The Jazz improved a lot this offseason by adding valuable veterans like former Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic.
With the Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles rounding out the starting lineup, Utah is gaining popularity in the NBA title race discussion but should we consider them real contenders?
Andrew Sharp and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver discuss the Utah’s NBA title chances, how they stack up against the Nuggets and the development of Donovan Mitchell on the Open Floor podcast.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: We have a question from Tanner who says, ‘Hey guys, I am a big Jazz fan and I am having a hard time understanding why you guys like the Nuggets substantially more than the Jazz? In my opinion the Jazz are better at every single position. Conley is better than Murray. Donovan Mitchell is better than Gary Harris. Joe Ingles is better than Will Barton. Bojan Bogdanovic is better than Paul Millsap. And yes I am biased, but in vacuum Jokic might be better than Rudy Gobert but if you look at their numbers when the teams play each other—Gobert tends to dominate that match up. Am I crazy to think that the Jazz have a real shot at winning the NBA title and are definitely better than the Nuggets?” What do you think Ben?
Golliver: He is not crazy to think that they are better than the Nuggets or have a chance to win the title. I think that is in play for them. They are one of the teams I would put in the title conversation and their ceiling is very high as a team. I think his logic is fundamentally flawed though. If you go down and say this player vs. this player, position-by-position, you are missing the picture. If you looked at past Jazz rosters you can go down and think some of the players down at the bottom were worthless but look at what John Stockton did. He made them better and turned them into an entire team. He made Karl Malone The Mailman—there was no delivering happening if it wasn’t for John Stockton and I think that is a similar thing that is happening with the Denver Nuggets. It is the Jokic effect. Every one of these guys is better than what he looks like on paper because he benefits playing with Jokic. So I don’t think it is the right way to judge the Nuggets player-by-player. I think there are strong arguments to be made for either one of these teams.
If you want to be an optimist on the Jazz , I can definitely see it. They have very high regular season win totals, they have depth, the starting lineup seems to fit very well, they addressed their biggest weaknesses and they have years of proven winning under the belts, they have a very good and smart head coach, they take the right kind of shots and they have some guys that could definitely take another step in their careers especially Donovan Mitchell who I really think is going to benefit from Mike Conley.
At the same time, I can make a really optimistic point for Denver. They have incredible home court advantage. Jokic is an MVP-type candidate, lots of great fits centered around Jokic, could have the best offense in the league next year. The list goes on and on and ultimately, it is going to come down to health between these two teams. Maybe you can say Utah is a little bit better prepared to withstand injuries but I am not sure we are way higher on Denver. I think he kind of mischaracterized that. I just kind of think we saw the internet falling in love with Utah and I think we were trying to point out that Denver didn’t make as many headline type moves this summer but they are still comparable and still on that same type of tier as a team like Utah even though they are not getting any attention.
Sharp: I agree with all of that. The one thing I would add is that Denver’s depth is probably better than what Utah would be bringing to the table next season. If you look at their bench, they have Ed Davis, the internet's favorite back up big, they have Jeff Green who I actually saw jogging through D.C. the other day, then they got Royce O’Neal.
I like Denver’s bench with Monte Morris a lot. I think ultimately the difference between these two teams is going to be decided by health and the progress made by Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray. If Murray can really take a step forward and become fringe all-star type guy or even slightly less than that and average like 21 points per game, five or six assists for that offense and just become a little bit more consistent than the guy he was yesterday, the Nuggets could be really good offensively and good enough to give any team problems in the West.
By the same token, if Mitchell can smooth out the edges with his game and hopefully he would have to shoulder a lesser burden than he has to over the last few years. The Jazz match up great with most of the teams in the West. A lot is going to depend on what Gobert can do in the playoffs. This team is a real threat in the West.