SALT LAKE CITY — Quin Snyder said he knows he’s starting to sound redundant. Donovan Mitchell feels like he’s been saying the same thing for the past couple of weeks. Rudy Gobert has gotten the same questions over and over.
That’s what happens when you start the year seen as a title contender and you drop six of eight games (thanks Memphis!) in mostly embarrassing fashion. This isn’t what the Jazz were supposed to be. Not even close. And even with the caveat that the players would need some time to come together and jell, nobody expected it to be this hard or take this long.
So here are some questions following Monday’s disappointing loss.
Do the players really just need more time together?
Even Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said it takes time to build chemistry. Eight new players, a new point guard and two new starters? Sure it’ll take time.
“You got (Bojan) Bogdanovic coming in and you know (Joe) Ingles is probably trying to figure out how to work with him and he's trying to figure out how to work with those guys,” Donovan said. “You know, so when you bring different players in that are good, it's not that guys are not jelling and playing together, they have to learn each other and how to play with each other and that just takes time; as much as coaches, as players just want to expedite that process, sometimes you have to just deal with the pains of going through some that stuff.”
The thing is, OKC is facing the same thing. So are the Lakers and Clippers and a number of other teams that are currently playing much better than the Jazz. Snyder’s schemes might be a bit more complicated, but is that the reason behind the subpar offensive nights? And how long will it take for things to click?
“It's always a process,” Gobert said. “So it's all like I said, it's on us to keep working on it. And you know, it's only early in the season. So gotta stay positive, keep working on it and the rest is gonna take care of itself.”
Is Utah’s bench really that bad?
The Jazz’s regular starting lineup of Mike Conley, Bogdanovic, Mitchell, Royce O’Neale and Mitchell has a net rating of 16.3. That’s good. Replace Ingles with Mitchell and the net rating is still 10.7.
Utah’s current net rating is 0.1. Let that sink in.
If the stars are in, the Jazz are a good, if not great, team. But those guys can’t play 48 minutes. Emmanuel Mudiay has been a ball stopper. Jeff Green has been inconsistent. Ed Davis was injured for much of the year. Dante Exum clearly isn’t trusted by coaches. Ingles needs to play with Gobert to be truly effective.
It’s a problem. And might be the biggest culprit to Utah’s current struggles. Have Gobert, Conley, Mitchell had poor moments? Sure. But they haven’t much help from their backups.
Should Exum play over Mudiay?
This is the one a faction of the Jazz fan base has been scratching their heads over. Mudiay is a ball stopper, he’s in love with the midrange — two things that don’t really fit in with Snyder’s system. Exum meanwhile still represents the great hope. Because of injury, he’s never truly gotten a fair shot. That also means he hasn’t been able to truly disappoint. He was the hope five years ago when he was drafted and now he represents the hope of fixing the Jazz bench.
But that’s what he’s always been. And there hasn’t been a ton of evidence he can be the player so many envision.
The Jazz overcame slow starts the last two years, will it happen again?
Mitchell was asked a version of that question following Monday’s loss. It’s a fair comparison — and it might just be a Utah thing: start slow, finish fast — but this year just seems different.
“We can’t rely on that,” Mitchell said. “Oh, we’ve been here before. I think it only feels different because honestly, y’all gave us expectations because of who we have and who we brought in. A lot of it is, we gotta put the work in. We said that at the beginning. The good thing is we aren’t 19-27.”
So what did the Jazz do to turn it around in those years? Two years ago, it was Gobert getting healthy and Mitchell being a rookie sensation. Last year, it was the schedule lightening up. This year? That's anyone's guess.
“I guess it’s hard because we are a completely different team than what we were,” Ingles said. “I think a little bit of that has been our struggles. I think the more we play together and the more we are out there together in practices, games. Obviously, I have no doubt we will put it all together. We are a really good team. We’ll continue to get better and better.”
Is it time to adjust expectations?
Expectations are a funny thing. Two seasons ago, the city and state fell in love with the team because of how they were better than anyone thought they'd be. The 2004 non-playoff Jazz still hold a special place in the heart of many fans because of how close they got to just reaching the postseason.
This season, there's a panic when the Jazz are 13-11. Imagine if you were a Knicks fan, you'd be through the roof with that record.
This Jazz team, though, was expected to be much more. Utah hasn't looked like a title contender — not really even close to one. Monday was bad, but it probably wasn’t even their worst loss of the season.
It’s a long season. Things will probably turn around at some point — and could soon with the schedule ahead. But it’s probably time to adjust the aspirations. Does that mean to stop caring or stop being passionate? Of course not. Keep up the good fight and be hopeful. Don't expect defeat, but don't necessarily expect victory. If nothing else, you might get more enjoyment out of the season.
Sports are supposed to be fun. Remember to have some.