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The Jazz don't really have an MVP candidate and that's just fine with them

Annie Barker, Deseret News

The Jazz don't really have an MVP candidate and that's just fine with them

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Feb. 12, 2021 at 11:12 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell couldn't help but be impressed.

Joe Ingles had just dropped four threes in the matter of minutes to open up the game — the closest thing to a heat check the cerebral Australian forward has ever gotten.

"I was just turning to the bench like, 'Wow. Wow,'" Mitchell said.

That was the beginning to a career-tying 27 points for Ingles during Utah's 129-115 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Friday. It was the seventh time Ingles has hit that number, which has become a bit of a joke within the Jazz team.

"I don't go out there and try to break it," Ingles said. "I've never gone into a game and thought tonight's the night I'm going to break it. Obviously, Donovan (who had just walked into the interview room) finally let me get a couple shots early tonight, which he usually doesn't because he's so selfish and — nah. Yeah, I mean, I got some early looks obviously and was able to knock them down.

"I couldn't care less about it. As long as we win, I'm good."

Ingles isn't alone in that feeling — far from it. That's what has helped drive Utah's historic stretch where it's gone 17-1 over the last 18 games and climbed to the top of the NBA standings. That type of gaudy record — which now stands at 21-5 — usually comes with some MVP talk. But those talks aren't likely to get too loud for this team.

Sure, Mitchell is the star scorer, but his numbers don't rank among the top in the league. Rudy Gobert is Utah's most important player with literally everything revolving around the big man on both ends of the court, but a defensive-minded center getting MVP buzz seems like a stretch. Mike Conley leads the league in plus-minus, but he's averaging 16.8 points and 5.8 assists — not really MVP numbers.

The thing is, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"Well I believe that's what makes us good. That it's hard for people to tell if it comes from one individual from the group," Gobert said. "And I believe it comes from the group. When you have a group like that, full of guys that all bring different stuff to the table and all help each other, make each other better, winning becomes more powerful and harder for people to even to scout."

The Jazz had four players score 25 or more points on Friday. Ingles and Gobert had 27, Mitchell added 26 and Jordan Clarkson finished with 25. With that many players capable of big nights (Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic can also consistently provide scoring punches), it makes Utah a difficult team to plan for.

In the first half, Ingles had 20 points and Clarkson had 16 on a combined 9-of-14 shooting from three. Obviously, the Bucks wanted to try to stop that, but that just opened things up for Gobert to have a 19-point second half. Not many opposing teams have been able to work through that game of pick your poison.

"When you play against a guy that is a clear MVP candidate, the whole defense is gonna be focused on him," Gobert said. "But when you play against us, you gotta worry about the team. And I believe that the teams that are going to play and are going to go into the end are hard to guard and play together."

If the Jazz had any problems on Friday, it was being too unselfish, passing up some open shots in order to make the extra pass. It's a balance and one that the Jazz are still mastering (yes, even with 15 double-digit wins over the 17-1 stretch, Utah feels it can still improve). But the overlying theme is consistent throughout: Utah just wants to find the best open shot — or at least a good enough one.

"No one cares who scores, and no one knows who's gonna score on a given possession, if we're playing the way we want to play," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

And it's that type of play that the Jazz hope can get them to the next level — even without an MVP candidate.

"I think the best part about it is we don't really care who it is," Mitchell said. "I think that's what separates us from a lot of other teams and that's what's gonna hopefully get us to that next step."

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