jazz up there with Lakers, Clippers, and possibly the Suns, it would not be okay whatsoever to discredit the work done by coach Quin Snyder and the front office in Salt Lake City. A team that is exciting to watch, full of offensive and defensive talent, Jazz will definitely look to attack the top of the Western Conference.
One thing is for sure – with Bogdanovic and Ingles bombing down threes from the wings, the Jazz will be cruising their way to wins in this upcoming NBA season.