SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz began to welcome players back to the Zions Bank Basketball Center Monday.
Technically, the players can’t work with team coaches until camp officially opens on Oct. 1, but Monday signals the unofficial beginning of the 2019-20 Jazz basketball season.
With the season on the horizon, here are three major things the Jazz face as they prepare for training camp.
How will the new pieces fit?
The Jazz acquired more than $150 million in salary over the next four years this offseason. But with Mike Conley likely on the back half of his prime and only two years left on his contract, and Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell up for max contract extensions over the next two seasons, the Jazz window to contend for a championship with this core might already be on a ticking clock. For that reason, the quicker this team gels, the better.
With cornerstones Ricky Rubio (Phoenix) and Derrick Favors (New Orleans) suiting up in different jerseys next season, major starting minutes will be placed in the hands of newcomers Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic and should dramatically change the appearance of coach Quin Snyder’s offense.
That’s a good sign for an offense that was too often stagnant for long stretches over the last several seasons, but it will take an adjustment for all involved. Conley, Bogdanovic and Mitchell were all go-to scorers for their teams last season, so how will they adjust to sharing the spotlight on a team hoping to make a finals run?
None of the three players has a reputation of selfishness, and both Conley and Bogdanovic ascended to the role of go-to scorer due to attrition on the roster around them, so sharing the ball shouldn't be a problem. But old habits tend to die-hard and the threat of being overly unselfish could rear its head as well. Establishing a pecking order amongst the Jazz best scorers is a prerequisite to jumpstarting the Jazz offense.
Emmanuel Mudiay was the starting point guard for the New York Knicks for much of the season last year but is now competing for a backup point guard spot for the Jazz in the fifth year of his career. His base statistics weren’t bad last year, but the Knicks were truly terrible with him running the show.
If he can prove that with better coaching and playing with a better supporting cast, it could lend itself to a breakout year for Mudiay. Otherwise, Dante Exum, Nigel Williams-Goss, and even Joe Ingles might be taking minutes from him.
Ed Davis and Jeff Green should see similar roles this year with the Jazz that they saw with the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards last season, but neither player was behind or alongside a dominant center like Gobert, and that may take some getting used to. Those two, for the most part, should be plug-and-play athletes for the Jazz.
How much basketball is too much basketball?
For the basketball-starved Jazz fans, they’ve been able to whet their appetite with the FIBA World Cup, which has featured Mitchell, Gobert and Ingles suiting up for their home countries. All three teams were undefeated until Ingles' Australia team defeated France early Monday morning.
Ingles is averaging 32.1 minutes per contest, while both Mitchell and Gobert contribute just over 25 minutes per game through five official appearances for their national teams; however, that doesn’t include team practices that have been going on since early August.
That’s a lot of basketball in one summer for three Jazz players the team will rely heavily on late in games through the postseason.
The good news is that one study conducted by FiveThirtyEight says Mitchell may see a boost in his play after his time with Team USA. According to the 2014 study, Team USA members saw a minor bump in play after competing among the best players the country has to offer, and the Jazz would certainly welcome further progression from their rising star.
How good is the competition?
As previously noted, the Jazz made a major financial investment in the roster and are one of the contenders to represent the west in the NBA Finals. But they were far from the only ones.
Both Los Angeles teams made major moves, with the Lakers bringing in Anthony Davis, and the Clippers adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Houston Rockets swapped an aging Chris Paul for triple-double dynamo Russell Westbrook and kept the majority of their core around James Harden intact.
The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks look to debut Michael Porter Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis, who each missed last season due to injuries. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans will show off former Jazzman Derrick Favors, alongside top overall draft pick Zion Williamson, former All-Star Jrue Holiday, the sharpshooting JJ Redick, and newly acquired Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
The Jazz will welcome the departure of Kevin Durant from Golden State to Brooklyn. The Warriors will have to cover for the absence of Klay Thompson who will miss most of the season with a knee injury. But the defending Western Conference champs reloaded with All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell.
Though the Jazz may lack superstar power, their depth should be as good as any team in the NBA. But how will they fare against the more star-laden teams across the league?
The Jazz are just three weeks away from the opening of training camp, and to have a season that matches the team’s tremendous summer, they’ll have to find answers to these three questions.